Caliban Books

Mortality, Marriage and Population Growth in England, 1550-1850


This book represents a radical new interpretation of England’s demographic, economic and social history. Demography has traditionally been seen as a function of economics, but the English evidence now suggests that in the early modern period population growth was largely independent of economic development.

Detailed evidence is presented to show that mortality reduction was the engine of population growth in the eighteenth century. Mortality levels were not fuelled by poverty but by disease environment, determined in part by autonomous shifts in disease virulence, such as the disappearance of the plague at the end of the seventeenth century.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century virtually all women were married by the age of thirty-five, but in the eighteenth century there was a significant reduction in the frequency of marriage. This led to a fall in fertility, particularly amongst wealthier families. These changes in marriage and fertility were partly the result of falling mortality but were also associated with a marked increase in literacy amongst women.

Population growth contributed to the development of capitalism through the creation of labour surpluses and increases in aggregate demand. This took place in the context of England’s distinctive geographical position. England was free of the wars that ravaged the continent of Europe, and as an island was dependent on local militias and the navy for defence. The absence of a standing army meant that the crown was unable to enforce heavy taxation and trade monopolies, leading to the development of a culture of individual entrepreneurship.

The growth of capitalism was associated with increasing economic and social inequality, as well as the development of industry culminating in the industrial revolution. There is a similar process currently occurring globally, with multi-national companies fuelling the growth of global capitalism by expliting demographically generated labour surpluses.

The book is 136 pages, paperback and available from Caliban Books. Price £10.00. Free delivery.