Although infant mortality decreased and the life expectancy increased during the Victorian era, both measurements indicate terrifying rates. Babies were subject to disease, infections, and mistreatment (often they were silenced with a mixture of opium and alcohol). The public was susceptible to a wide array of disease, not to mention malnutrition and inhuman working conditions.
Infant Mortality Rate
The infant mortality rate is a sensitive measure of the Victorian Age. Generalizations about poverty, housing, sanitation, medical care, and public health can all be made with specific knowledge of the infant mortality rate. In the upper-class areas Liverpool England, 1899, 136 newborns out of 1000 would die before they reached the age of one. Working class districts maintained a rate of 274 infant deaths per 1000 births, and impoverished slums had a horrifying 509 infant deaths per 1000. Even as these rates improve towards the end of the Victorian Age, infant mortality remained at over ten times the current rates in industrialized nations. Alexander Finlaison reported that one half of all children of farmers, laborers, artisans, and servants dies before reaching their fifth birthday, compared to one in eleven children of the land owning gentry. (Mitchell, Victorian Britain 142) Children suffered from multiple influenza outbreaks, diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, polio, tetanus, and typhoid. Merely keeping sanitary was difficult until the later ages of piped water. This combined with the lack of vaccinations for diseases produced an extremely high infant mortality rate in all classes. (Mitchell, Daily Life 192)
A second important indicator of a community's physical condition is the life expectancy. During the middle of the Victorian age, rural people lived longer than city dwellers, the rich lived longer than the poor, and men lived longer than women. Women died younger not only due to childbirth; women suffered from inactivity and from inferior food consumption. It was also primarily women who were responsible for nursing the sick; which inevitably led to their own sickness. Men participated in outdoor exercise, which had just recently taken hold in a movement dubbed the "games mystique". Society had delicate expectations for women, and as a result, it was not ladylike to have a heart appetite or abundant energy. Customarily the finest food was given to the men and boys of the family. In the lower classes, both men and women were debilitated by the age of forty. Long hours, poor nutrition, and premature full-time employment all contributed to a short life expectancy. (Mitchell, Daily Life 189)
The life span slowly increased within the Victorian age, as treatment became more advanced, surgery more effective, and knowledge more extensive. The average life span in 1840, in the Whitechapel district of London, was 45 years for the upper class and 27 years for tradesman. Laborers and servants lived only 22 years on average. (Mitchell, Victorian Britain 492)