Life Expectancy among Men and Women during World War I      

BI 341 (Research Report)

By Annette Wright


I tested whether men or women had a longer life expectancy during World War I. The women had a significant difference then the men during that era (p=.02). The women life expectancy was greater during the years of 1914-1918. I concluded that the 1918 influenza virus had a great impact on the population during the year of 1918-1919 (Taubenberger, Reid, and Fanning, 2005).


            In the years of 1914-1918 there was the Great War, also known as World War I. There was also an epidemic sweeping the nation called the 1918 influenza virus. During that era there were a lot of deaths among the people in the United States. There were many people killed in World War I and by the 1918 influenza virus. The 1918 influenza virus killed about 30 to 40 million people worldwide and a total of 675, 000 deaths in the U.S. (Kreiser, 2006).   There was an increase in deaths among people in the ages of 15-32 by the influenza virus. This dramatic increase of deaths decreased the life expectancy by ten years. The 1918 influenza attacked young men and women that worked in factories, cleaned streets and fought in wars (Kreiser, 2006). There was a soldier training camp in Boston, Massachusetts that had more then 12,000 soldiers affected by the 1918 influenza virus and 800 of the soldiers died from the virus (Taubenberger, Reid, and Fanning, 2005).

I hypothesized that there would be an increase in life expectancy among women compared to men during that time period. Although the influenza virus affected everyone, the majority of the soldiers were men. The men that fought in the war also had a greater chance of getting the influenza virus and being affected. I am focused on finding out if there is a possibility that the different occupations during that era, fighting in the war and the 1918 influenza virus had a significant difference on life expectancy.



I collected data from the Catholic cemetery called Calvary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is located at the corner of 60th and Bluemound Rd. and it was founded in 1857. I started my first data collection on October 20, 2007 and my second data collection on October 23, 2007. I gathered birthdates off of tombstones that ranged from 1884- 1896. I recorded 60 headstones from both women and men, totaling 120 different birth years.  I started from the north part front of the cemetery to the east and west. I collected a portion of the data from the south end of the cemetery. I had difficulty reading some of the headstones because they were old so, I had to record data from different areas thorough out the cemetery.  I computed my results on Microsoft Excel using a life history analysis and performed a (2-tailed) dependent t-test to show if there was a significant difference.

Fig. 1. Map of Calvary cemetery.




There is a significant difference in life expectancy among women and men (fig. 2, p = 0.02). The life expectancy for women was longer than men during World War I. The life expectancy for women was greater then men from the ages of 1-59, then it gradually decreased around the ages of 60-89. At the ages of 100-109 the life expectancy for women had a higher increase then the men. From looking at the graph, the women between the ages of 1-49 had an approximately a 10 year increase then the men.


Fig 2. Life expectancy between men and women during  WWI.


              During the years of 1914-1918 the U.S. has dealt with WWI and an epidemic that killed over 600,000 people. People were dying because of their immune system was producing an increase of immune cells in the lungs (Brownlee, 2006).  During this era scientist and doctors assumed that the 1918 influenza was caused by a bacteria, but found out it was caused by a virus in 1933 (Kreiser, 2006). When the 1918 influenza outbreak occurred many people died because there was no medicine available at that time and the symptoms occurred rapidly. World War I also had an impact on the U.S. because there were many soldiers that died because of the war and the 1918 influenza (Billings, 1997). My results supported my hypothesis that there would be a higher life expectancy in women during WWI then in men. Some changes that I would make for future research is that I would gather data from different cemeteries to get an overview of how WWI and the 1918 influenza has effected the nation during that time period.



Billings, M. (1997), The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Retrieved 10/18/07, from

Taubenberger, J., Ried, H. and Fanning, T. (2005). Capturing a Killer Flu Virus. Scientific American, 292 (1), 62-71. Retrieved December 2, 2007 from Ebscohost database.

Kreiser, C. (2006). The Enemy Within. American History (41) 5, 22-29. Retrieved  December 2, 2007 from Ebscohost database.

Brownlee, C. (2006). The Bad Fight. Science News, (170) 5, 211-212. Retrieved December 2, 2007 from Ebscohost database.