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Archival Big Data and the Spanish Flu in Copenhagen

Kim Abildgren (Danmarks Nationalbank, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Information Discovery and Delivery

ISSN: 2398-6247

Article publication date: 9 April 2021

Issue publication date: 18 April 2022




The Spanish Flu 1918–1920 saw a high degree of excess mortality among young and healthy adults. The purpose of this paper is a further exploration of the hypothesis that high mortality risk during The Spanish Flu in Copenhagen was associated with early life exposure to The Russian Flu 1889–1892.


Based on 37,000 individual-level death records in a new unique database from The Copenhagen City Archives combined with approximate cohort-specific population totals interpolated from official censuses of population, the author compiles monthly time series on all-cause mortality rates 1916–1922 in Copenhagen by gender and one-year birth cohorts. The author then analyses birth cohort effects on mortality risk during The Spanish Flu using regression analysis.


The author finds support for hypotheses relating early life exposure to The Russian Flu to mortality risk during The Spanish Flu. Some indications of possible gender heterogeneity during the first wave of The Spanish Flu – not found in previous studies – should be a topic for future research based on data from other countries.


Due to lack of individual-level death records with exact dates of birth and death, previous studies on The Spanish Flu in Denmark and many other countries have relied on data with lower birth cohort resolutions than the one-year birth cohorts used in this study. The analysis in this paper illustrates how archival Big Data can be used to gain new insights in studies on historical pandemics.



The author gratefully acknowledges valuable comments by the Co-Editor and a number of anonymous reviewers of earlier versions of this article. Views and conclusions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the author's affiliation. The author alone is responsible for any remaining errors and shortcomings. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. The author declares to have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


Abildgren, K. (2022), "Archival Big Data and the Spanish Flu in Copenhagen", Information Discovery and Delivery, Vol. 50 No. 2, pp. 133-141.



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