Infant mortality and the role of seigneurial tenure in Canada East, 1851

Alongside Alex Arsenault Morin and Vadim Kufenko, I have a new working paper on the issue of infant mortality in Canada East (modern-day Quebec). I argue that the institutional system of land tenure was an important determinant of differences in infant mortality. Areas settled under French laws (known as seigneurial law) implied important transfers from peasants to landlords through private taxes and duties, restrictions on mobility, scant provision of public goods and disincentives to invest in agricultural productivity. As a result, areas under this law system tended to be poor and prone to high mortality. Upon conquering Quebec, the British maintained French land laws but, in 1791, the boundaries of its application were frozen – all new settled lands would be settled under British land tenure laws. By 1851, the two legal systems had cohabited for six decades – allowing us to compare them. Using the 1851 census, we argue that French seigneurial law – which reduced living standards through a variety of channels – translated into higher rates of infant mortality. After estimating a Zero-inflated Negative Binomial Regression we find that the effect of seigneurial tenure results in an increase in infant death rates from 43.79 to 44.89 for the age group below one and from 5.21 to 5.277 for the age group from one to five.

The paper can be consulted here 


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