Information

Is there any estimate for expected life of 'ordinary' or 'poor' people in middle ages after surviving infancy?


I tried to do my own research on this and according to paper I found:

Life expectancy at birth was a brief 25 years during the Roman Empire, it reached 33 years by the Middle Ages and raised up to 55 years in the early 1900s.1 In the Middle Ages, the average life span of males born in landholding families in England was 31.3 years and the biggest danger was surviving childhood.2 Once children reached the age of 10, their life expectancy was 32.2 years, and for those who survived to 25, the remaining life expectancy was 23.3 years. Such estimates reflected the life expectancy of adult males from the higher ranks of English society in the Middle Ages.

But the estimates above are based on historical records from 'rich' people (clergy/nobility) and this is the case also in other papers references mentioned. I understand that there are likely no good records for poor people, but can we make some estimates based on archeology? For example, can it be argued it was substantially lower or perhaps even higher (nobility might suffer from close marital relations (inbreeding) or overindulgence (obesity))?

Also I am mainly interested in knowing life expectancy once children reached certain age (for example above age of 10) because I know the child mortality was very high which can skew results a lot.


Okay - I got duck-souped rock-souped1 into an answer on this one based on this paper (Thank you Gort the Robot) that analyzed about 200 adult skeletons over the time period 1100 to 1300 for a small Danish village. The author's estimate that the village had about 700 total births over that time period. From my comments above:

  • The results are fair, in the sense of making a very sensible attempt , but admit they are definitely not representative. (1) Two hundred years of one tiny village estimated to have had ~3 total births / year. (2) Only about 200 skeletons available, unevenly distributed between males and females. (3) Very substantial known emigration of (particularly) females to nearby towns/cities likely skews so only the unhealthiest females remained. None-the-less median death ages are ~40 years (women) ~52 years (males) for those who reached age 20.

  • The paper itself does an excellent job of self-assessment. I was very pleasantly surprised, coming from a physics background where all assumptions are discussed in great detail, to see this paper do the same thing. Read the whole paper carefully, and think on what it says (and doesn't say), it admits its own limitations: for instance the nearby towns at this time have 40% more female deaths recorded than female births. Clearly all the healthiest / prettiest / best child-bearing women from nearby villages had an easy time making a good match in the (wealthier) city.

  • Hence the median life expectancy for women who reached maturity in the village, at 40 a full 12 years less than the men at 52, is likely skewed low by immigration to nearby cities. Perhaps ~46 is a better value over the entire population. Possibly higher. Even the men's figure perhaps is possibly a bit low at 52, if the healthiest men had better prospects in the city. I would view the figures from this paper as minimums rather than best estimates. Also, 1100-1300 is not yet high middle ages, though it is (just) before the first cold wave of the Little ice Age.

If anyone else wants to take this further, be my guest. I never intended to write up an answer for this one, but got entranced by the paper Gort dug up, and then by OP's questions above.

Note:

  1. Must have had the Marx Brothers movie on my mind - I intended "duck-souped", after the old story of a hobo who knocked on a door requesting to borrow a pot to make rock soup. Intrigued, the matron agrees, and the hobo in quiet succession requests a bit of fresh water cause the crik's dirty; then a dash of salt to soften the rock; a pinch of herbs for flavour; a carrot for colour; a potato for substance; and if it not be too much m'lady, even a morsel of spare meat wouldn't harm neither. At each stage the hobo's politeness and evident sincerity continues to intrigue the matron. I've heard it was a favourite story of George Patton, who likened it as an analogy for his own brand of "reconnaissance in force": Once he had approval for that, he knew that he was always going to be allowed to "rescue" them when they encountered "heavier than expected" opposition.