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Average Life Span- American Revoution and Now

citygirlsmomcitygirlsmom Posts: 13,158- Senior Member
edited July 2005 in Parent Cafe
My Ds were asking me today, in light of the resignation of a Supreme Court Justice..what was the average lifespan of people back during the time the consitution was written.

One D's class was discussing the idea ot term limits, life time appointments, and the benefits and problems with both. But no one really knew what the average lifespan was back then. it was a questions some of the kids asked. Now it is about 70. I know there will of course be people who live a lot longer, who will die in child birth or war, and that affects the average, we just want some basic information for debate

No need to turn this into a debate on issue, knowing this forum, it could go back and forth forever.

I just need the facts, ma'am...
Post edited by citygirlsmom on

Replies to: Average Life Span- American Revoution and Now

  • ariesathenaariesathena Posts: 5,038Registered User Senior Member
    If I'm not mistaken, it depends on how you calculate life span. Back then, the infant mortality rate was probably about 30%. So the median age (half the people live to that, half live longer) was certainly a lot shorter than it is now, but if you made it past the first few years, you would probably live for a while.

    Here is a link to a girl's report, using gravestones: http://dp.ideasconsulting.com/dp/brianna/frames/exhib/midterm/bio/bio.html

    "Between 1900 and 1950 U. S. life expectation at birth increased from 47 to 68 years." http://www.cpe.uchicago.edu/unionarmy/background.html

    Recalling back to my days of history of medicine courses, I do recall that "modern" medicine and hospitals really took off during the Civil War. So llifespan increased after that.

    Not to embroil myself (or start!) a debate, but didn't people finish school earlier and generally assume adult responsibilities earlier?

    Just a stat: there have been about 120 S. Ct. justices. "The average tenure for Justices is about 15 years, with a new Justice being appointed to the Court about every 22 months." from http://usgovinfo.about.com/blcthistory.htm
  • citygirlsmomcitygirlsmom Posts: 13,158- Senior Member
    Thank you, that is what we were looking for...thirty years old now are like 20 year old then...but it is an interestng question and I am glad my D was wondering
  • minimini Posts: 26,431Registered User Senior Member
    There are other issues, too, however. Teen pregnancy was the norm. In New England, among Puritans, approximately one-third of women were pregnant before marriage (strongly encouraged by Puritan practices, as "barrenness" would be a sign that the expected marriage might not be blessed.) Life expectancy was much, much higher in New England (almost 20 years more) than in Virginia, where there was high mortality from malaria, and various waterborne diseases. (This is in addition to higher infant mortality.) Children assumed adult responsibilities in Virginia much sooner than in New England, where dad was much likelier to live for a long time before kicking over and ceding the farm to his children, though he was more likely to set them up in business, or provide a stake to send them westward. Male apprenticeships in New England were longer than further south.

    Population growth also varied from place to place. Quakers started practicing birth control around 1780, which tended to make them richer as a result, but also, on average, older.

    Remember, however, that life expectancy for one-fifth the population - slaves - was very short, and child mortality around 50%. They assumed adult responsibilities around age 10. When we talk about the 18th century, we often forget about them - yet, there were 6,000 slaves in Connecticut at the beginning of the American Revolution (most on tobacco plantations), and maybe triple that in New York State. South Jersey and Eastern Shore Maryland were home to indigo plantations.
  • citygirlsmomcitygirlsmom Posts: 13,158- Senior Member
    Okay lets focus on white males who make it past infancy
  • minimini Posts: 26,431Registered User Senior Member
    Again, very different in New England than in Virginia, and different again among Quakers. (And child mortality was very, very high as well - it's not just infant mortality.) But past that and we're talking probably 60ish in New England, and early 40s in Virginia and south of there.
  • citygirlsmomcitygirlsmom Posts: 13,158- Senior Member
    You can see why their curiousity was peaked...lifetime appointments then versus now, what was a lifetime?

    I am glad Ds are interested and when I told D they chose lifetime to keep position less political, she said, well that hasn't worked very well!!

    Chip off the ole block
  • ariesathenaariesathena Posts: 5,038Registered User Senior Member
    CityGirls'Mom: you're both right!

    The thought was that lifetime appointments make judges immune from political pressure while they are on the bench. They are accountable to no one.

    Getting them onto the bench, though - warfare! Especially when there is pressure to nominate younger judges, who will obviously serve for a longer time.

    Position - less political. Process of getting the judge that position - quagmire.
  • calmomcalmom Posts: 16,840Registered User Senior Member
    It was pretty good to be a rich white male in those days; here are the stats of our first five presidents (average life expectancy 79.6). I included their ages at inaugaration because that gives some insight into relative health & capacity at that age:

    George Washington - became president at 57,
    died Pneumonia 67

    John Adams - became president at 61,
    died of debility at age 90

    Thomas Jefferson - became president at 57
    died of diarrhea at age 83

    James Madison - became president at age 57
    died of debility at 85

    James Monroe -- became president at 58,
    died of debility at 73


    Not as good to be famale -here are the stats on their wives, with Thomas Jefferson's daughter also included, as she served as first lady in lieu of her deceased mother (average life expectancy: 64.1)

    Martha Dandridge Custis Washington - died at age 71
    Abigail Smith Adams - died of a stroke at 74
    Martha Jefferson - died at 33
    daughter Martha Jefferson Randolf - died at 64
    Dolley Madison - died at 81
    Elizabeth Monroe - died at 62
  • bookiemombookiemom Posts: 1,881Registered User Senior Member
    Citygirlsmom: I know your daughters' curiosity can't have peaked yet at their relatively young ages...that's piqued that you want there. ;)

    I am also very interested in that whole area of average lifespan, infant and child mortality, and also maternal mortality. Two of my grandmother's sisters died in childbirth and their family doctor told her she must not get married. She had four children, all lived, and she lived into her late 70s. (And my father weighed then pounds at birth!) One of my doctors told me the percentage for women dying in childbirth...20%, I think.
  • citygirlsmomcitygirlsmom Posts: 13,158- Senior Member
    opps see doopsy, you are correct with my homonyms

    Anydoozle, Calmom, thank you!!! My D's are off on a hunt to get some more information, such as what do other countries, democracies or republics do, as far as lifetime appointments

    And they are wonderng about lifespan in other countries, especially among women

    Off we go!!!
  • SBmomSBmom Posts: 5,725Registered User Senior Member
    among Puritans, approximately one-third of women were pregnant before marriage

    Wow, mini, I'd never heard that. Where can I learn more about that?

    Re Childbirth:

    My Great grandmother died "in childbirth," which I always assumed meant "during giving birth." I later discovered that the term covers a wide range of preventable deaths, including "childbed fever" which was attributable to non-sterile practices at turn of the century, or toxemia/ecclampsia, which is attributable to terrible nutrition...
  • minimini Posts: 26,431Registered User Senior Member
    A really fine, politically evenhanded book on the history of childhood and adolescence in America is "Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood" by Steven Mintz (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2004). This will give you a lot of this material in brief. There are quite a few more scholarly treatments on Puritan mores, sexual and otherwise, including analyses of actual birth records compared with wedding dates, even by town!

    What we think of as "Puritan" now is actually a Victorian invention, much as "classical education" approaches are also a Victorian invention, and can be dated with some accuracy to the publication of Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy".
  • SBmomSBmom Posts: 5,725Registered User Senior Member
    One of my favorite courses was on Puritan literature-- so I am aware that the image most people have of puritans is inaccurate, but I had never heard about the premarital sex being encouraged.
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