DP9116 Malthus in the Bedroom: Birth Spacing as a Preventive Check Mechanism in Pre-Modern England

Author(s): Francesco Cinnirella, Marc Klemp, Jacob Weisdorf
Publication Date: September 2012
Keyword(s): Birth intervals, Fertility limitation, Natural fertility, Preventive check, Spacing
JEL(s): J11, J13, N33
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=9116

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 individual data, we find a causal negative 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.