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Why did population grow so rapidly in the eighteenth-century and why did Malthus's predictions not come true?

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Why did population grow so rapidly in the eighteenth-century and why did Malthus's predictions not come true? There is no doubt that there was a great acceleration in population growth during the 18th century in Britain. In this essay I will look into the causes and effects of this, also why the effect was not a Malthusian catastrophe. The economist Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was famous for his pessimistic views on population growth. He wrote in his paper Essay on the Principles of Population (1798) 'Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio' (Malthus 1798). Malthus had obviously observed the increase in the acceleration of the population growth and foresaw a natural barrier to sustained growth in the form of 'checks' on the population. He outlined two forms of these limitations on growth 'positive' and 'preventive' checks. Positive checks raise mortality; normally associated with food prices, as the population grows food gets scarcer, therefore more expensive, real income falls and malnutrition or even famine follow resulting in a population decrease, food prices fall...and so on. Malthus put forward this cyclical movement. Other factors such as disease and war would also come into this category. Preventive checks are checks which lowered fertility, for example people not being able to afford to marry and therefore don't have children, often thought of as ...read more.


As we can see from the appendix, as the end of the century neared the rate went from a silight level and got greater and greater, rising exponentially, or geometrically. This is an important point but what caused this surge? It is blatant that for there to be such a shift in the growth rate either mortality must fall or fertility must rise or both. There are a number of measures which can be looked at to deduce which factor played a bigger part, either crude birth rates versus crude death rates or gross reproduction rate (GRR) versus expectation of life at birth e0. The latter is far more statistically sound, GRR is a pure measure of fertility and e0 is a pure measure of mortality, taking the current age structure of the population out of the equation. The approximate increase in GRR in the 18th century is 22% whereas the rise in e0 is just 4%. It is possible to get a clearer picture looking at the 'long' 18th century, the same picture is painted once again, GRR is up almost 50% and e0 is up just over 20%. It is obvious from the Schofield & Wrigley compiled that far more of the accelaration in population growth is due to GRR (at the approximate ratio 7:3). ...read more.


The industrial revolution was creeping on as the century went on, it changed the country radically. The increase in illegitimacy can be put down to the movement of a great deal of the population away from isolation in small villages, into urban areas, where they could 'mingle'. It is evident that nuptiality is very sensitive to economic conditions, both in long and short term. I think that this, along with the population moving to urban areas, are the prime factors which caused the increase in couples marrying. Obviously in the increasingly favourable economic conditions for England have provide good conditions for this to take place. So why did Malthus's prediction not come true? According to his theory food production couldn't have kept up with this geometrically increasing population. Advances such as selective breeding were central to this I believe. I think this because animals could be constantly improved and made more productive. Although improvements in field rotation and new inventions to increase land productivity were probably more central. Slightly more land was taken to yield more crops for the swelling population but the majority of the increase in production came from efficiency. It should also be mentioned that dramatic improvements in the transport infrastructure such as river improvements, roas/turnpikes, international shipping and canals. Soon after the end of the 18th century the country became a net importer of food. It seems where there's a will to escape a 'Malthusian Crises', there's a way. ...read more.

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