[ExI] Human population growth before 1800 CE/was Re: Really? and EP

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Tue Apr 21 19:17:16 UTC 2009

On Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 12:04 PM, Dan <dan_ust at yahoo.com> wrote:
> --- On Tue, 4/21/09, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Before 1800 all societies, including England, were
>> Malthusian.
>> The average man or woman had 2 surviving children. Such
>> societies were also Darwinian. Some reproductively
>> successful
>> groups produced more than 2 surviving children, increasing
>> their
>> share of the population, while other groups produced less,
>> so that
>> their share declined.
> Do you mean that before 1800 CE, the human population was stable -- never rising or falling?  That there pretty much the same number of humans from the beginning of the species until 1800 CE?

The quoted material is Dr. Clark's, not mine.  Here is what he has to say:

Before 1800 income per capita varied across societies and epochs,
but there was no upward trend. A simple but powerful mechanism,
the Malthusian Trap, kept incomes within a range narrow by
modern standards. The average person in 1800 was no better off
in material terms than the average person of 10,000 or 100,000


The Malthusian Trap – Economic Life to 1800

A spare but powerful economic model, which requires only
three basic assumptions, and can be explained in graphs, explains
why technological advance improved material living conditions
only after 1800.

The vast majority of human societies, from the original
foragers of the African savannah, through settled agrarian societies
until about 1800, had an economic life that was shaped and
governed by one simple fact: in the long run births had to equal
deaths. Since this same logic governs all animal species, until
1800, in this “natural” economy, the economic laws for humans
were the same as for all animal species.

It is common to assume that the huge changes in the technology
available to people, and in the organizational complexity of
societies, between our ancestors of the savannah and Industrial
Revolution England, must have improved material life even
before modern economic growth began. But the logic of the
natural economy implies that the material living standards of the
average person in the agrarian economies of 1800 was, if anything,
worse than for our remote ancestors.

Women, over the course of their reproductive lives, can give
birth to 12 or more children. Still in some current societies the
average women gives birth to more than 6 children. Yet for the
world before 1800 the number of children per woman that
survived to adulthood was always just a little above 2. World
population grew from perhaps 0.1 m. in 100,000 BC to 770 m. by
1800. But this still represents an average of 2.005 surviving
children per woman before 1800. Even within successful preindustrial
economies, such as those in Western Europe, long run
rates of population growth were very small. Table 1 shows for a
number of European countries population in 1300 and 1800, and
the implied numbers of surviving children per woman. None of
these societies deviated far from two surviving children per
woman. Some force must be keeping population growth rates
within rather strict limits over the long run.

The Malthusian model supplies a mechanism to explain this
long run population stability. There are just three assumptions:

(Read the rest off Dr. Clark's website.)


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