Working Paper BETA #2023-39

Download working-paper

Title : Serving and dying: A study of factors associated with combat exposure and mortality among French WW1 soldiers

Author(s) : Olivier Guillot

Abstract : Based on individual-level data from military registers, this paper explores the trajectories of French conscripts during the Great War. The sample studied consists of more than 20,000 men of the recruitment classes of 1900 to 1914. Besides a descriptive analysis, which aims at providing both a statistical portrait of conscripts and an insight into their wartime paths, regression analyses are carried out to identify factors influencing, or associated with, (1) fitness for armed service, (2) assignment to a civilian rather than military position, (3) infantry assignment, and (4) war mortality. The main focus is on whether there were inequalities in combat exposure and mortality in relation to socioeconomic status (as measured by family background, education, and occupation). The results of these analyses suggest that some social groups were more exposed to war violence than others. In particular, it appears that conscripts employed as farmers in civilian life were more likely to be considered fit to fight than industry/craft workers and (most of) men working in the tertiary sector. They were also more likely to join the war as infantry soldiers and had a lower probability to be recalled from the front and assigned to a civilian position. All this partly explains why mortality was higher in this group. Similarly, the analysis of deaths reveals that conscripts from disadvantaged family backgrounds (i.e. who were born out of wedlock and/or placed in public care during childhood) had a higher risk of dying during the conflict. The differences in mortality risk according to family background and occupation were, however, of lower magnitude than those associated with military characteristics (recruitment class, assignment and rank).

Key-words : World War 1; French Army; war mortality; social stratification; archival data.

JEL Classification : N34, N44, Z13.