Demographic Transition in Europe; Mortality Decline 
Demographic Transition in Europe; Mortality Decline
by Yale / Robert Wyman
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Date Added: November 8, 2009

Lecture Description


European populations grew only slowly during the period 1200-1700; factors include disease and wars. Human feces and rotting animal remains were not sequestered and often contaminated drinking water. Cities were so filthy that more people died in them than were born. About a third of children died in infancy, many from abandonment and lack of care during wet-nursing. Children that survived were subjected to harsh discipline to control their tendency to sin. Ineffective and even harmful treatments, like blood-letting, were all that medicine could offer. Starting with Newton's Principia (1687) and the Enlightenment (eighteenth century), scientific attitudes began replacing religious ones: the biological and physical world became objects of study. Sanitation, hygiene and public health improved. Inoculation and vaccination were developed. The Industrial Revolution began. As death rates fell, population rose. While most believe that an increasing population is good, Malthus worries that population can grow faster than the food supply, trapping people in subsistence misery.



Reading assignment:

Langer, William. "Checks on Population Growth: 1750-1850." Scientific American (February 1972), pp. 92-99



Langer, William. "Europe's Initial Population Explosion." Harvard Today (Spring 1964), pp. 2-10



Livi-Bacci, Massimo. A Concise History of World Population: An Introduction to Population Processes, pp. 100-101 and 104-115




Transcript



February 3, 2009



Professor Robert Wyman: Did I tell you the story when one of my friends was offered--to buy from me? I was in upper Egypt and I was traveling with a young lady, and a third woman, a little bit older, sort of was traveling alone; it's not terribly comfortable. She asked to join us I and said 'that's fine,' so the three of us were sitting there near Aswan, and there were two men sitting sort of across the room. One of them dressed in clearly Arab garb, and one dressed in a rather modern suit, and at some point the guy in the suit came over, introduced himself very politely, and he was a Palestinian and the other man was a Saudi Arabian sheik, and they had noticed that I had two wives and so the sheik had wanted to know--would like to purchase the second--the older one, the second wife from me.



Since it was the somewhat older one, he thought I wouldn't mind very much. It was a wonderful scene because, as you know, Palestinians are very sophisticated; they've been living with Jews, who are basically Europeans, for a very long time so they're just like anybody else. The Saudi Arabian sheik was obviously living, not in the modern world and this poor Palestinian had to intermediate, so he was very scared how I would respond. Would I make a scene, would I slug him, would I try to get him arrested, or any of this sort of stuff?



Of course it was immediately obvious to me what was going on and to my two lady friends and so we played it very cool and we, you know--please sit down, let's discuss this, how old is the sheik, how many wives does he already have, how many has he divorced, does he have any concubines in addition to his wives, how much money do you have, etc., etc. We had a very, very nice polite thing and you could just see the intermediary his face just relaxed because he was expecting something terrible.



Everybody played along and it went off very well, and in the middle of this the sheik calls the intermediary over back to him, and they talk something and out comes a velvet purse given to the Palestinian and he gives it to me as a sign of good faith on the part of the Arabian, he wanted me to have this. What is it? A set of Muslim prayer beads, beautiful cat's-eye stones, many--not just a chain but beautiful, beautiful handiwork and probably very valuable. I was looking for--to bring to class--actually last time and I can't find it right now. Everything worked out, the women paid very great attention to what was going on, and we said politely at the end that we would consider and give them an answer tomorrow.



In the end she didn't want to be bought, even though she's obviously going to have some good chunk of change out of it, or at least I was.



Two things will have to be delayed because Eliezeri is not here and we have to add something to Noah's presentation. Let's skip that.



Last time we were discussing Europe and we were coming into the--we started to discuss the Middle Ages and we start with Europe because we have the best data. We have very, very good data about lots and lots of things from Europe. It's not so good from the rest of the world. From about--for about 500 years, from 1200 to 1700 the data, poor as the data is, shows that population really didn't rise terribly much. They were in some sort of stasis. The reasons for this we had discussed a little bit.



We talked about the plague, and the plague lasted like 500 years--this is--remember the plague hit Europe in 1347 so this table where they have good data starts 200 years later. The plague has been around for 200 years and still there's a number of cases; that's not individuals but different cities and places in which there was an outbreak and we just don't have good records of how many people died, but 1550, 1600, 1650, see the plague is dying out slowly and there's many, many theories whether people got resistance to it, or the rats that carried it, died or were out-competed by another species of rats. Not known, but the plague did eventually die out. From 1347 to 1849, is 500 years where the plague keeps recurring. That was clearly one of the reasons why population couldn't grow.



Then there was violence, there was constant small level violence, and then when the Protestant Reformation happened, the religious wars broke out and according to one of the standard textbooks of European history they ran from 1531 up to 1657, so another 130 years of slaughter and they rolled around different places in Europe. By the time they were done the most contested--southern Europe stayed Catholic, and very northern Europe became Protestant but the middle of Europe was strongly contested--and so something like a third to a half of everybody got killed in this time because of the religious wars.



This is the period that Malthus is describing and we'll come back to Malthus--that Malthus knew about. This is the history that he understood and we'll come back to what his theories were, but the historians now agree pretty much that productivity of the land, especially agriculture, because that was the main occupation, was rising very slowly during this period, but population is also rising very slowly during this period, so pretty much the gains in agricultural productivity were balanced by the gains in population and the average standard of living did not improve and we'll talk a good bit more about that.



Now why--so the question I mean is pretty obvious why they were not able to improve agricultural productivity, why they were not able to significantly improve any other kind of manufacturing productivity, why they were not able to do anything to fight these diseases. It comes down to, that not only was there no scientific knowledge as we currently understand the word scientific, there really wasn't any particular interest in--intellectually in the real world. Everything was focused on religion and the other world, so there was not a lot of intellectual energy expended in trying to understand what was going on around your feet so to speak.



Because they had all kinds of problems that we take for granted, all kinds of ways of dealing with the real world just were not even--were not really thought about in any serious way. Sanitation, up until the eighteenth century, up until the 1800s actually, the sanitation in Europe was just absolutely atrocious. There was no system for disposing of human waste. Nobody bothered to pay attention to what to do with human waste.



Feces were basically everywhere. Wherever you went there was someone else's feces. In the eighteenth century the city streets everywhere had ditches down the middle of the street and that's where the feces got dumped. There were buckets inside the house and some servant, or the housewife would take the bucket and dump it into these ditches. They were also used as latrines, people would just go out there and if they didn't have a bucket in the house, or if they didn't have a house, go in and do it in the latrine.



Again, in each case--I was in Belize City in Latin--in Central America as you know, not that many years ago in the middle of the street there's one big latrine, and the stink was just incredible. Now you didn't actually have to--were not required to actually take your bucket of feces and dump them in the street, you could throw them out your window. But eventually people did start thinking about that, and the issue was not to dump it on someone's head. In Edinburgh, Scotland they rang bells at 10:00 p.m. at night when they figured people should be off the street and that was the specified time for dumping excrement out your window.



Some of the older of you that were properly brought up--the young men were maybe told that you should walk on the street side when you're escorting a young lady. Do you know what that's for? When stuff gets dumped out the window it's to prevent splash from cars, it's way earlier then cars, it was to--so that when someone dumped stuff out the window it would--the lady would be under some kind of awnings there.



It wasn't only the common people, the poor, the uneducated that were living in such filth, it went right up to the royalty and we have records of this. In 1665, there was a great plague in London, one of those that I've showed you there and that's the one that--written about by Robinson Crusoe author, Daniel Dafoe. The King, Charles II, and his court took his refuge in Oxford University. Now Yale is modeled after--a lot of Yale is modeled after Oxford, so you have a good image of what it looks like. The plague was over, it took about a year, the plague was over, they went back to London and just left whatever they left in Oxford, and the cleaning people came in and what did they find? Excrement everywhere, they described it excrement in every corner, in chimneys, in studies, in coal houses, in cellars, just all over the place.



Now some of this information comes from the diary of Samuel Pepys. How many of you are aware of this? Some of you again if you've taken history or literature, he was the famous diarist from that. He was England's first Secretary of the Admiralty, a Member of Parliament, President of The Royal Scientific Society, so he was not your ordinary average guy. He was educated, had money and in the upper classes, but he writes that -- when he had to defecate in the middle of the night--he didn't bother to go to the privy, he just deposited his feces in the fireplace. You can see that it was a smelly place to live in.



Now along with no concern or no thought about where you deposit your excrement, the idea of keeping drinking water separate from this excrement was not in anybody's mind. That very often if there were public holes or someplace where the public could go to do their thing, then maybe right next to it was a drinking fountain. In terms of the waste in the streets, it wasn't just feces but everything else was just dumped into the streets. England especially had lots of animals, Europe had animals, unlike China, and when animals died--just left in the middle of the street to rot. Butchers that pulled out the entrails, the guts of the animals and inedible parts, dump it in the street and so the streets are just full of not only human excrement but the waste of all the animals, and of course the flies and insects lay their eggs in it and grow, and it's very unsanitary.



Dead people were not handled any better than this. As more people died, the urban cemeteries got filled up. There was not so much space and so they stopped burying the poor people in--properly in cemeteries but just what they call 'poor holes,' just large pits in which piles of bodies were just laid out side by side, row by row, and row on top of row and they were not closed until they were full. You had these pits of rotting bodies just festering there in the middle of all the cities that had enough people to bury. Of course the stench was just overwhelming and the rich people were not buried in these pits but if they were--they could be buried in cemeteries, but if they were really important they bought space in the church crypt or they contributed money and got space in the church crypt. Many of you have undoubtedly gone to churches and in the basement they've got these crypts of dead people and guess what? They were rotting and stank, so the churches stank. One quote is that 'they stank out parson and congregation'--that people just couldn't stand to be there.



In 1742, Dr. Johnson, who you know wrote The Life of Boswell--excuse me, Boswell's Life of Johnson, so he's quoting Johnson. Described London as a city, "Which abounds with such heaps of filth as a savage would look on with amazement." The death rate--cities were so unhealthy from all this filth that the death rates were enormously high and cities did not keep themselves going. If left to itself a city's population would just disappear and some estimates are that about every generation, about a third of the inhabitants of a city would die.



I mean everybody died, but the population left--the city just left to itself would go down by a third in every generation, and the only reason that cities were able to prosper was that in the countryside where things were healthier just because of space, there wasn't the demography, there wasn't the crowding of people that constantly the excess births, the excess population from the countryside would keep migrating into the cities because they had primogeniture in England, for instance. Only the oldest son could inherit the land, so younger sons had to migrate into the cities or into the army and that's what kept the cities going. There's a constant stream of people coming in from the countryside.



Now it's not only London and the great cities, and it's not only that part of Europe, but we have descriptions of some of the other cities, and one of them is currently politically very relevant. It is Jerusalem and now all the great Western religions claim that Jerusalem is central to their religion and they compete viciously; they fight viciously over Jerusalem. They all claim that they've been interested forever in this, but in fact, … until Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in the Middle East, it was totally ignored as a physical thing from the crusades to Napoleon it was totally ignored.



In 1840 it was a tiny town of 15,000 people; 7,000 Jews; 5,000 Muslims; 3,000 Christians from the records that we have. In a place like that, presumably the seed of the Western religions, the feces were 50 feet deep and had been collecting since the destruction of the second temple by the Romans. Before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem there was some sort of sanitation going on, but between then and 1840 the feces just kept going up.



Of course in this filth everybody was sick. Basically everyone had malaria, and malaria was endemic there. When cholera came through, which it came periodically, 75% of the people would die of it and one quote describing this, "The sanitary condition of the city of God insure that any pilgrim who sought to spend his last days on earth there could look forward to fulfilling that ideal with great dispatch."



Personal cleanliness: this was also unknown. We have one professor of medieval history who gives a great lecture and if he ever gives it as a public lecture that I've seen him give. If he ever gives it again absolutely go. It's called '1,000 Years Without a Bath,' so this is in Europe, the Romans were very careful about personal cleanliness and they built these great big baths. … Have you visited the baths of Caracalla in Rome; a couple of you have. How about Bath--the city in England named after its baths and so forth? All these are Roman creations, so the Romans very careful, as much as they could in a place like that with personal hygiene.



But after the fall of Rome the morality changes, the church takes over, and the church wants people to concentrate on their souls not on their bodies, and washing was considered too much of a sign of preoccupation with the body, and especially for women. It's not good for women to pay too much attention to their bodies.



Europeans at that time, boasted and you've probably heard this that they only wash three times in their lives. How many of you have ever heard that? Once when they're born, once when they get married, and once when they die they get washed, and the rest of that--not only didn't they wash they thought that water that you washed with carried disease, contagion, various theories and that if you washed you would probably get sick from the washing. The solution was not cleanliness--the solution to the bad conditions--but perfume, and perfume comes up in this era because people stank so much that, if they had the money, they would buy perfume. Anybody know why--yes?



Student: Was the water likely to make you sick because it was so dirty?



Professor Robert Wyman: Good question, was the water likely to make them sick? If they drank the water, yes. If they washed in the water, no. There's very little in temperate zone water that's going to get through your skin. In tropical zones there can be parasites in there and they can be dangerous, but in Europe I'm not sort of aware of anything that washing in the water will get you sick.



Student: On the hand if you wash yourself and it stays on your skin and then you eat or something could you then get sick?



Professor Robert Wyman: Yes, if you wash yourself, it stays on your skin and then you eat with your unwashed hands--well probably what was on there before you washed is going to be worse. In general, I think nobody washed unless something comes off--the burden of whatever's on the skin gets less. All of these things are what we modern people think about, but obviously, back then, just these kind of very simple straightforward questions were not really considered. People back then, George Washington, King George wore wigs--anybody know why? Some of you probably know why they wear wigs--underneath the wig was--



Student: Head lice.



Professor Robert Wyman: Lots of lice, shaved heads, they had lice. Lice was endemic, they couldn't get rid of it, so they shaved their heads. I think we just saw that on television with the John Adams story. Every so often--did any of you see that TV show? HBO--anyway he takes off his wig and there he is bald, that was to prevent lice.



One of the reasons--one of the major reasons for this lack of population growth for hundreds of years in Europe, just no idea about sanitation, hygiene, any of this kind of stuff. Another aspect which you'll be reading about is infanticide. Infanticide was a very large factor in European demography and the rest of the world, as you will read about, but in Europe it was very important. There was always a level of infanticide and--of various sorts but in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it apparently exploded--the number of kids that were done away with.



In Milan, from 1840s to 1860s, one third of all children born to married parents--we're not talking about unmarried situations--were left at foundling homes and in foundling homes the death rate was near 100%. More than half of all the children born to working class parents were left in foundling homes, and almost all the illegitimate children were abandoned and the death rates--it was a form of infanticide, you just gave them to a foundling home, they were taken, basically, no care of, they died. It was out of sight.



Again, not just the ordinary ignorant person but you all know Jean-Jacques Rousseau? The famous French philosophe who wrote a lot that encouraged the American Revolution. This is a quote from him, "My third child was thus deposited in a foundling home just like the first two, and I did the same with the two following. I had five in all. The arrangement seemed to me so good, so sensible, so appropriate that, if I did not boast of it publicly, it was solely out of regard for their mother." There was no--here they're abandoning these children to almost certain death and it--there was just no moral compunction about it whatsoever.



Aside from absolute abandonment to foundling homes or … just leaving them in the streets--you'll read about American and England where the kids were just often left in the streets. Another mechanism was sending out children to nurse with wet nurses and the death rate of wet nurse children was enormously high. So, if parents tried to rear their children, the death rate was about one in six at this time. In eighteenth century France between a half and two-thirds of infants that were sent out to nurse died. Even at a higher death rate were the so called baby farms, in the nineteenth century Europe there were--it's like we call them puppy mills now, they were baby farms, and they took in vast numbers of children presumably to wet nurse, but almost none of them survived.



As I showed you from these and all kinds of reasons, about a third of children died in infancy. The idea of being a parent and the family idea of childrearing was completely different then we now understand. The standard thing was a child was born, it was almost immediately sent out to wet nurse, someone that doesn't care about them. A lot was written about wet nurses getting drunk, having the baby in bed, getting drunk, rolling over on the baby and squashing the baby. Whether that was an excuse or the real reason for the child's death is unknown.



They would wet nurse for a couple of years and then those that were still alive would come back home, maybe age two or three or something, and then by age seven they would be sent back out to work again as an apprentice somewhere. How many have read Charles Dickens: David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist? What age were they sent out to work? Seven. Seven is the standard age, there are scenes of one of the Dicken's characters going to work in a dye factory dying cloth, and he comes out black every day, covered with the dye. That was quite a standard thing.



In 1646, the rich and very progressive town of Leyden in the Netherlands, Lehyden was one of the most advanced places in Europe, limited the working day for children to 14 hours, whether the law was obeyed or not we don't know, but children could not do that. Of course Charles Dickens is a couple of hundred years later in the nineteenth century. Apparently, in every one of his novels, there's some scene of child labor going on.



Now I'm talking about up to the 1800s but this does not disappear. Now you look what Europe--the situation Europe was in, in 1800--some of the developing countries are currently in. So official figures from India, the government figures, say there are 12 million child workers in India. Opponents, activists on the labor issue, estimate that it's closer to 60 million children in India are working. They do have child labor laws now in India and they prohibit children under age 14 from working in hazardous jobs. When the scandal about Gap, our clothing manufacture Gap came out, the factories that were investigated had children as young as ten years old working up to 16 hours a day making the dungarees … that we wear.



All of this sort of misery leads not only to physical misery but change in attitude toward life, and death came very easily, it was very common and so life was cheaper. There's no question about it from the literature that life was cheaper then we consider now. Because children especially were so likely to die, as well as anyone else, it was considered imprudent, not wise, to be particularly affectionate with or emotionally entwined with any other human being. Your husband might die immediately, your kids might die, your wife might die. And so as far as we can tell from the writings of the period, what we call affective relationships, emotional relationships were rather cool in this period, except of course violent anger which always pops out.



Going back to this, here's all these problems, and what did people do about some of these things? An idea of disease comes from the Greeks and probably farther back then the Greeks, that the body is controlled by four humors, fluids that run around the body, something like the Chi of Oriental thought. And these four humorous must be in balance. When you got sick the problem was that the humors got out of balance.



One of the things you did was get bled. That was a standard procedure; let the blood flow because that gets rid of the evil humors. George Washington was apparently killed by an excess of bloodletting, so when he was older he got quite sick and the doctors--while he was sick, bled five pints of blood out of him and then he died. We take--when we go to take blood they take one pint and they consider that sort of the maximum safe amount for young healthy people. Here he was old and sick, five pints, he dies.



His nemesis--George Washington in America and King George III in England--you know the saying, mad King George? He was mad and he was mad with a genetic disease called porphyria which affects the hemoglobin in the blood. It caused episodic madness, so he would be sane, then he would be would mad, then he would be sane, then he would be mad, and when he was mad what did they do? They bled him; they bled him enormously. They tied him to a chair, they did all kinds of things to him. They had no clue either how to handle any of these diseases nor of a humane way, no idea of a humane way to treat someone who has something wrong with them that you have no clue what it is or what to do about this. If you ever want to see that, there's a great movie, The Madness of King George, about 1995 if you ever want to--it describes this aspect of his life.



Leeches, another form of this bloodletting was, instead of taking a razor blade or a blade and cutting a vein, which is hard to sew up, leeches are wonderful. You stick leeches on you and the blood--leeches suck out the blood and we know this goes back at least to the ancient Romans and it was practiced for 2000 years, this bloodletting, on this ancient theory of the humors.



1860, we have data, in the hospitals just in London, so in 1860 that was Rule Britannia. England was the richest, most educated ruler of the whole world in 1860. In the hospitals in one city, London--7 million leeches were used. The idea again being that until you know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing and just use anything and it's all--no evidence whatsoever that any of this ever helped anybody, and of course we now know it was in fact--not only didn't it help them, it made them sicker.



We now have sort of a rage in America and Europe for natural medicine, and its various versions. Well this has a very old history and so how many know the author Wilkie Collins, Moonstone, Woman in White, it's one of the--they're on PBS Television all the time, you've seen them. He had gout which was--what happens is back then they ate a lot of meat, had a lot of protein in the blood, the breakdown part, protein is urea. If you don't excrete it fast enough it's not very soluble. It crystallizes in your joints and then every time you move a joint these little sharp crystals grind in there and it makes it very hard to move and your joints get swollen; a very, very unpleasant disease.



What did they do for gout? Late in the 1880s they treated gout with a poultice of cabbage leaves covered with silk, with oiled silk, and this particular author, Wilkie Collins wrote about it, that's how we know some of the details and it didn't give him any relief whatsoever. Surprise, surprise. What he did, he turned to opium to dull the pain because opium really does work, it's the basis of morphine and he probably died partly of opium poisoning because it does other bad things to your system.



Now continuing this story of what happened, this all relates to death rates in pre-scientific times. You American history buffs, what happened to President James Garfield? He was assassinated, he was shot, but he wasn't really--he was shot but he wasn't really assassinated because he lived like for a year after he was shot. So whether you call that assassination or not, I don't know. The bullet went in--apparently into his back and lodged in some fat. Now fat is not very permeable to anything, the bullet lodged in a lump of fat, the lead doesn't--the lead poisoning from the bullet doesn't get out, nothing much gets out so it's not a really dangerous thing to have a bullet in a lump of fat.



His doctors, and some of them were homeopaths, which was the big thing back then, and some were allopaths--what those words mean you can ask me after class, and they had opposing theories. Homeopaths thought that whatever is wrong with you--so I am telling you the theories--whatever was wrong with you, you should give a little bit of the same thing and that would cure you, and little bit meant you could dilute it infinitely so that there's actually nothing in what they were giving you, maybe pure water but that was supposed to cure you. Allopath was supposed to give them something of the opposite, and there's been--you can see it in every drugstore nowadays, homeopathic remedy and what that legally means is, there's nothing in it but that's okay.



They had these opposite theories and they kept fighting about what to do with this President who was sick, so what they did is, they stuck metal rods into his wound to try to pull the bullet out even though the bullet was doing no danger, although sterilization--Lister had done his work--was known already, these doctors didn't believe in that, so they stuck in these metal rods with no sterilization. He of course got infected, apparently not from the bullet because he lived a year, but from the metal rods that they kept poking into him.



Their understanding of, or their interest in, physiology was so nil that they insisted, for reasons that I have not found, that he be fed rectally. They fed him beef bouillon, egg yolks, milk, whiskey, and drops of opium rectally. The problem is the rectum does not absorb food; the purpose of the rectum is to take water out and conserve water. They're feeding him this way, this was the only way he was allowed to be fed. It's not healthy to put food in this way and so what happens, what do you think happens? He loses weight; how much does he lose? A 100 pounds from July to September. In three months this guy loses 100 pounds.



Does anybody notice this? Does anybody pay attention to this? Does anybody have the scientific cast of mind that, 'well I have a theory and I'm applying that theory, and, oh my, it's not working, so maybe my theory is wrong.' No, that's just not the critical scientific mindset. They knew that that was the right thing to do and so they would not give up their theories and basically it seems he starved to death. They infected him and starved him to death.



What happens when new ideas do come out in a pre-scientific era? One of the current public health measures is you don't eat food with your hands. Your mother tells you that all the time, because you wash your hands first which they didn't do, but even then you eat with a knife and fork, which your mother has--or your dishwasher has--cleaned very nicely. Europeans of course, as you've seen from any movie, ate with their hands for many hundreds of years, but at that time the Arabs were much more civilized then we were; we, the Europeans, and so in the Levant, the middle eastern coast there, where Venice had lots of commerce they were already eating with knives and forks--used a fork.



Well this was first introduced into the Europe by the Duke of Venice, the Doge of Venice, and his wife became aware that the Arab civilization was doing this thing of eating with forks and she thought she would introduce it into her dinner parties. She started having forks at her dinner parties. And the cardinal--one of the cardinals at that time was St. Peter Damien and he says that--he was just totally opposed to this. And the idea was that the stuff that you eat are animals and plants, they're God's creations, and that by using a fork she had set herself up above God's creation and the quote is, "To touch meat with a fork was impiously to declare that God's creatures were not worthy of being touched by human hands." That kind of phrase was repeated all the way into the seventeenth century and forks came very slowly into Europe.



Lightning rods. When Benjamin Franklin invented lightning rods what was most likely to get struck by lightning? It was a church steeple, right, because they stuck up into the sky and had points. As you may know, if you take physics points attract lightning, pointy things, so churches were always getting lightning and burned out. Benjamin Franklin invents the lightning rod, and oh my God, the opprobrium that he came under because lightning was obviously one of God's creations, that he was punishing people with it. Now Benjamin Franklin was interfering with God's punishment.



Going back to the family, which is relevant to the population more than lightning. So one of the--of this whole brutal society in which life is very insecure, people are very violent to each other, they're not careful with their persons or anything like that. Childrearing practices don't escape this whole context in which people lived. And the traditional Christian view in the West, and this was strongly reinforced by Calvinist theology after the reformation, was that children were born with original sin. Original sin is the view of human nature.



What is human nature considered to be in these times? Now we think of human nature as genes versus environment, but back then it was original sin and children were born into sin. The only hope of holding the sin in check was thought to be the most ruthless repression of child's will and its total subordination to the will of the parents. He was subordinate to his parents, to school masters, and to anyone with authority over him. Theologians and moralists insisted that parents ruthlessly crush the wills of young children by physical force if necessary.



That has political ramifications. If you're taught when you're young, and your parents believe, that the most moral thing is that you must be obedient, you must not have a will of your own; this leads you to believe that authoritarian political structures are the normal and right way that humans should be governed. The American Puritans were very much a part of this and the primary concern with respect to childbearing of American Puritans was in making children sin free enough to merit an afterlife, so they threatened totally healthy children by telling them that they would soon die.



Jonathan Edwards, for whom one of the Yale Colleges is named and he was President of Princeton, he was not President of Yale; once I said he was I was wrong. He lectured a group of children: "I know you will die in little time. Some sooner than others. It is not likely you will all live to grow up." Children's storybooks, one of the popular children's books was A Token for Children: "If other children die, why may not you sicken and die?"



Again, we try to protect our children nowadays, nurturing, loving, try to protect our children from these worries but back then it (1) it was a reality, and (2) that reality was used to suppress their--what was called then their will and subject them to enforcement by the parents. Of course in the literature there's a--this sort of reading of history came about 50 years ago when this was sort of noticed and there's been a large reaction to it that no--some parents at least were loving during this long stretch of European history, and of course, not all parents were sort of--so brutal to their children but some were.



They were--one of the things was to force a child into the mold, the behavioral mold that you like and also into the physical mold. So girls were supposed to have narrow bodices, narrow waists, there's at least one case on record where a girl was put into an iron cage to squeeze her, and as she grew older the cage squeezed more and more and she couldn't breathe and she died of suffocation from being put in this iron cage to mold her physical body to the shape that was wanted by the parents.



The conclusion is that life in this pre--modern, pre-scientific times was not only sort of miserable in the physical sense but probably also quite miserable in an emotional, inward kind of sense. That people were not warm and loving to each other very much but very frequently cold and disciplining and controlling kind of people. We have some centuries of this period and you can go back to maybe the fall of the Roman Empire when really learning about reality in the West kind of stopped with the fall of Rome, so you have more than 1,000 years where sort of no intellectual progress with respect to reality is made.



Then things all of a sudden start to change and we're going to talk about that now. Within 200 years the death rate falls dramatically and so has the birth rate--falls dramatically. These changes are sort of the centerpiece of what, of course in demography--historical demography anybody that usually studies--is called the demographic transition: the fall in the death rate and the fall in the birth rate. You'll hear this many times because it's so basic that in these periods, old periods the birth rate is very high, the death rate is very high. They're about equal so population basically grows not at all or very, very slowly.



What we're going to talk about now in turn is first, the fall in the death rate, and the second, then the fall in the birth rate, and then theories that we have to explain these enormous changes in what it means to be a human being. What happened--we don't know the causes or we have many, many theories. Maybe we many, many times know what the causes are.



One of the standard textbooks of European History says--this is going back to the wars of religion which is just before all these changes started happening before Galileo, for instance--"One thing was clear, 130 years of senseless bloodletting in the name of religion inevitably sparked off a reaction in the minds of intelligent people. The wars of religion offered fertile soil for the fragile seeds of reason and science. People began to realize that religiosity was hostile to civilization." Europeans say, because of this period of sort of utter irrationality, that the bad results of it were so immediately obvious to everyone. Everyone was getting scared of getting killed by the people in the neighboring town who were of the other religion; they rejected all that and were ready for some sort of a rational attitude toward things.



The results of that we can see were really quite dramatic. Here is what we can reconstruct of life expectancy and going back 8,000 years ago where the records are very poor, but it certainly wasn't much better than this. And there was wavering, and probably some slow increase in life expectancy. This, just above 20 years of life expectancy is what I showed you in the graph of Cisalpine Gaul from Roman Times and what I've told you is true of Europe during these hundreds of years that I've been talking about.



That stays more or less the same with perhaps some improvement. It doesn't matter whether you're looking at France-the dotted line, or you're looking at China-the solid line. As far as we can tell they're pretty much the same until around 1700, all of a sudden something majorly changes and the life expectancy goes--starts going sky high. We're talking about not just one of many, many things that happened in history that you can take all kinds of history courses about, but in terms of what it means to be a human, you finally can stay alive beyond the age of 20 or 25. That is such a tremendous change in life that there's nothing else as important.



Of course a large part of this, to reinforce this, was infant mortality. Look what happens, back here it's going up and down like crazy and it's very high. This a quarter of children and this is European data, so this is about a fifth to a quarter of children die as children and it's out of control. You can see that the epidemics come through and then times get good, and then something else comes through, and so it's very variable and very high.



Then it starts swooping downward, and not only does it come down but it evens out, that we start getting control, not only over the overall level but all the things which cause these wild swings in it. Again, an amazing change in what it means to be human. Well what is this date where things start happening? 1770s we're into the Enlightenment and you all have probably, at least in your high school history, have heard of the Enlightenment. And that is the big opening out in Europe of rational discourse on almost everything, and everything from science to politics.



Disease, for instance, was considered divine punishment upon mankind for their sins, that's a quote from somewhere. Medical research was considered sacrilegious. Dissection of cadavers what objected to because "If you cut the bodies into pieces what's going to happen to them at the time of the resurrection?" There are all kinds of reasons that you shouldn't do anything to get even the most basic knowledge of what's inside a human body and without that you can't make any progress.



The major, major event in the enlightenment is Newton's Principia. Newton's discussion of something that sounds rather abstract. What he was worried about was how the bodies go around in heaven. That's what everyone was trying to figure out. You may remember Copernicus had already said that things didn't go around the earth but they went around the sun that was older. Keppler had gotten the mathematics right, so they went around not in circles but in ellipses, but nobody had any explanation for this. It was a simple theory; it was great regularity, but no one had any idea why.



Newton's gravitation was what made it rational in the sense of understanding that it was just a simple force of gravity and people don't always understand the--you know the story of the apple dropping on his head? The story is that gave him the idea of gravitation. Apparently--(1) the story is probably apocryphal totally but the import is what everyone was trying to figure out was the heavenly motions. The moon around the earth, the earth around the sun, the planets around all of these sorts of things. He goes to sleep under the tree and the apple falls on his head and he wakes up and he realizes, 'oh my God the apple fell on my head for the same reason that the moon is held in orbit around the earth.'



As you know if there was no gravity the moon would just--here's the earth, the moon goes around, you shut off gravity the moon goes off in a straight line forever. That was kind of understood already by Galileo, that things in motion will go in a straight line unless you pull them in somehow. They knew that the earth--the moon was constantly falling toward the earth. The earth was constantly falling toward the sun; all the planets were constantly falling towards the sun. That was understood, and they knew that apples fell to the earth but they didn't put the two of them together. The great insight of Newton apparently was realizing that this thing on earth that we could observe and measure on earth, was the same reason that the heavens worked, and this was sort of a bombshell that led to the whole theory of celestial mechanics and gravitation and all of Western science really starts from this.



Within 25 years--and people were--Newton was lionized during his lifetime. It was realized what a tremendous achievement this was, and the relationship to this is not only the scientific achievement that the planets orbited by the same force which drops an apple, but it was previously believed that yes well events on earth might work by some sort of physical laws, you had Galileo working on that, but heaven was ruled by supernatural laws, and now Newton's great insight was, no they're the same laws. That there's nothing special or different about the heavens. That they work by exactly the same laws as stones and apples falling on earth. This was really a tremendous impetus to realize the power of rationality and so within 25 years the whole attitude about everything changes tremendously.



As the bubonic plague receded, for reasons we don't know, that I showed you that data, then smallpox starts becoming the leading cause of death; one replacing the other. As opposed to what had gone on before, which was supernatural ideas about it, in the 1710s very shortly after Newton, The Royal Scientific Society again started, at this same time, began a search program, research program to gather information from any place in the world on how smallpox could be controlled or cured. Just a new kind of way of dealing with disease that just hadn't been seen before, and so what did they find?



They found that, in Turkey, that they were inoculating people, and what inoculation is, the early form--they take someone that has the disease; they take pus from the disease--what is pus? It's white blood cells that have eaten the virus or bacteria, depending on whether it's plague or smallpox, and have engulfed it and they kill the bacteria or virus, the pathogen. You have a dead pathogen but it's molecules are still there and so you can take the pus, inject it, just cut the skin, put it on a person, and hopefully they're not exposed to anymore of the live virus but the dead--presumably the white blood cells have killed the virus, and you just get their molecules and that induces an immune reaction and you become immune to this disease.



Local governments started--I'll tell you more about smallpox in a couple of minutes. In 1750s, again this very early time, local regulations for sewage disposal are getting started. In the 1790s the rich start using water closets which are toilets of some sort. Not only do they introduce vaccination, but 1796 they try to make it better. They don't just say, oh this works by some magic, they try to figure out what it makes it better, and Jenner discovers vaccination, which is instead of using pus from a person who had smallpox--there's a very closely related disease called cowpox which the cow maids--the milk maids get very frequently, and it was noticed, because they're now observing all these things, that these women would get sick but most of them would recover. This was a not a lethal disease, so instead of taking the actual smallpox virus, which vaccination--the early inoculation--did not always work and you sometimes did catch the disease and died. Taking it from cowpox rather than smallpox was less dangerous, but since the viruses are closely related to each other a lot of the molecules are the same and you get--from cowpox you get immunity to smallpox and so these diseases start going down.



Not only in health but it starts the industrial revolution, in 1711 James Newcomen invents the steam engine. It's a very, very inefficient steam engine, and it's used only where you had--can have a very big placement and it's used to pump water out of mines. Coal is becoming important for England to fuel the industrial revolution, and you have mines that are underground, and water seeps into them. You've got to suck out the water, so how do you pump it out, well he invents the steam engine. Then James Watt figures out--looks at it more scientifically, more rationally, and again just like inoculation being supplanted with vaccination they start improving. It's not just that something works and our ancestors did it this way and we don't know why it works, we don't why care it works, we do it the same way our ancestors did.



No they keep thinking about what they're looking at, what they're working on, and he improves it and in this case what James Watt did is, after the steam comes out, he had a condenser to condense the steam so drop the pressure on one side of the piston going out. Just by taking the condenser instead of--letting--having a way of cooling the steam really improves the efficiency of a steam engine and now with a greater efficiency you can make a smaller steam engine that works just as well, and you can put it on wheels and you start getting the railroad and all kinds of smaller factories can start using steam engines.



In politics, this idea is also terribly important. The previous idea was that of a hierarchical system with God appointing kings being--ruling over nobility and then everyone else must obey up this chain. Well what is Newton's idea? That everything obeys the same law: gravity. That the sun attracts the earth; the earth attracts the sun, equally and opposite. There's no difference. The sun does not rule the universe, it's not better then the earth, it works by exactly the same rules. The sun and the earth, the earth and the moon, everything acts by the same rules, there is no need for some sort of central sentient coordinator of all this, but each individual planet, each individual body, all bodies, apples, working by their own laws, by the same laws as everyone else the universe works beautifully. In fact it works as it does it work.



This idea is very consciously taken over into politics and the idea of democracy, again changes that each person acting under his own desires, his own self interest, his own morality can, by interacting in the same way the planets do, can come out with a system that works. The original theorists of democracy were very conscious of this shift in the way they looked at the way the universe worked and very conscious of its--their debt to Newton on that.



In economics, how many of you are economics majors? The bust has really taken effect; we used to have lots of economic majors. What is Adam Smith's idea? The basis of modern economics is Adam Smith's--that no you don't need a Mercantilist government to control everything, that if each person acts in their own self interest by their own internal rules, then the economy will work just wonderfully and be more productive. Freedom of religion is again the same thing, freedom of conscience, it's a similar kind of idea that each person has its own--has his own way of working things out and that does not destroy the harmony of the universe.



We see that this rationality changes everything about the way humans live. One of its most important effects is demography. That the population stops dying and can start increasing, and this is exactly what happens. As all this rational attitude toward death and toward disease starts taking hold, the death rate falls tremendously as I've shown you, the life expectancy goes up, infant mortality goes down, and population starts increasing tremendously. Most people, at that time, believed that a big population was a wonderful thing and they're very optimistic about it, and one of the standard ways of judging a government, when you saw a country that had a lot of people in it, well obviously the government was doing something right. The king at that time was doing something right because people were able to stay alive. If you saw a country with a low population, well something was wrong, and that was not necessarily an improper attitude.



Up until Malthus, with some exceptions, it was generally the idea that there was no limit to population, that the more the population the merrier. Malthus came along and said, 'hmm there is a problem with population,' and he had been watching--he collected very good data. You read his stuff, it's really wonderful to read because it's extremely modern in that he tells you the data he is collecting; he analyzes it; he tells you what he--what's wrong with the data, why he believes it to a certain extent but not beyond that and all things about the data. Very--he's writing is like 1798 but it reads like a modern PhD thesis, just about.



His knowledge was the following, and it's very simple what he said. He did not say--many people thought that--as previous people had often said like Edmond Burke, who was the father of conservatism, that the economic pie is constant, there's just so much stuff out there, and the more people you just have to divide the pie smaller and smaller. That's one way of looking at it. Then it's perfectly obvious that population is a bad thing because there's fixed production and you have more people to eat up that production.



Malthus was much smarter, by the time he wrote in 1798 the Enlightenment had started to produce results. He could see that agricultural production was improving year by year; modern methods were--modern at that time--were beginning to take over and he knew that production rose. What he assumed, and what he saw from the data was that production rose linearly, that every year there was sort of--you could produce a little bit more out of the land. Now he said, but what about population? In population if you have 100 people and they increase by let's say 50% that's 150 people, you've gained 50 people. But now from the next generation you again grow by 50%, you're starting with 150 people you have--now you're adding 75 people.



The graph--this is time, this is agricultural product, and Malthus said this is growing like this, which was quite reasonable for his time. Population, no matter where it starts grows--he called it geometrically, we call it exponentially, so if it starts that there's just enough food for people to eat, then it almost immediately goes above food production. If it starts even below, it doesn't matter; it eventually rises--catches up with food production and goes beyond it. He believed that there was no doubt that population increases geometrically, or exponentially as we say, that means a certain percent a year. It may increase one percent a year or two percent a year, or three percent a year, but remember that's one percent of an increasing number so it's more and more. Whereas, agriculture he thought increased linearly by the same fixed amount each year, and if that's the case you're going to run into starvation.



He said, since population can always outrun productivity, eventually you get into trouble, that whenever you increase the number of people--if you ever--you're at some sort of stasis level, where resources fit the population. But then as you get some increase in productivity it allows a rise in population only to match that, but then the greater number of people eat up that increase in productivity so you're right back down to where he--you started with. His idea was that increasing population was not a good thing. It could not lead to any improvement if it outran your productivity gains, and this led to all kinds of what we now consider very conservative and even retrogressive political ideas. So poor laws--he was initially against poor laws. There's no sense to keep the poor alive because if you keep them alive they're going to reproduce and make even more children and you're right back to where you started from.



He was a strong conservative in that sense. He later changed his mind as he got smarter about things. He was also aware of, even though population could increase like this, maybe and he was aware, that people were smart enough to stop this in some way. He knew about various methods of contraception, withdrawal and so forth, and various perverse sexual practices. But he was so opposed to them morally, as was everyone else in his time, that you should not control reproduction, that that was immoral, but he said 'people are never going to do that.' That what happens to balance it is not people themselves controlling this in a very rational way, which he thought was not possible at that time, but famine would come in, disease would come in, and whenever your population got too big people would get very poor. They were open to some disease, the disease would wipe you out. You either starved directly immediately from too much--the population getting ahead of agriculture productivity, you either starved or you got to so weak that diseases come through and wipe you out. Okay we will--time is up we will continue onward next time.



[end of transcript]

Course Index

Course Description


This survey course introduces students to the important and basic material on human fertility, population growth, the demographic transition and population policy. Topics include: the human and environmental dimensions of population pressure, demographic history, economic and cultural causes of demographic change, environmental carrying capacity and sustainability. Political, religious and ethical issues surrounding fertility are also addressed. The lectures and readings attempt to balance theoretical and demographic scale analyzes with studies of individual humans and communities. The perspective is global with both developed and developing countries included.



Course Structure:

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 75 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2009.

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