Log in to access the full article.
The Russian Empire had the highest infant mortality rate in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. Using a variety of official statistical sources and qualitative evidence, this paper documents uniquely high infant mortality among ethnic Russians. In contrast, among other ethnic groups of the empire, infant mortality rates did not exceed those of the European countries by much. The evidence suggests that the explanation for the Russian infant mortality pattern was ethnic-specific infant care practices, such as the early introduction of solid food, which increased the incidence of lethal gastrointestinal diseases. Our findings highlight the importance of traditional infant feeding practices in mortality in pre-industrial societies.