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

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  • Cinnirella, Francesco
  • Klemp, Marc P B
  • Weisdorf, Jacob

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 individual data, we find a causal negative 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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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 9116.

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Date of creation: Sep 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9116

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Keywords: Birth intervals; Fertility limitation; Natural fertility; Preventive check; Spacing;

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References

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  1. Oded Galor, 2004. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," GE, Growth, Math methods 0409003, EconWPA.
  2. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 1998. "Malthus to Solow," NBER Working Papers 6858, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  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 & Moav, Omer, 2000. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," Arbetsrapport 2000:5, Institute for Futures Studies.
  8. Gregory Clark & Neil Cummins, 2010. "Malthus to Modernity: England’s First Fertility Transition, 1760-1800," Working Papers 1013, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  9. 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, vol. 15(03), pages 365-392, December.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2011. "The Preventive Check in Medieval and Pre-industrial England," Working Papers 201110, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  14. 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.
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  16. 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.
  17. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. 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.
  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. 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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