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SICKNESS
Sickness

Description

SICKNESS indicates whether the respondent was sick or temporarily disabled on the day of enumeration, "so as to be unable to attend to ordinary business or duties." For persons suffering from an illness or temporary disability, SICKNESS reports the nature of their condition. The SICKNESS variable standardizes and codes responses to the question.. Researchers needing to look at the unstandardized original response to the sickness question should use SICKSTR.

The terminology relating to sicknesses found in the census manuscripts presented a mixture of precision and vagueness. At the time the 1880 census was taken, bacteriology was a recent development. Nonetheless, many illnesses were readily identifiable through physical symptoms. Measles, for example, seem to have offered little difficulty in lay diagnostics, nor did malaria (referred to as malaria, ague, remittent fever, intermittent fever, or bilious fever) or typhoid fever (typhoid, gastric fever or enteric fever).

Other seemingly precise diagnoses were not as well defined as one might imagine. Chronic nephritis was still commonly used to describe that which caused general or localized edema. "Chronic nephritis" includes, therefore, not only those cases so specified, but also "dropsy," "Bright's disease," and "gout," besides the spelling variations relating specifically to the kidney. Rheumatism and paralysis were still used as symptomatic descriptions of conditions rather than as clinical diagnoses. The designation of "rheumatism" appears to have included any condition which prohibited free movement, such as rheumatoid arthritis, coxalgia (scrofula, or tuberculosis of the joints) and syphilis, while "paralysis" included conditions which preclude movement or the control of movement, such as traumatic injury, stroke, metabolic disorders or syphilis.

User Caution: Since the intent of the sickness question was to ascertain whether individuals were prevented from carrying out their normal activities due to sickness or disability, the response rates underreport illness in the population in two ways.

First, sickness among children was underrepresented since most children did not have jobs or obligations outside the home. For this reason, the Census Office did not include those under the age of 15 when they tabulated the sickness data (though these responses are retained in the IPUMS). Sickness rates for young children produced from the IPUMS 1880 sample are extraordinarily low and should be treated with caution.

The second underreporting of sickness is due to the failure to include those illnesses which limit as well as those that prevent regular activities, as was done for later censuses. A difference, therefore, in morbidity rates between race categories does not necessarily indicate an absolute difference in the prevalence or incidence of disease as measured in SICKNESS. It could instead indicate a difference in the perception of illness, tolerance thereof, or the ability or necessity to keep on with one's activities in spite of it.

Users should also keep in mind the limitations inherent in self-diagnosis as well as possible biases related to nineteenth-century medical terminology and the general understanding of diseases. It may be impossible, for example, to determine the true incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis in a given population because of the potential for misdiagnosis between tuberculosis and various diseases of the respiratory system, such as bronchitis.

Codes and Frequencies



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Comparability

The 1880 Census contained five other questions reporting those considered insane, idiotic, maimed, blind or deaf. These five extra categories are included in SICKNESS to capture the extra detail which was sometimes provided in these separate variables (INSANE, IDIOTIC, MAIMED, BLIND, and DEAF).

The MAIMED variable, which identifies persons "maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled," may be a better indicator of long-term disability.

Universe

  • All persons. Not available in the 1880 100% database.

Availability

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Flags

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Editing Procedure

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