The Growth of Population in Early Modern Period III (Explaining Population Change)

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  • Created on: 25-05-18 15:20
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  • The Growth of Population in Early Modern Period III (Explaining Population Change)
    • Traditionally historians explained population change by reference to change in births and death rates
      • A fall in population was assumed to result from an increase in the death rate or fall in birth rate (or both)
      • An increase in population was seen as the result of falling death rate or rising birth rate (or both)
    • Reasons why death rates go up:
      • Disease, especially epidemics and plague
      • Harvest failure, typically caused by exceptional weather or pestilence
      • War, especially major international wars, last a number of years
      • Famine, often caused by any or all of the other reasons listed here
    • An increase in death rate is often accompanied by a fall in the birth rate
      • Fewer children survive to adulthood, to marry and have familes
      • Famine and disease reduce fertility in women of child-bearing age
      • Couples postpone marriage or having children when times are bad
      • Major wars kill large numbers and disrupt society
    • Most fundamentally, population growth may outrun available resources
      • Farming may not develop fast enough to feed a growing population
      • Towns may grow too large for available food supplies
      • This is the 'Trap' which in 1790s Thomas Malthus predicted and considered inevitable
    • A Malthusian Trap probably accounted for slackening of population growth in early C17th
      • But in C18th first England and other western European countries broke through this constraint
        • Why was this?
    • A falling death rate after 1700?
      • Fewer and less destructive wars
      • End of plague in western Europe
      • Better medical care available to more people
      • Better living conditions for more people
      • Increased food production and better distribution
    • For similar reasons to why death rate fell, the birth rate rises after 1700
      • Better nutrition increases fertility
      • Better living conditions generally reduce maternal mortality in childbirth and infant mortality
    • But is the real key to growth of population in England after 1700 a change in marriage rate?
      • Wrigley and Schofield argued in 1981
        • fall in 'female age at first marriage' explains much of this growth
        • Most people have since agreed with them
    • Why does age at marriage fall?
      • Greater availability of housing in towns, compared with countryside
      • Greater availability of jobs in industry, compared with farming
      • General feeling of greater optimism in an industrialising economy
    • Why is fall in age at marriage important?
      • Couples are married for longer and likely to have more children
      • If infant mortality also falls, more of those extra children will survive to adulthood
      • If those children also marry younger, a multiplier effect sets in
    • No one factor can explain population growth everywhere in every period
      • But a drop in age of marriage appears to be main reason for growth of population in C18th England
      • The old 'Punch and Judy' debate between death rate and birth rate is largely superseded


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