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