Population Growth in Pre-Industrial England, 1580–1837: Malthusian or anti-Malthusian?

J. Jona Schellekens, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Malthusian controls were absent in England long before the industrial revolution. If Malthusian controls were absent, then this raises the question: What were the ultimate determinants of population growth? This paper has two major objectives. First, it will present two “anti-Malthusian” hypotheses to explain population growth in pre-industrial England. And second, it will show that these two hypotheses explain major trends in nuptiality and infant mortality. The first hypothesis postulates that the decline in pastoral agriculture caused a decline in the demand for farm servants and a rise in the demand for day laborers. Since farm servants were always single, the decline in the demand for farm servants put downward pressure on age at marriage. Breastfeeding is an additional variable that is missing from Malthusian models. The affordability of substitutes for the mother’s milk was a function of living standards. As real wages rose, more women could afford to stop breastfeeding. However, in the absence of sanitary conditions, a shorter duration of breastfeeding is associated with higher infant mortality. Thus contrary to Malthus, according to the second hypothesis, there was a positive correlation between infant mortality and real wages.

Keywords: Historical demography/methods, Longitudinal studies, Mortality

See extended abstract.

  Presented in Session P23.