April 2024

1842: Mortality and immigration in industrial Barcelona


«When you see a gloomy neighbourhood where the proletariat hang out, you will also notice numerous emaciated creatures who never outlive childhood.»
Laureà Figuerola (1849)


The process of industrialisation affected the evolution of the population of Barcelona: living and sanitary conditions, together with immigration, determined its growth as a city. The population could not grow without immigrants and a rise in the number of inhabitants needed for industrialisation contributed to overcrowding in a walled city, whose territorial boundaries were limited under strict military control. The benefits to public health of removing the walls were laid out by hygienist Pere Felip Monlau (1808-1871). But it was not until 1854 that demolition began and later the Eixample (the extension district) was planned by the town planner Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876).

1842 is the first year for which we have data for the three vital factors (births, weddings and deaths) from the city´s civil registry which is preserved in the Arxiu Municipal Contemporani, and allow us to know the effect of biosocial variables on the evolution of the population.

In 1842, Barcelona had a population of 121,815 according to Pascual Madoz´s (1806-1870) statistical work, and this would rise to 183,787 in the first official census of 1857. But in 1842, deaths outnumbered births, and this continued thus during the period of industrialisation.

Analysis of the data for 1842 shows more boys were born tan girls, and 8.8% of births were out of wedlock. Seasonality is also evident (more births in winter and spring) and the natural time pattern of deliveries (more frequent in the early morning than in the afternoon) because there was no clinical intervention during pregnancy.

We can also see that the average age of marriage was rather high for the time (26.6 and 23.9 years old, men and women respectively), which may have conditioned the number of children women finally had. The age of marriage was higher for immigrants than for the local population.

23% of deaths were of children who had not yet reached the age of one, and in 46.7% of these cases they were illegitimate. Of all registered death, 42.5% were of children under 5 and only 14.5% were of people aged over 65, a reflection of the dire living conditions of the populace.

There were also significant social differences, as in poorer neighbourhoods, like the Raval, the deaths of under 10s was 48% of the total, whereas in the Gothic Quarter neighbourhood the figure was 39.7%. If we don´t include the under 10s, average age of death according to job also shows big differences: 54 years old for professionals and property owners, 44 for labourers and weavers.

Living conditions are reflected in the causes of death, which differ depending on age. In Barcelona in 1842, infectious diseases stand out (57% of all deaths), in particular airborne diseases. The first cause of death for children was infectious diseases (92.7%), whereas these were only responsible for 22.8% of deaths for over 50s. Health conditions in the city were dire, and living conditions affected the low survival rate of children. Monlau pointed out that people lived in unhygienic conditions and that overcrowding, together with poor and low-quality diet, long working hours, child labour, lower wages for women and accidents in the workplace, all determined the high mortality rates. Laureà Figuerola (1816-1903), a politician and economist, put it clearly: «the hygienic conditions in Barcelona conspire to extinguish life».

With deaths outnumbering births, the only possibility for demographic growth was immigration. The data from 1842 clearly describe the situation: looking at the birthplace of spouses, parents and grandparents in birth registers, and that of the parents of dead children, fewer than half of all cases are from Barcelona. Only in the case of the birthplace of the dead does it approach 60%, due to the large number of children born in Barcelona who died under 10 years old.

The origin of the people of Barcelona who appear in the vital statistics for 1842 is, in the majority of cases, from outside the city. Only 9.5% of those born that year had 4 grandparents from Barcelona and only a third of the men who got married that year were born in Barcelona. Endogamous marriages in Barcelona were only 18.6% of marriages in 1842, and effective immigration to the city reached 62.2%. The majority of immigrants came from the province or the rest of Catalonia; the effects of long distance immigration were not as yet important.

Analysis of the data from the vital statistics in 1842 in Barcelona have allowed us to quantify the death rate and immigration as determining biosocial factors for the demographic evolution of the city in the 19th century. The same year also saw the city suffer the bombardment ordered by Espartero, then regent, to stifle the riots. The demographic growth which Barcelona experienced during the development of the Liberal State reflects the deep inequalities in the population, and also how access to drinking water, type of diet, the features of the homes and working conditions all affected mortality rates and led to the need for immigration.


Miquel Hernández Martínez is a retired researcher and professor of Biological Anthropology at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Science at Barcelona University.


Further reading:

Brotons R. 2008. La ciutat captiva. Barcelona 1714-1860. Barcelona: Ed. Albertí. 

Figuerola L. 1849. Estadística de Barcelona en 1849. Barcelona: Imprenta de Tomás Gorchs (Reimpresión: A. Costas (ed.), Altafulla, Barcelona, 1993).

Hernández M, Benítez A, Sayago L, Sin R. 2018. La inmigración en Barcelona en la época de la industrialización: las estadísticas vitales del año 1842.En A. Malgosa y M.P. Aluja (eds.): Actas del XX Congreso de la SEAF, pp. 178-192. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

López Guallar P. 1995. La demografiabarcelonina entre el 1833 i el 1865. En Història de Barcelona, Vol. 6: La ciutat industrial (ed. J. Sobrequés), pp. 95-118. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, Enciclopèdia Catalana.

Monlau PF. 1847. Elementos de higiene pública. Barcelona: Imprenta de D. Pablo Riera.