Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Ann Herring




Existing historical research on population health in Hamilton, Ontario concentrates on the past 60 years and the beginning of the twentieth century, leaving an unexplored gap between 1919 and the 1950s. Additionally, few health studies focus on the impacts of economic levels on child and infant wellbeing particularly in the early 1900s.

This thesis investigates the impact of the economic effects of the Great Depression on human health through the study of infant mortality in Hamilton, Ontario between 1925-35. Aggregate patterns of temporal, spatial, and seasonal infant mortality are examined in detail in addition to cause-specific mortality based on individual-level data obtained from death certificates. The three aims of this research are to: 1) explore and compare infant mortality trends before and during the Great Depression; 2) determine how the economy affected infant health, and; 3) determine whether these effects were experienced equally across socio-economic strata.

An overall decline in the number and rate of infant deaths was found during the years of the Great Depression, however the working-class immigrant population was found to disproportionately contribute to the municipal infant mortality rates during these years. A review of local history suggests that the efforts of the public health department and the effects of a housing boom in the 1920s created conditions that buffered most infants from the detrimental effects of the economic crisis. The differences in the IMRs between the affluent and impoverished neighbourhoods reflect the underlying economic and political forces responsible for the social segregation in Hamilton.

The findings of this study contribute to the field of anthropology as the effects of the economy on human health are explored through the urban experience of immigrant and local populations. Future research should focus on individual-level analyses and the effects of economic conditions on maternal and fetal health.

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