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Why is there uncertainty among historians when accounting for the expansion in population in the period 1775 - 1900?

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Introduction

Why is there uncertainty among historians when accounting for the expansion in population in the period 1775 - 1900? From 1775 - 1900 the population rose dramatically in Britain. So much so, that at one point, the population doubled in the space of thirty years. Obviously, this was a cause for concern for the government, as it would be now if the same were to happen, however, it would seem that despite knowing that the population did grow at an enormous rate, there is great debate about why it grew so quickly. I will be looking over various pieces of information ad opinions from historians in order to create a realistic view of the reasons that could have been behind the expansion of the population. When looking at certain views and opinions regarding the population change, often statistics will be used to back up these statements. The lack of accurate statistics in this case, is something that must be taken into consideration. The first census was carried out in 1801 and has been carried out every ten years since (excepting 1941). This means that it is difficult to create accurate population figures from before this time. ...read more.

Middle

On the whole however, the only argument we know to be true is that of the plague and famine. It would seem tempting to look at the birth rate and presume that with a population rise of such significance that this must be on a constant rise - this would however be incorrect. In the latter half of the 18th century and perhaps the beginning of the 19th century the birth rate was indeed expanding, however most historians would agree that since (approximately) 1850's the birth rate has been in decline. Sir Thomas Malthus argued that the initial increase in population was largely due to the rise in birth rate - writers such as Malthus claimed that poorer families were encouraged to have more children due to the introduction of the Speenhamland system of poor relief. This system came into play in 1795 while the price of food was beginning to rise due to imports of cheap food becoming limited as a result of Britain's involvement in the French Wars and a series of poor harvests. The Old Poor Law was becoming outdated and the need for the system to alter was becoming obvious. ...read more.

Conclusion

Firstly, the apprentice system declined during this time, at one point it would not have been uncommon for young men to live with their employer whist learning a trade. During this time they would have been unable to marry, however instead the breakdown in this system meant that men begun to earn their maximum earnings earlier through training in such industries as textiles and coal mining (required little or no training, yet becoming very accessible) and did not have to wait to marry. Secondly, it is suggested that the growing demand for labour in growing cities and towns meant that child labour rose - when having children most people would agree that they would have to be financially stable, if a child could be sent out to work at a young age then this could keep the family stable or even improve their finances. It would seem that since the very beginning of the population rise in the 18th century, historians have argued over the cause, whether it be birth rate, death rate or migration. All of these factors could and probably have had an influence on the population to a point, however due to mainly, lack of accurate statistics it will always be open for debate which had most effect. ...read more.

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