Marriage And Fertility Essay

2830 words - 12 pages

In the beginning of the 18th century the British isles were relatively stagnant in two major facets of their growth: population and economy. Predominantly agricultural at this point, Britain was experiencing decreasing returns to agricultural labor and very minimal economic growth. Britain experienced rapid population growth between 1700-1850 as a result of the increasing fertility rate, which came about predominantly from marriage institutions. The sheer magnitude of this growth is represented in the period between 1731 and 1871, wherein the English population quadrupled from 5 million to 21 million. (Schofield.) This meant that England was on their way towards matching the populations of other major european countries. To properly analyze these numbers it is important to recognize the limited ways in which such sustained population changes can be achieved. The three demographic trends that affect population change are fertility, mortality and net migration. Net migration is a measurement of the people entering the country from other countries of origin, and then subtracts the people who are leaving England, for example, for other countries. This factor can quickly be ruled out as having a significant effect on rapid population growth. According to Schofield there was actually net emigration throughout the period in question, predominantly to the Americas but also to other colonial territories overseas. There were many Scottish and Irish immigrants entering England at the time, but more English folks leaving the country. This exclusion of net migration leaves us to fertility and mortality to explain the population growth between 1700-1850, approximately.

During the course of the 18th century Britain began to change as a result of rapid population growth, often referred to as the demographic revolution. Upon initial review of this revolution, it would seem as though it followed the demographic transition theory. That is, high mortality and fertility rates to begin with, followed by a fall in mortality and fertility falling second. According to reconstruction theories though, this demographic transition theory does not hold for Britain. Furthermore, it was known that death rates were not only high but also had sudden spikes that “controlled the size of agricultural societies.” (Cipolla 1965:76-7) From this, it was and still is thought that mortality may have been the dynamic variable with it’s big variances acting as population checks on the agricultural societies. But as we shall see, the population change was actually a result of increasing fertility and helped along only slightly by the exogenous spikes in the death rate. How can we deduce this? Schofield and Wrigley estimate that the increase in life expectancy from 1751-1814 was about three percent whereas the increase in fertility was about 31 percent. With respect to this empirical data, the challenge of explaining rapid population growth becomes a derivative of explaining the rapid...

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