Statsed Home Page

 

 

Statistics for Education: DATA HANDLING

 
Home PageProductsBookshopDownloadsOrderingLinksSupport


Back to
Worksheets
main page

HISTORY
Causes of the population boom in the 18th century

There has long been a dispute among historians about the causes of the so-called population explosion of the eighteenth century. In the simplest terms a population can increase due to one, or a combination of three factors:

  • A decline in the death rate may occur, due to improved medical practices, to changes in public health, or to changes to the diet of a population.
  • A growth in birth rate can be the result of marriages at an earlier age, or simply to a greater proportion of the female population having children. Illegitimacy rates have a minor importance in this field too.
  • The third factor in creating a rise in the population is migration. Although this is an important consideration in the debate on urban growth (rural-urban migration) or in the debate about the north gaining over the south of England, it tends to be marginalised in the debate on the nation as a whole

There has long been a dispute among historians about the causes of the so-called population explosion of the eighteenth century. In the simplest terms a population can increase due to one, or a combination of three factors:

  • A decline in the death rate may occur, due to improved medical practices, to changes in public health, or to changes to the diet of a population.
  • A growth in birth rate can be the result of marriages at an earlier age, or simply to a greater proportion of the female population having children. Illegitimacy rates have a minor importance in this field too.
  • The third factor in creating a rise in the population is migration. Although this is an important consideration in the debate on urban growth (rural-urban migration) or in the debate about the north gaining over the south of England, it tends to be marginalised in the debate on the nation as a whole.

 

The reasons for change in any of the three factors in this period are not immediately relevant to the investigation below, though clearly the student of this topic should use other available sources to investigate this important issue. You might wish to mark any graphs you produce with the dates of known epidemics, wars, medical advances, or other developments you consider to have a bearing on the data, and look for evidence in the graph of the effects you expected.

 

Your Task

"The increasing rate of population growth in the eighteenth century was more the result of increased birth rate than decreased death rate". Do the statistics show this to be true?

Procedure

  • Open British Historical Statistics database by double clicking on the title in the Secos menu. Select chapter 1.POPULATION AND VITAL STATISTICS .
  • Choose sub-chapter E.BIRTHS AND BIRTH RATES 1700-1980 and select its table.
  • Now join this table, side by side, with the table DEATHS, DEATH RATES AND INFANT MORTALITY from sub-chapter F of the same name.
  • Now remove lines which you do not require (1802-1980). You should also delete the column "Infant death rate".
  • Now save the table (A location for saving data will have had to be set up within the database browser beforehand). Change the title of the table. Remember to select "create a new table" as you go through the procedure.
  • Get back to the menu of tables and chapters. Choose sub-chapter G.ESTIMATES OF POPULATION, 1700-1801 and select its only table. The notes before the table are important. History is not just about facts, but about interpretation. This data is an interpretation and has been challenged by others. Have a look at them. Before you use this table with the birth and death rate statistics, you will find it useful to convert the figures to growth rates. But first you should look at the data in graph form, so that you can see the changes in the eighteenth century.
  • Graph the data. Make sure the graph is a line graph of the population figures. The overall trend is obvious, but study the deviations from the trend.
  • On the full screen obtain a printout of the graph.
  • Identify the years in which the population growth does not maintain the trend for the century. You can mark these on the graph before printing it. Research reasons for the blips in the trend, using the birth and death rate tables, when you have completed the main task.
  • Your next task is to turn these figures into a growth rate of population. By using another calculation you can multiply the result by 10 to obtain a rate per thousand of growth, comparable to the birth and death rate data.
  • Now annex the saved table of birth and death rates with this.
  • Prepare to graph the data. You will need to look at the data for birth and death rates first.

Which trend is steeper: (a) the birth rate, or (b) the death rate?
What does this tell us about the causes of the population explosion?

A century which has figures that vary so much from year to year can obscure a trend, and it can be useful at the table stage to create a moving average. This can be done in the graphing stage, or you can revert to the tables and obtain a record of the trend within your new table.

Now calculate the moving average for the century, using a 5-year period. This will smooth out many of the more extreme deviations from the general trend in all the columns.

Graph the data again. The birth and death rate figures should be easier to analyse. Put in the population growth data as well.

Is there evidence to show why the population to 1740 was rising less quickly than in the final two decades of the century?

Can you now suggest explanations for the anomaly in the population growth trend?

Remember, as in all historical research, you cannot expect to get the entire story from a single source. You will need to look elsewhere for further evidence on this issue.

Further enquiries

Use other tables on the Secos disc to find out whether the populations of the northern counties grew more quickly than those in the south.
Compare the growth of different types of town the seaside resort, the railway towns, the county towns, the market towns, etc.
Was this population change an English phenomenon or were there parallels in Wales and Scotland?
Try to get statistics about your own part of the country from your local records office or archives. Enter them onto the Secos database so that you can study when and in what ways they are comparable to or different from national or regional trends.

Top