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Survival of the Richest: The Malthusian Mechanism in Pre-Industrial England

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  • CLARK, GREGORY
  • HAMILTON, GILLIAN

Abstract

Fundamental to the Malthusian model of pre-industrial society is the assumption that higher income increased reproductive success. Despite the seemingly inescapable logic of this model, the empirical support for this vital assumption in the preindustrial world is weak. Here we examine the relationship between income and net fertility using a large new cross-sectional data set on reproductive success, social status and income for England between 1585 and 1638. We find that for early seventeenth century England, a society seemingly close to a Malthusian equilibrium, wealth at death robustly predicts reproductive success. The richest male testators left behind double the number of children of the poorest. Consequently in the static English economy of this period social mobility was generally downwards. The strong association in England between wealth and reproductive success seems to also extend back to at least 1250.
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Suggested Citation

  • Clark, Gregory & Hamilton, Gillian, 2006. "Survival of the Richest: The Malthusian Mechanism in Pre-Industrial England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(03), pages 707-736, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:66:y:2006:i:03:p:707-736_00
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2002. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1133-1191.
    2. Clark, Gregory, 1998. "Land Hunger: Land as a Commodity and as a Status Good, England, 1500-1910," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 59-82, January.
    3. 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.
    4. Clark, Gregory, 2002. "Shelter From The Storm: Housing And The Industrial Revolution, 1550 1909," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(02), pages 489-511, June.
    5. Weir, David R., 1995. "Family Income, Mortality, and Fertility on the Eve of the Demographic Transition: A Case Study of Rosny-Sous-Bois," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 55(01), pages 1-26, March.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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