Principles of Economics
BOOK IV, CHAPTER IV
THE GROWTH OF POPULATION.
§ 1. The production of wealth is but a means to the sustenance of man; to the satisfaction of his wants; and to the development of his activities, physical, mental, and moral. But man himself is the chief means of the production of that wealth of which he is the ultimate aim*29: and this and the two following chapters will be given to some study of the supply of labour; i.e. of the growth of population in numbers, in strength, in knowledge, and in character.
In the animal and vegetable world the growth of numbers is governed by the tendency of individuals to propagate their species on the one hand, and on the other hand by the struggle for life which thins out the young before they arrive at maturity. In the human race alone the conflict of these two opposing forces is complicated by other influences. On the one hand regard for the future induces many individuals to control their natural impulses; sometimes with the purpose of worthily discharging their duties as parents; sometimes, as for instance at Rome under the Empire, for mean motives. And on the other hand society exercises pressure on the individual by religious, moral and legal sanctions, sometimes with the object of quickening, and sometimes with that of retarding, the growth of population.
The study of the growth of population is often spoken of as though it were a modern one. But in a more or less vague form it has occupied the attention of thoughtful men in all ages of the world. To its influence, often unavowed, sometimes not even clearly recognized, we can trace a great part of the rules, customs and ceremonies that have been enjoined in the Eastern and Western world by law-givers, by moralists, and those nameless thinkers, whose far-seeing wisdom has left its impress on national habits. Among vigorous races, and in times of great military conflict, they aimed at increasing the supply of males capable of bearing arms; and in the higher stages of progress they have inculcated a great respect for the sanctity of human life; but in the lower stages, they have encouraged and even compelled the ruthless slaughter of the infirm and the aged, and sometimes of a certain proportion of the female children.
In ancient Greece and Rome, with the safety-valve of the power of planting colonies, and in the presence of constant war, an increase in the number of citizens was regarded as a source of public strength; and marriage was encouraged by public opinion, and in many cases even by legislation: though thoughtful men were even then aware that action in the contrary sense might be necessary if the responsibilities of parentage should ever cease to be burdensome*30. In later times there may be observed, as Roscher says*31, a regular ebb and flow of the opinion that the State should encourage the growth of numbers. It was in full flow in England under the first two Tudors, but in the course of the sixteenth century it slackened and turned; and it began to ebb, when the abolition of the celibacy of the religious orders, and the more settled state of the country had had time to give a perceptible impetus to population; the effective demand for labour having meanwhile been diminished by the increase of sheep runs, and by the collapse of that part of the industrial system which had been organized by the monastic establishments. Later on the growth of population was checked by that rise in the standard of comfort which took effect in the general adoption of wheat as the staple food of Englishmen during the first half of the eighteenth century. At that time there were even fears, which later inquiries showed to be unfounded, that the population was actually diminishing. Petty*32 had forestalled some of Carey's and Wakefield's arguments as to the advantages of a dense population. Child had argued that "whatever tends to the depopulating of a country tends to the impoverishment of it"; and that "most nations in the civilized parts of the world are more or less rich or poor proportionably to the paucity or plenty of their people, and not to the sterility or fruitfulness of their land*33." And by the time that the world-struggle with France had attained its height, when the demands for more and more troops were ever growing, and when manufacturers were wanting more men for their new machinery; the bias of the ruling classes was strongly flowing in favour of an increase of population. So far did this movement of opinion reach that in 1796 Pitt declared that a man who had enriched his country with a number of children had a claim on its assistance. An Act, passed amid the military anxieties of 1806, which granted exemptions from taxes to the fathers of more than two children born in wedlock, was repealed as soon as Napoleon had been safely lodged in St Helena*34.
§ 2. But during all this time there had been a growing feeling among those who thought most seriously on social problems, that an inordinate increase of numbers, whether it strengthened the State or not, must necessarily cause great misery: and that the rulers of the State had no right to subordinate individual happiness to the aggrandizement of the State. In France in particular a reaction was caused, as we have seen, by the cynical selfishness with which the Court and its adherents sacrificed the wellbeing of the people for the sake of their own luxury and military glory. If the humane sympathies of the Physiocrats had been able to overcome the frivolity and harshness of the privileged classes of France, the eighteenth century would probably not have ended in tumult and bloodshed, the march of freedom in England would not have been arrested, and the dial of progress would have been more forward than it is by the space of at least a generation. As it was, but little attention was paid to Quesnay's guarded but forcible protest:—"one should aim less at augmenting the population than at increasing the national income, for the condition of greater comfort which is derived from a good income, is preferable to that in which a population exceeds its income and is ever in urgent need of the means of subsistence*35."
Adam Smith said but little on the question of population, for indeed he wrote at one of the culminating points of the prosperity of the English working classes; but what he does say is wise and well balanced and modern in tone. Accepting the Physiocratic doctrine as his basis, he corrected it by insisting that the necessaries of life are not a fixed and determined quantity, but have varied much from place to place and time to time; and may vary more*36. But he did not work out this hint fully. And there was nothing to lead him to anticipate the second great limitation of the Physiocratic doctrine, which has been made prominent in our time by the carriage of wheat from the centre of America to Liverpool for less than what had been the cost of its carriage across England.
The eighteenth century wore on to its close and the next century began; year by year the condition of the working classes in England became more gloomy. An astonishing series of bad harvests*37, a most exhausting war*38, and a change in the methods of industry that dislocated old ties, combined with an injudicious poor law to bring the working classes into the greatest misery they have ever suffered, at all events since the beginning of trustworthy records of English social history*39. And to crown all, well-meaning enthusiasts, chiefly under French influence, were proposing communistic schemes which would enable people to throw on society the whole responsibility for rearing their children*40.
Thus while the recruiting sergeant and the employer of labour were calling for measures tending to increase the growth of population, more far-seeing men began to inquire whether the race could escape degradation if the numbers continued long to increase as they were then doing. Of these inquirers the chief was Malthus, and his Essay on the Principle of Population is the starting-point of all modern speculations on the subject.
§ 3. Malthus' reasoning consists of three parts, which must be kept distinct. The first relates to the supply of labour. By a careful study of facts he proves that every people, of whose history we have a trustworthy record, has been so prolific that the growth of its numbers would have been rapid and continuous if it had not been checked either by a scarcity of the necessaries of life, or some other cause, that is, by disease, by war, by infanticide, or lastly by voluntary restraint.
His second position relates to the demand for labour. Like the first it is supported by facts, but by a different set of facts. He shows that up to the time at which he wrote no country (as distinguished from a city, such as Rome or Venice) had been able to obtain an abundant supply of the necessaries of life after its territory had become very thickly peopled. The produce which Nature returns to the work of man is her effective demand for population: and he shows that up to this time a rapid increase in population when already thick had not led to a proportionate increase in this demand*41.
Thirdly, he draws the conclusion that what had been in the past, was likely to be in the future; and that the growth of population would be checked by poverty or some other cause of suffering unless it were checked by voluntary restraint. He therefore urges people to use this restraint, and, while leading lives of moral purity, to abstain from very early marriages*42.
His position with regard to the supply of population, with which alone we are directly concerned in this chapter, remains substantially valid. The changes which the course of events has introduced into the doctrine of population relate chiefly to the second and third steps of his reasoning. We have already noticed that the English economists of the earlier half of last century overrated the tendency of an increasing population to press upon the means of subsistence; and it was not Malthus' fault that he could not foresee the great developments of steam transport by land and by sea, which have enabled Englishmen of the present generation to obtain the products of the richest lands of the earth at comparatively small cost.
But the fact that he did not foresee these changes makes the second and third steps of his argument antiquated in form; though they are still in a great measure valid in substance. It remains true that unless the checks on the growth of population in force at the end of the nineteenth century are on the whole increased (they are certain to change their form in places that are as yet imperfectly civilized) it will be impossible for the habits of comfort prevailing in Western Europe to spread themselves over the whole world and maintain themselves for many hundred years. But of this more hereafter*43.
§ 4. The growth in numbers of a people depends firstly on the Natural Increase, that is, the excess of their births over their deaths; and secondly on migration.
The number of births depends chiefly on habits relating to marriage, the early history of which is full of instruction; but we must confine ourselves here to the conditions of marriage in modern civilized countries.
The age of marriage varies with the climate. In warm climates where childbearing begins early, it ends early, in colder climates it begins later and ends later*44; but in every case the longer marriages are postponed beyond the age that is natural to the country, the smaller is the birth-rate; the age of the wife being of course much more important in this respect than that of the husband*45. Given the climate, the average age of marriage depends chiefly on the ease with which young people can establish themselves, and support a family according to the standard of comfort that prevails among their friends and acquaintances; and therefore it is different in different stations of life.
In the middle classes a man's income seldom reaches its maximum till he is forty or fifty years old; and the expense of bringing up his children is heavy and lasts for many years. The artisan earns nearly as much at twenty-one as he ever does, unless he rises to a responsible post, but he does not earn much before he is twenty-one: his children are likely to be a considerable expense to him till about the age of fifteen; unless they are sent into a factory, where they may pay their way at a very early age; and lastly the labourer earns nearly full wages at eighteen, while his children begin to pay their own expenses very early. In consequence, the average age at marriage is highest among the middle classes: it is low among the artisans and lower still among the unskilled labourers*46.
Unskilled labourers, when not so poor as to suffer actual want and not restrained by any external cause, have seldom, if ever, shown a lower power of increase than that of doubling in thirty years; that is, of multiplying a million-fold in six hundred years, a billion-fold in twelve hundred: and hence it might be inferred a priori that their increase has never gone on without restraint for any considerable time. This inference is confirmed by the teaching of all history. Throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and in some parts of it even up to the present time, unmarried labourers have usually slept in the farmhouse or with their parents; while a married pair have generally required a house for themselves: when a village has as many hands as it can well employ, the number of houses is not increased, and young people have to wait as best they can.
There are many parts of Europe even now in which custom exercising the force of law prevents more than one son in each family from marrying; he is generally the eldest, but in some places the youngest: if any other son marries he must leave the village. When great material prosperity and the absence of all extreme poverty are found in old-fashioned corners of the Old World, the explanation generally lies in some such custom as this with all its evils and hardships*47. It is true that the severity of this custom may be tempered by the power of migration; but in the Middle Ages the free movement of the people was hindered by stern regulations. The free towns indeed often encouraged immigration from the country: but the rules of the gilds were in some respects almost as cruel to people who tried to escape from their old homes as were those enforced by the feudal lords themselves*48.
§ 5. In this respect the position of the hired agricultural labourer has changed very much. The towns are now always open to him and his children; and if he betakes himself to the New World he is likely to succeed better than any other class of emigrants. But on the other hand the gradual rise in the value of land and its growing scarcity is tending to check the increase of population in some districts in which the system of peasant properties prevails, in which there is not much enterprise for opening out new trades or for emigration, and parents feel that the social position of their children will depend on the amount of their land. They incline to limit artificially the size of their families and to treat marriage very much as a business contract, seeking always to marry their sons to heiresses. Francis Galton pointed out that, though the families of English peers are generally large, the habits of marrying the eldest son to an heiress who is presumably not of a fertile stock, and sometimes dissuading younger sons from marriage, have led to the extinction of many peerages. Similar habits among French peasants, combined with their preference for small families, keep their numbers almost stationary.
On the other hand there seem to be no conditions more favourable to the rapid growth of numbers than those of the agricultural districts of new countries. Land is to be had in abundance, railways and steamships carry away the produce of the land and bring back in exchange implements of advanced types, and many of the comforts and luxuries of life. The "farmer," as the peasant proprietor is called in America, finds therefore that a large family is not a burden, but an assistance to him. He and they live healthy out-of-door lives; there is nothing to check but everything to stimulate the growth of numbers. The natural increase is aided by immigration; and thus, in spite of the fact that some classes of the inhabitants of large cities in America are, it is said, reluctant to have many children, the population has increased sixteen-fold in the last hundred years*49.
On the whole it seems proved that the birth-rate is generally lower among the well-to-do than among those who make little expensive provision for the future of themselves and their families, and who live an active life: and that fecundity is diminished by luxurious habits of living. Probably it is also diminished by severe mental strain; that is to say, given the natural strength of the parents, their expectation of a large family is diminished by a great increase of mental strain. Of course those who do high mental work, have as a class more than the average of constitutional and nervous strength; and Galton has shown that they are not as a class unprolific. But they commonly marry late.
§ 6. The growth of population in England has a more clearly defined history than that in the United Kingdom, and we shall find some interest in noticing its chief movements.
The restraints on the increase of numbers during the Middle Ages were the same in England as elsewhere. In England as elsewhere the religious orders were a refuge to those for whom no establishment in marriage could be provided; and religious celibacy while undoubtedly acting in some measure as an independent check on the growth of population, is in the main to be regarded rather as a method in which the broad natural forces tending to restrain population expressed themselves, than as an addition to them. Infectious and contagious diseases, both endemic and epidemic, were caused by dirty habits of life which were even worse in England than in the South of Europe; and famines by the failures of good harvests and the difficulties of communication; though this evil was less in England than elsewhere.
Country life was, as elsewhere, rigid in its habits; young people found it difficult to establish themselves until some other married pair had passed from the scene and made a vacancy in their own parish; for migration to another parish was seldom thought of by an agricultural labourer under ordinary circumstances. Consequently whenever plague or war or famine thinned the population, there were always many waiting to be married, who filled the vacant places; and, being perhaps younger and stronger than the average of newly married couples, had larger families*50.
There was however some movement even of agricultural labourers towards districts which had been struck more heavily than their neighbours by pestilence, by famine or the sword. Moreover artisans were often more or less on the move, and this was especially the case with those who were engaged in the building trades, and those who worked in metal and wood; though no doubt the "wander years" were chiefly those of youth, and after these were over the wanderer was likely to settle down in the place in which he was born. Again, there seems to have been a good deal of migration on the part of the retainers of the landed gentry, especially of the greater barons who had seats in several parts of the country. And lastly, in spite of the selfish exclusiveness which the gilds developed as years went on, the towns offered in England as elsewhere a refuge to many who could get no good openings for work and for marriage in their own homes. In these various ways some elasticity was introduced into the rigid system of mediæval economy; and population was able to avail itself in some measure of the increased demand for labour which came gradually with the growth of knowledge, the establishment of law and order, and the development of oceanic trade*51.
In the latter half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century the central government exerted itself to hinder the adjustment of the supply of population in different parts of the country to the demand for it by Settlement laws, which made any one chargeable to a parish who had resided there forty days, but ordered that he might be sent home by force at any time within that period*52. Landlords and farmers were so eager to prevent people from getting a "settlement" in their parish that they put great difficulties in the way of building cottages, and sometimes even razed them to the ground. In consequence the agricultural population of England was stationary during the hundred years ending with 1760; while the manufactures were not yet sufficiently developed to absorb large numbers. This retardation in the growth of numbers was partly caused by, and partly a cause of, a rise in the standard of living; a chief element of which was an increased use of wheat in the place of inferior grains as the food of the common people*53.
From 1760 onwards those who could not establish themselves at home found little difficulty in getting employment in the new manufacturing or mining districts, where the demand for workers often kept the local authorities from enforcing the removal clauses of the Settlement Act. To these districts young people resorted freely, and the birth-rate in them became exceptionally high; but so did the death-rate also; the net result being a fairly rapid growth of population. At the end of the century, when Malthus wrote, the Poor Law again began to influence the age of marriage; but this time in the direction of making it unduly early. The sufferings of the working classes caused by a series of famines and by the French War made some measure of relief necessary; and the need of large bodies of recruits for the army and navy was an additional inducement to tender-hearted people to be somewhat liberal in their allowances to a large family, with the practical effect of making the father of many children often able to procure more indulgences for himself without working than he could have got by hard work if he had been unmarried or had only a small family. Those who availed themselves most of this bounty were naturally the laziest and meanest of the people, those with least self-respect and enterprise. So although there was in the manufacturing towns a fearful mortality, particularly of infants, the quantity of the people increased fast; but its quality improved little, if at all, till the passing of the New Poor Law in 1834. Since that time the rapid growth of the town population has, as we shall see in the next chapter, tended to increase mortality, but this has been counteracted by the growth of temperance, of medical knowledge, of sanitation and of general cleanliness. Emigration has increased, the age of marriage has been slightly raised and a somewhat less proportion of the whole population are married; but, on the other hand, the ratio of births to a marriage has risen*54; with the result that population has been growing very nearly steadily*55. Let us examine the course of recent changes a little more closely.
§ 7. Early in this century, when wages were low and wheat was dear, the working classes generally spent more than half their income on bread: and consequently a rise in the price of wheat diminished marriages very much among them: that is, it diminished very much the number of marriages by banns. But it raised the income of many members of the well-to-do classes, and therefore often increased the number of marriages by licence*56. Since however these were but a small part of the whole, the net effect was to lower the marriage-rate*57. But as time went on, the price of wheat fell and wages rose, till now the working classes spend on the average less than a quarter of their incomes on bread; and in consequence the variations of commercial prosperity have got to exercise a preponderating influence on the marriage-rate*58.
Since 1873 though the average real income of the population of England has indeed been increasing, its rate of increase has been less than in the preceding years, and meanwhile there has been a continuous fall of prices, and consequently a continuous fall in the money incomes of many classes of society. Now people are governed in their calculations as to whether they can afford to marry or not, more by the money income which they expect to be able to get, than by elaborate calculations of changes in its purchasing power. And therefore the standard of living among the working classes has been rising rapidly, perhaps more rapidly than at any other time in English history: their household expenditure measured in money has remained about stationary, and measured in goods has increased very fast. Meanwhile the price of wheat has also fallen very much, and a marked fall in the marriage-rate for the whole country has often accompanied a marked fall in the price of wheat. The marriage-rate is now reckoned on the basis that each marriage involves two persons and should therefore count for two. The English rate fell from 17.6 per thousand in 1873 to 14.2 in 1886. It rose to 16.5 in 1899; in 1907 it was 15.8, but in 1908 only 14.9*59.
There is much to be learnt from the history of population in Scotland and in Ireland. In the lowlands of Scotland a high standard of education, the development of mineral resources, and close contact with their richer English neighbours have combined to afford a great increase of average income to a rapidly increasing population. On the other hand, the inordinate growth of population in Ireland before the potato-famine in 1847, and its steady diminution since that time, will remain for ever landmarks in economic history.
Comparing the habits of different nations*60 we find that in the Teutonic countries of Central and Northern Europe, the age of marriage is kept late, partly in consequence of the early years of manhood being spent in the army; but that it has been very early in Russia; where, at all events under the old régime, the family group insisted on the son's bringing a wife to help in the work of the household as early as possible, even if he had to leave her for a time and go to earn his living elsewhere. In the United Kingdom and America there is no compulsory service, and men marry early. In France, contrary to general opinion, early marriages on the part of men are not rare; while on the part of women they are more common than in any country for which we have statistics, except the Slavonic countries, where they are much the highest.
The marriage-rate, the birth-rate and the death-rate are diminishing in almost every country. But the general mortality is high where the birth-rate is high. For instance, both are high in Slavonic countries, and both are low in the North of Europe. The death-rates are low in Australasia, and the "natural" increase there is fairly high, though the birth-rate is low and falling very fast. In fact its fall in the various States ranged from 23 to 30 per cent. in the period 1881-1901*61.
Notes for this chapter
See IV. I. 1.
Thus Aristotle (Politics, II. 6) objects to Plato's scheme for equalizing property and abolishing poverty on the ground that it would be unworkable unless the State exercised a firm control over the growth of numbers. And as Jowett points out, Plato himself was aware of this (see Laws, v. 740: also Aristotle, Politics, VII. 16). The opinion, formerly held that the population of Greece declined from the seventh century B.C., and that of Rome from the third, has recently been called in question, see "Die Bevölkerung des Altertums" by Edouard Meyer in the Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften.
Political Economy, § 254.
He argues that Holland is richer than it appears to be relatively to France, because its people have access to many advantages that cannot be had by those who live on poorer land, and are therefore more scattered. "Rich land is better than coarse land of the same Rent." Political Arithmetick, ch. I.
Discourses on Trade, ch. X. Harris, Essay on Coins, pp. 32, 3, argues to a similar effect, and proposes to "encourage matrimony among the lower classes by giving some privileges to those who have children," etc.
"Let us," said Pitt, "make relief, in cases where there are a large number of children, a matter of right and an honour, instead of a ground for opprobrium and contempt. This will make a large family a blessing and not a curse, and this will draw a proper line of distinction between those who are able to provide for themselves by labour, and those who after having enriched their country with a number of children have a claim on its assistance for their support." Of course he desired "to discourage relief where it was not wanted." Napoleon the First had offered to take under his own charge one member of any family which contained seven male children; and Louis XIV., his predecessor in the slaughter of men, had exempted from public taxes all those who married before the age of 20 or had more than ten legitimate children. A comparison of the rapid increase in the population of Germany with that of France was a chief motive of the order of the French Chamber in 1885 that education and board should be provided at the public expense for every seventh child in necessitous families: and in 1913 a law was passed giving bounties under certain conditions to parents of large families. The British Budget Bill of 1909 allowed a small abatement of income tax for fathers of families.
The Physiocratic doctrine with regard to the tendency of population to increase up to the margin of subsistence may be given in Turgot's words:—the employer "since he always has his choice of a great number of working men, will choose that one who will work most cheaply. Thus then the workers are compelled by mutual competition to lower their price; and with regard to every kind of labour the result is bound to be reached—and it is reached as a matter of fact—that the wages of the worker are limited to that which is necessary to procure his subsistence." (Sur la formation et la distribution des richesses, § VI.)
Similarly Sir James Steuart says (Inquiry, Bk. I. ch. III.), "The generative faculty resembles a spring loaded with a weight, which always exerts itself in proportion to the diminution of resistance: when food has remained some time without augmentation or diminution, generation will carry numbers as high as possible; if then food comes to be diminished the spring is overpowered; the force of it becomes less than nothing, inhabitants will diminish at least in proportion to the overcharge. If, on the other hand, food be increased, the spring which stood at 0, will begin to exert itself in proportion as the resistance diminishes; people will begin to be better fed; they will multiply, and in proportion as they increase in numbers the food will become scarce again." Sir James Steuart was much under the influence of the Physiocrats, and was indeed in some respects imbued with Continental rather than English notions of government: and his artificial schemes for regulating population seem very far off from us now. See his Inquiry, Bk. I. ch. XII., "Of the great advantage of combining a well-digested Theory and a perfect Knowledge of Facts with the Practical Part of Government in order to make a People multiply."
See Wealth of Nations, Bk. I. Ch. VIII. and Bk. V. ch. II. See also supra, Bk. II ch. IV.
The average price of wheat in the decade 1771-1780 in which Adam Smith wrote was 34s. 7d.; in 1781-1790 it was 37s. 1d.; in 1791-1800 it was 63s. 6d.; in 1801-1810 it was 83s. 11d.; and in 1811-1820 it was 87s. 6d.
Early in the last century the Imperial taxes—for the greater part war taxes—amounted to one-fifth of the whole income of the country; whereas now they are not much more than a twentieth, and even of this a great part is spent on education and other benefits which Government did not then afford.
See below § 7 and above Bk. I. ch. III. §§ 5, 6.
Especially Godwin in his Inquiry concerning Political Justice (1792). It is interesting to compare Malthus' criticism of this Essay (Bk. III. ch. II.) with Aristotle's comments on Plato's Republic (see especially Politics, II. 6).
But many of his critics suppose him to have stated his position much less unreservedly than he did; they have forgotten such passages as this:—"From a review of the state of society in former periods compared with the present I should certainly say that the evils resulting from the principle of population have rather diminished than increased, even under the disadvantage of an almost total ignorance of their real cause. And if we can indulge the hope that this ignorance will be gradually dissipated, it does not seem unreasonable to hope that they will be still further diminished. The increase of absolute population, which will of course take place, will evidently tend but little to weaken this expectation, as everything depends on the relative proportions between population and food, and not on the absolute number of the people. In the former part of this work it appeared that the countries which possessed the fewest people often suffered the most from the effects of the principle of population." Essay, Bk. IV. ch. XII.
In the first edition of his essay, 1798, Malthus gave his argument without any detailed statement of facts, though from the first he regarded it as needing to be treated in direct connection with a study of facts; as is shown by his having told Pryme (who afterwards became the first Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge) "that his theory was first suggested to his mind in an argumentative conversation which he had with his father on the state of some other countries" (Pryme's Recollections, p. 66). American experience showed that population if unchecked would double at least once in twenty-five years. He argued that a doubled population might, even in a country as thickly peopled as England was with its seven million inhabitants, conceivably though not probably double the subsistence raised from the English soil: but that labour doubled again would not suffice to double the produce again. "Let us then take this for our rule, though certainly far beyond the truth; and allow that the whole produce of the island might be increased every twenty-five years [that is with every doubling of the population] by a quantity of subsistence equal to that which it at present produces"; or in other words, in an arithmetical progression. His desire to make himself clearly understood made him, as Wagner says in his excellent introduction to the study of Population (Grundlegung, Ed. 3, p. 453), "put too sharp a point on his doctrine, and formulate it too absolutely." Thus he got into the habit of speaking of production as capable of increasing in an arithmetical ratio: and many writers think that he attached importance to the phrase itself: whereas it was really only a short way of stating the utmost that he thought any reasonable person could ask him to concede. What he meant, stated in modern language, was that the tendency to diminishing return, which is assumed throughout his argument, would begin to operate sharply after the produce of the island had been doubled. Doubled labour might give doubled produce: but quadrupled labour would hardly treble it: octupled labour would not quadruple it.
In the second edition, 1803, he based himself on so wide and careful a statement of facts as to claim a place among the founders of historical economics; he softened and explained away many of the "sharp points" of his old doctrine, though he did not abandon (as was implied in earlier editions of this work) the use of the phrase "arithmetical ratio." In particular he took a less despondent view of the future of the human race; and dwelt on the hope that moral restraint might hold population in check, and that "vice and misery," the old checks, might thus be kept in abeyance. Francis Place, who was not blind to his many faults, wrote in 1822 an apology for him, excellent in tone and judgment. Good accounts of his work are given in Bonar's Malthus and his Work, Cannan's Production and Distribution, 1776-1848, and Nicholson's Political Economy, Bk. I. ch. XII.
Taking the present population of the world at one and a half thousand millions; and assuming that its present rate of increase (about 8 per 1000 annually, see Ravenstein's paper before the British Association in 1890) will continue, we find that in less than two hundred years it will amount to six thousand millions; or at the rate of about 200 to the square mile of fairly fertile land (Ravenstein reckons 28 million square miles of fairly fertile land, and 14 millions of poor grass lands. The first estimate is thought by many to be too high: but, allowing for this, if the less fertile land be reckoned in for what it is worth, the result will be about thirty million square miles as assumed above). Meanwhile there will probably be great improvements in the arts of agriculture; and, if so, the pressure of population on the means of subsistence may be held in check for about two hundred years, but not longer.
Of course the length of a generation has itself some influence on the growth of population. If it is 25 years in one place and 20 in another; and if in each place population doubles once in two generations during a thousand years, the increase will be a million-fold in the first place, but thirty million-fold in the second.
Dr Ogle (Statistical Journal, Vol. 53) calculates that if the average age of marriage of women in England were postponed five years, the number of children to a marriage, which is now 4.2 would fall to 3.1. Korösi, basing himself on the facts of the relatively warm climate of Buda Pest, finds 18-20 the most prolific age for women, 24-26 that for men. But he concludes that a slight postponement of weddings beyond these ages is advisable mainly on the ground that the vitality of the children of women under 20 is generally small. See Proceedings of Congress of Hygiene and Demography, London 1892, and Statistical Journal, Vol. 57.
The term marriage in the text must be taken in a wide sense so as to include not only legal marriages, but all those informal unions which are sufficiently permanent in character to involve for several years at least the practical responsibilities of married life. They are often contracted at an early age, and not infrequently lead up to legal marriages after the lapse of some years. For this reason the average age at marriage in the broad sense of the term, with which alone we are here concerned, is below the average age at legal marriage. The allowance to be made on this head for the whole of the working classes is probably considerable; but it is very much greater in the case of unskilled labourers than of any other class. The following statistics must be interpreted in the light of this remark, and of the fact that all English industrial statistics are vitiated by the want of sufficient care in the classification of the working classes in our official returns. The Registrar-General's forty-ninth Annual Report states that in certain selected districts the returns of marriages for 1884-5 were examined with the following results; the number after each occupation being the average age of bachelors in it at marriage, and the following number, in brackets, being the average age of spinsters who married men of that occupation:—Miners 24.06 (22.46); Textile hands 24.38 (23.43); Shoemakers, Tailors 24.92 (24.31); Artisans 25.35 (23.70); Labourers 25.56 (23.66); Commercial Clerks 26.25 (24.43); Shopkeepers, Shopmen 26.67 (24.22); Farmers and sons 29.23 (26.91); Professional and Independent Class 31.22 (26.40).
Dr Ogle, in the paper already referred to, shows that the marriage-rate is greatest generally in those parts of England in which the percentage of those women between 15 and 25 years of age who are industrially occupied is the greatest. This is no doubt due, as he suggests, partly to the willingness of men to have their money incomes supplemented by those of their wives; but it may be partly due also to an excess of women of a marriageable age in those districts.
Thus a visit to the valley Jachenau in the Bavarian Alps about 1880 found this custom still in full force. Aided by a great recent rise in the value of their woods, with regard to which they had pursued a farseeing policy, the inhabitants lived prosperously in large houses, the younger brothers and sisters acting as servants in their old homes or elsewhere. They were of a different race from the workpeople in the neighbouring valleys, who lived poor and hard lives, but seemed to think that the Jachenau purchased its material prosperity at too great a cost.
See e.g. Rogers, Six Centuries, pp. 106, 7.
The extreme prudence of peasant proprietors under stationary conditions was noticed by Malthus; see his account of Switzerland (Essay, Bk. II. ch. V.). Adam Smith remarked that poor Highland women frequently had twenty children of whom not more than two reached maturity (Wealth of Nations, Bk. I. ch. VIII.); and the notion that want stimulated fertility was insisted on by Doubleday, True Law of Population. See also Sadler, Law of Population. Herbert Spencer seemed to think it probable that the progress of civilization will of itself hold the growth of population completely in check. But Malthus' remark, that the reproductive power is less in barbarous than in civilized races, has been extended by Darwin to the animal and vegetable kingdom generally.
Mr Charles Booth (Statistical Journal,1893) has divided London into 27 districts (chiefly Registration districts); and arranged them in order of poverty, of overcrowding, of high birth-rate and of high death-rate. He finds that the four orders are generally the same. The excess of birth-rate over death-rate is lowest in the very rich and the very poor districts.
The birth-rate in England and Wales is nominally diminishing at about an equal rate in both town and country. But the continuous migration of young persons from rural to industrial areas has considerably depleted the ranks of young married women in the rural districts; and, when allowance is made for this fact, we find that the percentage of births to women of childbearing ages is much higher in them than in the towns: as is shown in the following table published by the Registrar-General in 1907.
The movements of the population of France have been studied with exceptiona care: and the great work on the subject by Levasseur, La Population Française, is a mine of valuable information as regards other nations besides France. Montesquieu, reasoning perhaps rather a priori, accused the law of primogeniture which ruled in his time in France of reducing the number of children in a family: and le Play brought the same charge against the law of compulsory division. Levasseur (l.c. Vol. III. pp. 171-7) calls attention to the contrast; and remarks that Malthus' expectations of the effect of the Civil Code on population were in harmony with Montesquieu's rather than le Play's diagnosis. But in fact the birthrate varies much from one part of France to another. It is generally lower where a large part of the population owns land than where it does not. If however the Departments of France be arranged in groups in ascending order of the property left at death (valeurs successorales par tête d'habitant), the corresponding birth-rate descends almost uniformly, being 23 per hundred married women between 15 and 50 years for the ten Departments in which the property left is 48-57 fr.; and 13.2 for the Seine, where it is 412 fr. And in Paris itself the arrondissements inhabited by the well-to-do show a smaller percentage of families with more than two children than the poorer arrondissements show. There is much interest in the careful analysis which Levasseur gives of the connection between economic conditions and birth-rate; his general conclusion being that it is not direct but indirect, through the mutual influence of the two on manners and the habit of life (mœurs). He appears to hold that, however much the decline in the numbers of the French relatively to surrounding nations may be regretted from the political and military points of view, there is much good mixed with the evil in its influences on material comfort and even social progress.
Thus we are told that after the Black Death of 1349 most marriages were very fertile (Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices. Vol. I. p. 301).
There is no certain knowledge to be had as to the density of population in England before the eighteenth century; but the following estimates, reproduced from Steffen (Geschichte der englischen Lohn-arbeiter, I. pp. 463 ff.), are probably the best as yet available. Domesday Book suggests that in 1086 the population of England was between two, and two-and-a-half millions. Just before the Black Death (1348) it may have been between three-and-a-half, and four-and-a-half millions; and just afterwards two-and-a-half millions. It began to recover quickly; but made slow progress between 1400 and 1550: it increased rather fast in the next hundred years, and reached five-and-a-half millions in 1700.
If we are to trust Harrison (Description of England, Bk. II. ch. XVI.), the muster of men able for service in 1574 amounted to 1,172,674.
The Black Death was England's only very great calamity. She was not, like the rest of Europe, liable to devastating wars, such as the Thirty Years' War, which destroyed more than half the population of Germany, a loss which it required a full century to recover. (See Rümelin's instructive article on Bevölkerungslehre in Schönberg's Handbuch.)
Adam Smith is justly indignant at this. (See Wealth of Nations, Bk. I. ch. X. Part II. and Book IV. ch. II.) The Act recites (14 Charles II. c. 12, A.D. 1662) that "by reason of some defects in the law, poor people are not restrained from going from one parish to another, and thereby do endeavour to settle themselves in those parishes where there is the best stock, the largest wastes or commons to build cottages, and the most woods for them to burn and destroy: etc." and it is therefore ordered "that upon complaint made ... within forty days after any such person or persons coming, so as to settle as aforesaid, in any tenement under the yearly value of ten pounds ... it shall be lawful for any two justices of the Peace ... to remove and convey such person or persons to such parish where he or they were last legally settled." Several Acts purporting to soften its harshness had been passed before Adam Smith's time; but they had been ineffective. In 1795 however it was ordered that no one should be removed until he became actually chargeable.
Some interesting remarks on this subject are made by Eden, History of the Poor, I. pp. 560-4.
But this increase in the figures shown is partly due to improved registration of births. (Farr, Vital Statistics, p. 97.)
The following tables show the growth of the population of England and Wales from the beginning of the eighteenth century. The figures before 1801 are computed from the registers of births and deaths, and the poll and hearth tax returns: those since 1801 from Census returns. It will be noticed that the numbers increased nearly as much in the twenty years following 1760 as in the preceding sixty years. The pressure of the great war and the high price of corn is shown in the slow growth between 1790 and 1801; and the effects of indiscriminate poor law allowances, in spite of greater pressure, is shown by the rapid increase in the next ten years, and the still greater increase when that pressure was removed in the decade ending 1821. The third column shows the percentage which the increase during the preceding decade was of the population at the beginning of that decade.
The great growth of emigration during recent years makes it important to correct the figures for the last three decades so as to show the "natural increase," viz. that due to the excess of births over deaths. The net emigration from the United Kingdom during the decades 1871-81 and 1881-91 was 1,480,000, and 1,747,000 respectively.
See Farr's 17th Annual Report for 1854 as Registrar-General, or the abstract of it in Vital Statistics (pp. 72-5).
For instance, representing the price of wheat in shillings and the number of marriages in England and Wales in thousands, we have for 1801 wheat at 119 and marriages at 67, for 1803 wheat at 59 and marriages at 94; for 1805 the numbers are 90 and 80, for 1807 they are 75 and 84, for 1812 they are 126 and 82, for 1815 they are 66 and 100, for 1817 they are 97 and 88, for 1822 they are 45 and 99.
Since 1820 the average price of wheat has seldom exceeded 60s. and never 75s.: and the successive inflations of commerce which culminated and broke in 1826, 1836-9, 1848, 1856, 1866 and 1873 exercised an influence on the marriage-rate about equal with changes in the price of corn. When the two causes act together the effects are very striking: thus between 1829 and 1834, there was a recovery of prosperity accompanied by a steady fall in the price of wheat and marriages rose from a hundred and four to a hundred and twenty-one thousand. The marriage-rate rose again rapidly between 1842 and 1845 when the price of wheat was a little lower than in the preceding years, and the business of the country was reviving; and again under similar circumstances between 1847 and 1853 and between 1862 and 1865.
A comparison of the marriage-rate with the harvests in Sweden for the years 1749 to 1883 is given by Sir Rawson Rawson in the Statistical Journal for December 1885. The harvest does not declare itself till part of the year's tale of marriages is made up; and further the inequalities of harvests are to some extent compensated for by the storage of grain; and therefore the individual harvest figures do not correspond closely with the marriage-rate. But when several good or bad harvests come together, the effect in increasing or diminishing the marriage-rate is very clearly marked.
Statistics of exports are among the most convenient indications of the fluctuations of commercial credit and industrial activity: and in the article already quoted, Ogle has shown a correspondence between the marriage-rate and the exports per head. Compare diagrams in Vol. II. p. 12 of Levasseur's La Population Française; and with regard to Massachusetts by Willcox in the Political Science Quarterly, Vol. VIII. pp. 76-82. Ogle's inquiries have been extended and corrected in a paper read by R. H. Hooker before the Manchester Statistical Society, in January 1898; who points out that if the marriage-rate fluctuates, the birth-rate during an ascending phase of the marriage-rate is apt to correspond to the marriage-rate not for that phase, but for the preceding phase when the marriage-rate was declining: and vice versâ. "Hence the ratio of births to marriages declines when the marriage-rate is rising and rises when the marriage-rate falls. A curve representing the ratio of births to marriages will move inversely to the marriage-rate." He points out that the decline in the ratio of births to marriages is not great, and is accounted for by the rapid decline of illegitimate births. The ratio of legitimate births to marriages is not declining perceptibly.
The following statements are based chiefly on statistics arranged by the late Signor Bodio, by M. Levasseur, La Population Française, and by the English Registrar-General in his Report for 1907.
Much instructive and suggestive matter connected with the subject of this chapter is contained in the Statistical Memoranda and Charts relating to Public Health and Social Conditions published by the Local Government Board in 1909 [Cd. 4671.].
End of Notes
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