IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

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

  • Francesco Cinnirella


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

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.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

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

in new window

Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3936
Contact details of provider: Postal: Poschingerstrasse 5, 81679 Munich
Phone: +49 (89) 9224-0
Fax: +49 (89) 985369
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. 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.
  2. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 2002. "Malthus to Solow," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1205-1217, September.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Gregory Clark, 2005. "The Condition of the Working-Class in England, 1209-2004," Working Papers 539, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  8. repec:oup:qjecon:v:117:y:2002:i:4:p:1133-1191 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2011. "The Preventive Check in Medieval and Pre-industrial England," Working Papers 201110, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  10. 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.
  11. Clark, Gregory & Cummins, Neil, 2010. "Malthus to Modernity: England’s First Fertility Transition, 1760-1800," MPRA Paper 25465, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. E. A. Wrigley, 1966. "Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 19(1), pages 82-109, 04.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Oded Galor, 2005. "Unified Growth Theory," Development and Comp Systems 0504001, EconWPA.
  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.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3936. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Julio Saavedra)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.