chapter  2
52 Pages


In 1800 the population of Europe and Asiatic Russia was probably something like 190 million. Extremely inadequate statistics lead us to believe that it had been about 145 million in 1750: if it was of this order of magnitude, that would mean a rate of growth per decade for the second half of the eighteenth century of under 6 per cent. Over the next two half-century periods this rate of growth was to accelerate to 7·4 per cent and 9· 1 per cent per decade, the absolute level of population being about 275 million in 1850 and 425 million in 1900. The permanent emigration overseas of something like 40 million people meant that the natural increase of population, particularly in the second half of the century, was considerably higher however. These events were by no means unique: in the eighteenth century the rate of growth in Europe matched that in

Asia simply on account of the very high growth rates achieved in Russia and other parts of eastern Europe. But in the nineteenth century population in Europe grew considerably faster than in the rest of the world except for those areas of recent settlement being populated by European emigrants. All the same, it is important to remember that the events we are discussing in this chapter have a wider framework of reference outside Europe. When we come to the difficult question of why population growth began to accelerate in the eighteenth' century it may be that we ought to look for some worldwide causes. Possibly improved communications and the consequent greater contact of peoples throughout the globe had in the long run resulted in the development of greater natural resistance to disease. Possibly this had brought higher death rates initially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries until the resistance began to show itself in the eighteenth. But this is pure speculation: there is no evidence for it, just a phenomenon to be explained. Here we shall have to confine ourselves to what is known about Europe.