Malthus in the Bedroom: Birth Spacing as a Preventive Check Mechanism in Pre-Modern England
The role of demography in long-run economic growth has been subject to increasing attention. This paper questions the received wisdom that marital birth control was absent before the nineteenth century. Using an extensive individual-level dataset covering 270,000 births from 80,000 families we show that higher national and sector-specific real wages reduced spacing between births in England over more than three centuries, from 1540-1850. This effect is present among both poor and rich families and is robust to a wide range of control variables accounting for external factors influencing a couple’s fertility such as malnutrition, climate shocks and the disease environment.
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