(www. britannica. com) Britain had one of the largest increases in its population during the nineteenth century with the population more than doubling. Other countries that saw extreme expanse in population figures were: Germany, Norway, Portugal, Sweden Scotland, Austria and Later in the century there was a huge increase in the Balkan states and Russia; in fact the majority of European states saw considerable growth except France and Ireland which both out of kilter with Europe for different reasons.
(Open university Economy 2004 pp23-25) One major cause for the growth of population in Britain was that the mean age of marriage in young couples was becoming lower. The average age went down from 26 to 23 for a woman and from 27 to 25 for a man, thus increasing the number of child bearing years among married couples by around three; this had a substantial impact due to the fact that most children were conceived within wedlock.
Also in Britain a fewer number of people were continuing through life without getting married at all which further continued the increase of birth rates. (www. Ehs. org) One explanation for the reduction in the age of engaging in marriage is the ‘delayed response theory’ that being, that children born at the beginning of the century were born into better economic conditions, resulting in them having a more affluent lifestyle and subsequently tending to be ready for marriage at a younger age.
However not all of Europe saw consistent population growth in the nineteenth century, there were two countries that stood out as being seriously out of line with the rest of Europe in terms of population growth; they were France and Ireland, these two countries were both for different reasons not seeing the same increases in residents. Ireland In the beginning of the 19th century saw population grew fairly in line with the general growth throughout Europe but it then decreased rapidly in the middle of the century.
The reason why Ireland’s population grew so quickly and then decreased is likely to be a combination of different factors. Firstly the impact of the Catholic Church cannot be overstated when discussing family increase. The Catholic Church ruled against contraception and abortions (in whatever forms existed then) and preached about the value of large families, also, many did believe that a large family was insurance in old age as your children would look after you. Therefore, the more children you had, the more comfortable you would be in your later years.
However, a large family faced many problems when food was in short supply, and the potato blight of 1945-47 meant that the situation became catastrophic across Ireland. Many families relied on the potato as there staple diet so when the crops failed for three years running many people died from malnutrition and many more died through disease associated with the famine. A lot of those that did not perish emigrated either to the UK, Scotland or further a field to countries such as the united states of America or new world countries.
Ireland continued to suffer de-population after the famine ended. Many young Irish families saw their futures in America and not Ireland. This affected Ireland quite drastically as those who were most active and who could contribute the most to Ireland, left the country. Ireland was not the only country that experienced emigration during the late nineteenth century; it was a general trend across Europe and the USA greeted over 33 million emigrants from Europe. The redistribution of Europeans had a substantial effect on the economies of the receiving countries as well as on Europe.
For Europe it was likely to be a relief for many countries with government initiatives in place to arrange emigration for some states that were thought to be becoming over crowded. Other private schemes were also being set up, to arrange emigration, as well as the public ones. But for other countries such as Ireland it was not such a welcome change but was sadly necessary for the survival of the citizens to move to somewhere with improved prospects and more available supplies.
When considering emigration Mr Pinnock in a letter to the poor law commissioners discusses the ‘push and pull’ factors of emigration, the push factors generally being poor prospects, depressed living conditions, lack of employment opportunities or crisis’s such as famine, they could also be due to religious pressures or political issues . Whereas the pull factors were basically that the countries that people were emigrating to, could offer improved living conditions, employment or social stability and a generally more secure or fulfilled existence than there native lands.
France was for different and somewhat less obvious reasons not increasing like would be expected for it to be continuous with Europe. The population of France early in the century was just over 25 million and by the beginning of the twentieth century it had grown a little to 38 million so although an increase is evident, it is somewhat less dramatic than that of the united kingdom that increased from less than 9 million to over 32 million in the same period.
The reasons for France being slow on population growth is debatable, it is clear when looking at Mitchell’s table of death rates that mortality did drop considerably in France in the nineteenth century. So the variable that has thrown France out of kilter is that birth rates did not increase to extent that they did elsewhere; in fact birth rates actually fell in France, from the beginning to the end of the century. This is believed to be due to conscious prevention of pregnancy it is thought that the deliberate prevention o fertility was first seen around the end of the eighteenth century and got increasingly popular.
The reasons why contraception was being used within marriage is unclear but may have been to do with a change in laws that stated that all heirs had a equal rights to the families property or land, so to prevent the families smallholding being divided up too many times, peasant people started having less children who would subsequently have a more secure situation in the future. One important point to note is that although France was uncommon in its progression with regards to population, it was in fact fairly advanced, as other parts of Europe also started to control family size later on in the century.
It seems that for many places in Europe, for most of the century, children were viewed as essential units in improving the family economic system but this changed later and was no longer the case later in the century, so perhaps for France this change just occurred a little earlier.
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