The eighteenth century saw a population explosion in England and Wales with the English populace growing from 5.05 million in 1701 to 8.7 million in 1801. The population level was reasonably inert in the first half of the century with only an increase to 5.77 million in 1751, the main population growth occurred from 1751 until the mid nineteenth century, by which point it had reached a staggering 16.8 million. There is debate by historians as to whether the growth in population over this period is due to the fall in the mortality rate or the rise in fertility rates. While it is certainly true that both did take place there are factors to be considered as to why they occurred. Immigration and emigration would also normally be considered with fertility and mortality rates in population growth but as they virtually cancelled each other out (with only a 2% increase in the population through migration) they can be disregarded in the debate as to the main cause of population growth.
Life expectancy at birth in the mid eighteenth century was only 36 or 37 while one hundred years later it had risen by 3 or 4 years to 40. This obviously meant that there were fewer deaths each year, it is in fact documented by the Cambridge Group for the history of population and social structure that the crude death rate (not including infant mortality) in England dropped from 26 deaths per 1000 of population by 4 people per 1000 to 22 per 1000 people, this equates to 143,000 fewer people dying per year by 1851. The reasons for the fall in mortality rates and rise in life expectancy have been debated with a few ideas put forward. Advances in medical knowledge led to the first voluntary hospital opening in 1720 with a total of 33 operating by the end of the century, dispensaries offering free medicine and the humanitarian interest in physiology also increased. Unfortunately for those with infectious diseases, terminal illness or those claiming poor relief voluntary hospitals...
Bibliography: Revd Thomas Malthus – An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798 & 1803)
Wrigley & Schofield – The population history of England, 1541 – 1871: A reconstruction.
The Cambridge Group for the history of population and social structure
Kenneth Morgan – The birth of Industrial Britain: Economic change 1750 – 1850
Robert Woods – Population growth and economic change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
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