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Malthus in the Bedroom: Birth Spacing as a Preventive Check Mechanism in Pre-Modern England

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  • Francesco Cinnirella

    ()

  • Marc P. B. Klemp
  • Jacob L. Weisdorf

Abstract

We question the received wisdom that birth limitation was absent among historical populations before the fertility transition of the late nineteenth-century. Using duration and panel models on family-level data, we find a causal, negative short-run effect of living standards on birth spacing in the three centuries preceding England’s fertility transition. While the effect could be driven by biology in the case of the poor, a significant effect among the rich suggests that spacing worked as a control mechanism in pre-modern England. Our findings support the Malthusian preventive check hypothesis and rationalize England’s historical leadership as a low population-pressure, high-wage economy.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 3936.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3936

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Keywords: spacing; birth intervals; fertility; limitation; natural fertility; preventive check;

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References

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  1. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
  2. Clark, Gregory & Cummins, Neil, 2010. "Malthus to Modernity: England’s First Fertility Transition, 1760-1800," MPRA Paper 25465, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Marc Klemp & Jacob Weisdorf, 2012. "The lasting damage to mortality of early-life adversity: evidence from the English famine of the late 1720s," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(3), pages 233-246, August.
  4. Galor, Oded & Moav, Omer, 2000. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," Arbetsrapport 2000:5, Institute for Futures Studies.
  5. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2011. "The Preventive Check in Medieval and Pre-industrial England," Working Papers 201110, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  6. Gregory Clark, 2005. "The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1209-2004," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(6), pages 1307-1340, December.
  7. Galor, Oded, 2005. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 171-293 Elsevier.
  8. Joachim Voth & Nico Voigtländer, 2009. "Malthusian dynamism and the rise of Europe: Make war, not love," Economics Working Papers 1185, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  9. Tommy Bengtsson & Martin Dribe, 2006. "Deliberate control in a natural fertility population: Southern Sweden, 1766–1864," Demography, Springer, vol. 43(4), pages 727-746, November.
  10. Malthus, Thomas Robert, 1798. "An Essay on the Principle of Population," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number malthus1798.
  11. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 1998. "Malthus to Solow," NBER Working Papers 6858, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Fabrice Murtin, 2013. "Long-Term Determinants of the Demographic Transition, 1870–2000," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(2), pages 617-631, May.
  13. E. A. Wrigley, 1966. "Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 19(1), pages 82-109, 04.
  14. Nina Boberg-Fazlic & Paul Sharp & Jacob Weisdorf, 2011. "Survival of the Richest? Social Status, Fertility, and Social Mobility in England 1541-1824," Discussion Papers 11-02, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  15. John Knodel, 1987. "Starting, stopping, and spacing during the early stages of fertility transition: The experience of German village populations in the 18th and 19th centuries," Demography, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 143-162, May.
  16. Crafts, Nicholas & Mills, Terence C., 2009. "From Malthus to Solow: How did the Malthusian economy really evolve?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 68-93, March.
  17. Douglas Anderton, 1989. "Comment on Knodel’s “starting, stopping, and spacing during the early stages of fertility transition”," Demography, Springer, vol. 26(3), pages 467-470, August.
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Cited by:
  1. Tracy Dennison & Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2013. "Does the European Marriage Pattern Explain Economic Growth," CESifo Working Paper Series 4244, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Sascha O. Becker & Francesco Cinnirella & Ludger Woessmann, 2013. "Does women's education affect fertility? Evidence from pre-demographic transition Prussia," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(1), pages 24-44, February.
  3. Klemp, Marc P B & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2012. "Fecundity, Fertility and Family Reconstitution Data: The Child Quantity-Quality Trade-O Revisite," CEPR Discussion Papers 9121, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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