Technology and survival in preindustrial England: a Malthusian view: A Malthusian view


Journal of Population Economics, vol.36, no.4, pp.2071-2110, 2023 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 36 Issue: 4
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1007/s00148-023-00952-2
  • Journal Name: Journal of Population Economics
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, IBZ Online, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, Periodicals Index Online, ABI/INFORM, Business Source Elite, Business Source Premier, CAB Abstracts, EconLit, Index Islamicus, Public Affairs Index
  • Page Numbers: pp.2071-2110
  • Keywords: Malthus, Productivity, Mortality, Unified Growth Theory, Identification
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


This paper contributes to the debate on the evolution of living standards in preindustrial England. It emphasizes the need to depart from the approach of focusing only on the time paths of observables, like income per capita and population size, in order to assess the validity of Malthusian predictions. It first constructs a Malthusian model and then develops a robust algorithm for identifying the latent forces that have shaped aggregate outcomes in the preindustrial era. The analysis suggests the existence of two distinct Malthusian regimes in preindustrial England: a survival-driven regime, where mortality is the main latent force in economic-demographic interactions, and a later technology-driven regime that emerges after the mid-fifteenth century and is characterized by both population and productivity growth but stable mortality and long-run stagnation in per capita income. The paper discusses the role of various historical accidents (e.g., the Black Death, the discovery of the New World, the English Reformation) in triggering the emergence of the technology-driven regime, and it also highlights some mediating mechanisms through which subsequent productivity growth may have been sustained. The existence of long-run stagnation in income per capita in England through the mid-seventeenth century, despite the technological dynamism of the early modern period, is consistent with the predictions of Unified Growth Theory.