He also makes an interesting observation on the fluctuations in mortality rates in the 19th century:
A second interesting characteristic that is immediately noticeable is that the series are very ‘spikey’ in the 19th century and are then much smoother in the 20th century. This is partly because the data quality is improving over time but it also shows how frequent crises were in pre-modern times. The decline of crises is an important aspect of improving ‘living standards’. In the ‘Our World in Data’ entry on food price volatility you find a long-run series of food price volatility in Pisa by Cormac O Grada that shows how frequent food crises were.
This is an important observation. One of the key differences between wealthy and relatively poorer countries is the variance in their growth rates. Most advanced economies grow (and have historically grown) at a steady rate (Tyler Cowen for example notes that Denmark never had a “growth miracle”). Developing countries on the other hand experience relatively greater levels of both longitudinal and cross-sectional variation in growth rates. The boom-burst cycles often make it hard for meaningful accumulation of wealth and steady growth of per capita income.
There is more good news in the area of public health. A couple of days ago I posted on the decline of human mortality rates in the tropics. Now the UN agency for HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, reports that HIV infection rates, especially of the mother-to-child variety, are on a downward trend.
New infections with H.I.V. have dropped by half in the past decade in 25 poor and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The greatest success has been in preventing mothers from infecting their babies, but focusing testing and treatment on high-risk groups like gay men, prostitutes and drug addicts has also paid dividends, said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the agency U.N.AIDS.
Some regions, like Southern Africa and the Caribbean, are doing particularly well, while others, like Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, are not. Globally, new infections are down 22 percent from 2001, when there were 3.2 million. Among newborns, they fell 40 percent, to 330,000 from 550,000.
A while back I posted something on Sierra Leone’s shocking maternal mortality stats. This week TIME magazine has this sad piece on Mamma Sessay, an 18 year old Sierra Leonean woman who died during childbirth. The images could have been a little bit more respectful (there is a little too much poorism involved for my liking) but the message gets home: Giving birth is still a most dangerous undertaking for the vast majority of women on the Continent.
Kudos to outfits like this one that work to save the lives of women on the Continent. Stories like Mamma’s are a grim reminder of how much still needs to be done to lower maternal mortality rates in the less developed regions of the world. Educating more women is the obvious long-term solution – statistics abound on how education decreases fertility and maternal mortality rates while increasing the quality of childcare. More urgently, however, is the need to improve pre-natal care and eradicate anachronistic cultural practices that allow men to marry 14 year old girls (the late Mamma was 14 when she got married).