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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
  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesco Cinnirella & Marc P. B. Klemp & Jacob L. Weisdorf, 2012. "Malthus in the Bedroom: Birth Spacing as a Preventive Check Mechanism in Pre-Modern England," CESifo Working Paper Series 3936, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3936
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    6. 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(3), pages 365-392, December.
    7. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Strulik, Holger, 2019. "Desire And Development," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(7), pages 2717-2747, October.
    2. Marc Klemp & Niels Framroze Møller, 2016. "Post-Malthusian Dynamics in Pre-Industrial Scandinavia," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 118(4), pages 841-867, October.
    3. Marc Klemp & Jacob Weisdorf, 2019. "Fecundity, Fertility and The Formation of Human Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 129(618), pages 925-960.
    4. Dennison, Tracy & Ogilvie, Sheilagh, 2014. "Does the European Marriage Pattern Explain Economic Growth?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 74(3), pages 651-693, September.
    5. Mette Ejrnes & Karl Gunnar Persson, 2014. "Fertility Responses to Expectations of Child Mortality in a Tuscan Village 1700-1913: A Micro-Data Approach," Discussion Papers 14-10, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    spacing; birth intervals; fertility; limitation; natural fertility; preventive check;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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