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