The demographic impacts of the sieges of Paris, 1870–1871

150th Anniversary of the Paris Commune
By Denis Cogneau, Lionel Kesztenbaum

Paris came under siege twice between September 1870 and May 1871, first by the Prussian army and then by the Versailles government’s assault on the Commune. The first resulted in a severe famine; the second in a bloodbath. We investigate the impact of this crisis on child mortality, adult height, and adult mortality, using original vital records and military register data from one of the city’s lowest-income areas. Deaths more than doubled at all ages during this period, and under-5 mortality rates increased by 30% for children born in 1869 and 1870. Those conceived and gestated during the crisis ended up significantly shorter and faced 40% higher adult mortality than unaffected cohorts born afterwards, but children aged 2–5 later recovered in height as living conditions quickly improved. A nutritional shock’s translation into short-term variations in stature and into lifetime survival thus seems to depend not only on the shock’s duration but also on preceding and subsequent living conditions, which themselves interact with selection effects and critical age windows for physiological growth.

  • famine
  • height
  • excess mortality
  • health
  • malnutrition
  • Siege of Paris
  • Paris Commune
  • France
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