Cheryl Elman - Duke University

Plantations and Parasites: Development and Disease in the Twentieth Century American South

    Date:  03/21/2019 (Thu)

    Time:  3:30pm- 5:00pm

    Location:  Gross Hall 270

    Organizer:  Laura Satterfield


Meeting Schedule: (Not currently open for scheduling. Please contact the seminar organizer listed above.)

    3:30pm - Seminar Presentation (3:30pm to 5:00pm)


    Additional Comments:  ABSTRACT: Lagged economic development and poor population health contributed to race-related differences in fertility and infant mortality in the early twentieth-century American South. We investigate this further. The South, predominantly rural through 1940, was marked by both small-scale farming and multi-farm or plantation development. Plantation-based agriculture covered a massive, crescent-shaped area that extended from North Carolina to southern Texas. Plantation tenants or croppers, disproportionately African American, were generally malnourished, poorly housed, and legally tied to farms through debt to plantation owners and local merchants. The southern population, through the 1940s, was also exposed to poor sanitation--a proxy for infectious disease risk--and parasitic diseases of malaria and hookworm. Linking 1910 IPUMS to 1916 Plantation Census data and to disease (malaria and hookworm) and sanitation indicators we find that African American and white women in counties with higher malaria mortality had higher child mortality. Additionally, African American women exposed to poorer sanitation and greater plantation development had higher child mortality. Statistically controlling for child mortality, white women had fewer births in counties with greater land improvement and school attendance; plantation development did not significantly affect their childbearing. This pattern for southern white women is consistent with the practice of voluntary fertility control that emerged in this era. In contrast, consistent with involuntary constraints on childbearing, African American women exposed to greater plantation development (marked by poor living standards), higher malaria mortality, and poorer sanitation had significantly fewer children; county land improvement and school attendance did not significantly affect their childbearing. Apparently, different forms of southern agricultural development and associated living standards lowered fertility, although mechanisms—voluntary means associated with privileged status and involuntary means associated with disadvantage—differed by race. Lagged, uneven development in the American South, and related racial inequalities, continued to mid-century. Environmental health risk studies propose that race-related health disparities are at least partly rooted in persistent environmental disadvantage. Was this the case in early twentieth-century southern-born birth cohorts? If time, we will explore mid- to-late twentieth century cardiovascular disease risk (CVD) across the prominent, NIH-designated U.S. “Stroke Belt” that emerged after the 1940s, in geographic overlap of the Plantation South. African Americans exposed to “Stroke Belt” states in youth have an elevated incidence of CVD and related mortality, over and above what would be expected in simple interactive effects. To what degree did childhood exposure to plantation development (marked by poor living standards) place adults at higher risk of CVD-related conditions?