Infant mortality and intra-household competition in the Northern Islands of Orkney, Scotland, 1855–2001


Correspondence to: Corey S. Sparks, Department of Demography, 501 West Cesar E Chavez Blvd., University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78207, USA. E-mail:


This study applies principles from the theory of household life cycles to the study of early childhood mortality in the population of the Northern Orkney Islands, Scotland. The primary hypothesis is that unfavorable household economic conditions resulting from changes in household demographic composition increase the risk of death for children under the age of 5 years because of limited resources and intra-household competition. We apply Cox proportional hazards models to nearly 5,000 linked birth and death records from the Northern Orkney Islands, Scotland, from the period 1855 to 2001. The dependent variable is the child's risk of death before age 5. Findings suggest that children in households with unfavorable age compositions face higher risk of death. This elevated risk of death continues once heterogeneity among children, islands, and households is controlled. Results also show differential risk of death for male children, children of higher birth orders, and twin births. The analyses present evidence for intra-household competition in this historic setting. The most convincing evidence of competition is found in the effects of household consumer/producer ratios and twinning on child mortality risks. Am J Phys Anthropol 151:191–201, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.