Old age in the 19th century vs old age in the 21st century.

Dave DuBrucq

Corporal
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Location
Tennessee
Deaths from disease impacted urban populations much more than rural ones so death rates varied by location quite a lot. You can see this with the disease issues both the US and CS armies had early in the war - soldiers from rural areas arrived in camp and got sick after being exposed to diseases they'd never seen in their small communities.
Good observation. Ignorance of sanitation and hygiene was a significant cause of death. Diseases such as dysentery, a common cause of death among Civil War soldiers is virtually unheard of today. Even the rudimentary sanitation procedures enacted by Letterman slowed the spread of disease and enhanced survival rates.
 

Carol

Private
Joined
May 26, 2019
Location
Western North Carolina
Life affects Death: In saying this, I mean the type of living greatly affects the type of dying. Many factors come into place with this realm of thinking. A person living past the age 21 into adulthood is faced with establishing a means of securing oneself with food, shelter, security and happiness. Should I say that this was the norm back in the 1800s, not so much these days. As more and more young adults don't seem to grasp the meaning of "on your own".

A person who is born into wealth during the early 19th century stood a greater chance of living longer than a person with limited means during the same time period. Medical knowledge and sanitary conditions versus time periods greatly changed the outcome from 19th century to 21st century. Although, it appears that new diseases can occur at any moment, it's the knowledge and experience of dealing with such pandemics that reflect contrasting death rates between the two centuries. Then you ask yourself what about the struggles versus happiness. I believe that was and still is up to the individual.
 

CowCavalry

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
A person who is born into wealth during the early 19th century stood a greater chance of living longer than a person with limited means during the same time period.
I don't think much has changed in that respect.
 

CowCavalry

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
There was a lot of truth to old saying - "only the strongest survive"
More accurately, "survival of the fittest".

As far as aging pre 20th century, this has been on my mind quite a bit lately as I have an elderly parent that my siblings and I are caring for and as difficult as it is, I pity those elderly in the past who had to stumble around in the dark to use the bathroom, have nothing but a fire for warmth and all that that entails what with gathering and chopping wood, building and keeping the fire going etc, the difficulties with food preparation and storage etc, and just life in general, its a wonder anyone grew to old age.
 

RobertP

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
Imagine being a farmer in the 1860s. Imagine their joints by the time they're 60, probably arthritis ridden.
I have a good friend who told me about his grandfather on their Indiana farm. His great grandfather had been a German immigrant in the late 1800’s and farmed the old way. By the turn of the century his son was old and strong enough for the hard jobs so he put a harness on him and had him pull a plow. Apparently the old man didn’t believe in mules. After one season the son said to h*** with this and left for the city and a factory job.
 

Dave Hull

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jul 28, 2011
Location
Northern Virginia
Since the question popped up, I did a quick family tree look going back to 1600 on both sides. Remarkably, if the person made it out of childhood (really the first two years) they seemed to live 80-90. There were a few outliers which seemed to be women who died around 30, I assume child birth, but the rest had long lives as did their children.
 

damYankee

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
I've had replacement surgeries in both knees due to arthritis; if I lived in the 19th century, I would be virtually lame.
There is, as always, another side to the "coin " ,
If you lived in those day's you would never have walked on a concrete sidewalk or a asphalt covered surface, .
Today's joint problems may be worse than what the average person would have experienced in those days due to the changes in our environment.
They walked on dirt, sometimes on wooden boardwalks. Cobblestone roads maybe, but today we jog and walk on hard surfaces and wonder why our knees and hips wear out.
 

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
I had a thought the other day, our life styles have changed significantly from the 1800s. Things like food are more readily available, the amount of movement we do day to day has gone down for most, modern healthcare is a thing. Taken all into account, was being in your 70s in the 19th century like being in your 80s today? Does what I'm saying make sense? If people aged differently then they do now, how did that effect 19th century society?
There's a difference between life expectancy and life span. It's possible for a human to experience a life span over 100 years, but most are not expected to live that long.

Life expectancy varies greatly, even among people today. Back in the 1930s, when they were devising Social Security, they set the retirement age at 62, figuring that most people wouldn't be around long enough to collect it. A Russian in the 1980s was surprised when he heard that people retired in their 60's in the US. "We're all dead by then," he laughed.

A factory worker or farmer in the 1800s was pretty much played out by 40, after decades of long days toiling at physical labor. On the other hand there are so many factors involved with life expectancy, someone living in the Central African Republic today could only expect to make it to 53 years of age.

How did it affect society? Consider all the men in their 20s who were officers, even generals, in the Civil War armies. Most of the soldiers were between 18-39 with an average age of 26, but thousands were what we would consider teenagers and young adults. Custer was a Brigadier General at 23. There are plenty of 23-year olds I wouldn't give my car keys to today, much less command of an entire Cavalry Brigade.
 
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Yankee Brooke

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Location
PA
How did it affect society? Consider all the men in their 20s who were officers, even generals, in the Civil War armies. Most of the soldiers were between 16-25. Custer was a general at 21. There are plenty of 21-year olds I wouldn't give my car keys to today, much less an entire army.
As I would imagine would have been the case back then as well. Regardless of age, there's a lot of people I wouldn't trust to pour water from a bucket with instructions on the bottom, and I'm sure many of our 1860s counterparts felt the same about many of their fellow humans.
 

Yankee Brooke

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Location
PA
Interestingly enough dental care was awful many people died due to dental hygiene , Sugar was consumed in vast quantities the Caribbean became very rich at this time and profitable.
That's what would have killed me before 30. I've had 4 dental abscesses(infections) that required anti-biotics to treat. The first would no doubt have done me in without that treatment being available.
 

damYankee

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
As a young man I had the opportunity to know my great grandfather who was born in 1870 in Iowa, he passed away in 1969, when I was 18. He told me a lot of stories about the old west, but he also became a bit of a world traveler by the age of 20 he was working in Columbia.
He traveled to San Francisco and NYC long before automobiles came along. According to him the good old days weren't that good. Large cities, like NYC and Philadelphia, Atlanta etc, in the summer were nearly intolerable due to the stench of animal waste that permeated the roads, mostly cobblestone in those day's. Every market, every shop, factory, restaurant, you name it, needed supplies to be delivered or shipped and the only way to do that was by horse drawn wagons.
In the summer the odor was truly sickening.
During a heat wave hundreds of people would die from heat related problems, as there was no air conditioning, yet people would seal their apartments windows and doors to get away from the stench and the keep flies out. The heat would over take them, with no running water, and outhouses which were usually located behind apartment buildings next to animal stalls, ( where shallow well's would be dug for drinking water prior to the 1890s) you can get an idea of what congested living quarters in a city would be like.
Another tidbit he provided was what it was like to eat at expensive restaurants in big cities, with no freezers available, most places used ice to preserve food, but that was no guarantee, so good eateries offered "choice cuts," the chef would come to your table and trim the green stuff off the meat in front of you, trim it to your approval before cooking it.
 

Dave DuBrucq

Corporal
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Location
Tennessee
There is, as always, another side to the "coin " ,
If you lived in those day's you would never have walked on a concrete sidewalk or a asphalt covered surface, .
Today's joint problems may be worse than what the average person would have experienced in those days due to the changes in our environment.
They walked on dirt, sometimes on wooden boardwalks. Cobblestone roads maybe, but today we jog and walk on hard surfaces and wonder why our knees and hips wear out.
Interesting take on it. Perhaps we see more of this as the population increases as well. I spent a career in naval service walking on steel decks, climbing steel ladders and performing PT on those hard surfaces you mentioned while in port. Despite that, I have not suffered any arthritis. That leads to the question, why does it affect some and not others? It would be interesting to conduct a long term double blind study to see what other factors may be involved. We should consider as well, the lifespan in the mid 19th century was considerably shorter than it is today which is very likely a factor as well. An older population is probably more prone do develop
such issues.
Civil War soldiers spent a lot more time on their feet that we in modern society do. They marched great distances at a brisk pace. Roads were made of dirt, especially in the more rural settings of the day. It would be an interesting subject to explore how they may have fared in later life.
 

damYankee

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
Interesting take on it. Perhaps we see more of this as the population increases as well. I spent a career in naval service walking on steel decks, climbing steel ladders and performing PT on those hard surfaces you mentioned while in port. Despite that, I have not suffered any arthritis. That leads to the question, why does it affect some and not others? It would be interesting to conduct a long term double blind study to see what other factors may be involved. We should consider as well, the lifespan in the mid 19th century was considerably shorter than it is today which is very likely a factor as well. An older population is probably more prone do develop
such issues.
Civil War soldiers spent a lot more time on their feet that we in modern society do. They marched great distances at a brisk pace. Roads were made of dirt, especially in the more rural settings of the day. It would be an interesting subject to explore how they may have fared in later life.
Speaking of the long distances soldiers would have marched, think about the poor quality of the government issued footwear they would be issued,. No doubt the men did suffer foot problems.
But then walking long distances may have been more common then as well. I believe the common recruit of 1860 to 65 would be in a bit better physical condition then his modern day counter part. At least more adaptable to physical hardships.
We may have better access to food, but we are to soft.
 

19thOhio

Corporal
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Interesting take on it. Perhaps we see more of this as the population increases as well. I spent a career in naval service walking on steel decks, climbing steel ladders and performing PT on those hard surfaces you mentioned while in port. Despite that, I have not suffered any arthritis. That leads to the question, why does it affect some and not others? It would be interesting to conduct a long term double blind study to see what other factors may be involved. We should consider as well, the lifespan in the mid 19th century was considerably shorter than it is today which is very likely a factor as well. An older population is probably more prone do develop
such issues.
Civil War soldiers spent a lot more time on their feet that we in modern society do. They marched great distances at a brisk pace. Roads were made of dirt, especially in the more rural settings of the day. It would be an interesting subject to explore how they may have fared in later life.
Just by chance I have in front of me an area newspaper clipping from 2011. It shows a picture from a 1945 GAR meeting with six surviving area Civil War veterans. They range from 95 to 102 years of age. Four are standing and two are sitting comfortably in straight back chairs for the photo. All are dressed up in suites, ties and some vests and look quite healthy and alert and could probably tell use some stories.
 

Dave DuBrucq

Corporal
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Location
Tennessee
Just by chance I have in front of me an area newspaper clipping from 2011. It shows a picture from a 1945 GAR meeting with six surviving area Civil War veterans. They range from 95 to 102 years of age. Four are standing and two are sitting comfortably in straight back chairs for the photo. All are dressed up in suites, ties and some vests and look quite healthy and alert and could probably tell use some stories.
I have seen similar photos. Amazing when one considers the average lifespan in 1860 was 39.4. By 1865, that had dropped to 35.1 according to Statista.com. No doubt the Civil War had a significant impact on life expectancy. I agree, it would have been a rare opportunity to listen to the stories those GAR members told. I enjoy more than anything reading first person accounts in letters and diaries of the soldiers who fought that war, much more that the serial revisionism of modern scholars. It would have been a treat to hear the veterans speak.
 
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