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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

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  • 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. 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, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number malthus1798.
  2. Crafts, Nicholas & Mills, Terence C., 2009. "From Malthus to Solow: How did the Malthusian economy really evolve?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 68-93, March.
  3. E. A. Wrigley, 1966. "Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, Economic History Society, vol. 19(1), pages 82-109, 04.
  4. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2000. "Natural Selection and the Origin of economic Growth," Working Papers 2000-18, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  5. Galor, Oded, 2005. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," Handbook of Economic Growth, Elsevier, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 171-293 Elsevier.
  6. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2011. "The Preventive Check in Medieval and Pre-industrial England," Working Papers, School Of Economics, University College Dublin 201110, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  7. Tommy Bengtsson & Martin Dribe, 2006. "Deliberate control in a natural fertility population: Southern Sweden, 1766–1864," Demography, Springer, Springer, vol. 43(4), pages 727-746, November.
  8. Boberg-Fazlic, Nina & Sharp, Paul & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2011. "Survival of the richest? Social status, fertility and social mobility in England 1541-1824," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(03), pages 365-392, December.
  9. Marc Klemp & Jacob Weisdorf, 2011. "The Lasting Damage to Mortality of Early-Life Adversity: Evidence from the English Famine of the late 1720s," Discussion Papers 11-14, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  10. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 2002. "Malthus to Solow," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1205-1217, September.
  11. Nico Voigtlander & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2009. "Malthusian Dynamism and the Rise of Europe: Make War, Not Love," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 248-54, May.
  12. 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, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 143-162, May.
  13. Oded Galor, 2005. "Unified Growth Theory," Development and Comp Systems 0504001, EconWPA.
  14. Gregory Clark & Neil Cummins, 2010. "Malthus to Modernity: England’s First Fertility Transition, 1760-1800," Working Papers, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics 1013, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  15. 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, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
  16. Douglas Anderton, 1989. "Comment on Knodel’s “starting, stopping, and spacing during the early stages of fertility transition”," Demography, Springer, Springer, vol. 26(3), pages 467-470, August.
  17. Gregory Clark, 2005. "The Condition of the Working-Class in England, 1209-2004," Working Papers, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics 539, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  18. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. Becker, Sascha O. & Cinnirella, Francesco & Wößmann, Ludger, 2013. "Does womens education affect fertility? Evidence from pre-demographic transition Prussia," Munich Reprints in Economics, University of Munich, Department of Economics 20263, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  2. Klemp, Marc P B & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2012. "Fecundity, Fertility and Family Reconstitution Data: The Child Quantity-Quality Trade-O Revisite," CEPR Discussion Papers, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers 9121, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Tracy Dennison & Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2013. "Does the European Marriage Pattern Explain Economic Growth," CESifo Working Paper Series 4244, CESifo Group Munich.

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