An Essay on the Principle of Population

Thomas Robert Malthus
Malthus, Thomas Robert
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London: John Murray
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Book II, Chapter III

Of the Checks to Population in Russia.


The lists of births, deaths and marriages in Russia, present such extraordinary results that it is impossible not to receive them with a considerable degree of suspicion; at the same time the regular manner in which they have been collected, and their agreement with each other in different years, entitle them to attention.


In a paper presented in 1768, by B. F. Herman, to the academy of Petersburg, and published in the Nova Acta Academiæ, tom. iv., a comparison is made of the births, deaths and marriages in the different provinces and towns of the empire, and the following proportions are given:

In Petersburg the births are to the burials as 13 to 10
In the government of Moscow 21 — 10
District of Moscow excepting the town 21 — 10
Tver 26 — 10
Novogorod 20 — 10
Pskovsk 22 — 10
Resan 20 — 10
Veronesch 29 — 10
Archbishopric of Vologda 23 — 10
Kostroma 20 — 10
Archangel 13 — 10
Tobolsk 21 — 10
Town of Tobolsk 13 — 10
Reval 11 — 10
Vologda 12 — 10


Some of these proportions it will be observed are extraordinarily high. In Veronesch, for instance, the births are to the deaths nearly as 3 to 1, which is as great a proportion, I believe, as ever was known in America. The average result however of these proportions has been, in some degree, confirmed by subsequent observations. Mr. Tooke, in his View of the Russian Empire, makes the general proportion of births to burials throughout the whole country, as 225 to 100,*47 which is 2¼ to 1; and this proportion is taken from the lists of 1793.*48


From the number of yearly marriages, and yearly births, M. Herman draws the following conclusions:

In Petersburg one marriage yields 4
In the government of Moscow about 3
Tver 3
Novogorod 3
Pskovsk 3
Resan 3
Veronesch 4
Vologda 4
Kostroma 3
Archangel 4
Reval 4
Government of Tobolsk 4
Town of Tobolsk, from 1768 to 1778, 3
from 1779 to 1783, 5
in 1783 3


M. Herman observes that the fruitfulness of marriages in Russia does not exceed that of other countries, though the mortality is much less, as appears from the following proportions drawn from a rough calculation of the number of inhabitants in, each government:

Dies annually.
In Petersburg 1 in 28
In the government of Moscow 1 — 32
District of Moscow 1 — 74
Tver 1 — 75
Novogorod 1 — 68 6/7
Pskovsk 1 — 70 4/5
Resan 1 — 50
Veronesch 1 — 79
Archbishopric of Vologda 1 — 65
Kostroma 1 — 59
Archangel 1 — 28 3/5
Reval 1 — 29
Government of Tobolsk 1 — 44
Town of Tobolsk 1 — 32
in 1783 1 — 22¼


It may be concluded, M. Herman says, that in the greatest number of the Russian provinces the yearly mortality is 1 in 60.*49


This average number is so high, and some of the proportions in the particular provinces are so extraordinary, that it is impossible to believe them accurate. They have been nearly confirmed, however, by subsequent lists, which, according to Mr. Tooke, make the general mortality in all Russia 1 in 58.*50 But Mr. Tooke himself seems to doubt the accuracy of this particular department of the registers; and I have since heard, from good authority, that there is reason to believe that the omissions in the burials are in all the provinces much greater than the omissions in the births; and consequently that the very great excess of births, and very small mortality, are more apparent than real. It is supposed that many children, particularly in the Ukraine, are privately interred by their fathers without information to the priest. The numerous and repeated levies of recruits take off great numbers, whose deaths are not recorded. From the frequent emigrations of whole families to different parts of the empire and the transportation of malefactors to Siberia, great numbers necessarily die on journeys or in parts where no regular lists are kept; and some omissions are attributed to the neglect of the parish priests, who have an interest in recording the births but not the deaths.


To these reasons I should add, that the population of each province is probably estimated by the number of boors belonging to each estate in it; but it is well known that a great part of them have leave to reside in the towns. Their births therefore appear in the province, but their deaths do not. The apparent mortality of the towns is not proportionably increased by this emigration, because it is estimated according to actual enumeration. The bills of mortality in the towns express correctly the numbers dying out of a certain number known to be actually present in these towns; but the bills of mortality in the provinces, purporting to express the numbers dying out of the estimated population of the province, do really only express the numbers dying out of a much smaller population, because a considerable part of the estimated population is absent.


In Petersburg, it appeared by an enumeration in 1784, that the number of males was 126,827, and of females only 65,619.*51 The proportion of males was therefore very nearly double, arising from the numbers who came to the town to earn their capitation tax, leaving their families in the country, and from the custom among the nobles of retaining a prodigious number of their boors as household servants in Petersburg and Moscow.


The number of births in proportion to the whole population in Russia is not different from a common average in other countries, being about 1 in 26.*52


According to the paper of M. Herman already quoted, the proportion of boys dying within the first year is at Petersburg 1/5, in the government of Tobolsk 1/10, in the town of Tobolsk 1/3, in the Archbishopric of Vologda 1/14, in Novogorod 3/31, in Voronesch 1/24, in Archangel 1/5. The very small mortality of infants in some of these provinces, particularly as the calculation does not seem to be liable to much error, makes the smallness of the general mortality more credible. In Sweden throughout the whole country, the proportion of infants which die within the first year is 1/5 or more.*53


The proportion of yearly marriages in Russia to the whole population is, according to M. Herman, in the towns, about 1 in 100, and in the provinces about 1 in 70 or 80. According to Mr. Tooke, in the fifteen governments of which he had lists, the proportion was 1 in 92.*54


This is not very different from other countries. In Petersburg indeed the proportion was 1 in 140;*55 but this is clearly accounted for by what has already been said of the extraordinary number of the males in comparison of the females.


The registers for the city of Petersburg are supposed to be such as can be entirely depended upon; and these tend to prove the general salubrity of the climate. But there is one fact recorded in them, which is directly contrary to what has been observed in all other countries. This is a much greater mortality of female children than of male. In the period from 1781 to 1785, of 1000 boys born 147 only died within the first year, but of the same number of girls 310.*56 The proportion is as 10 to 21, which is inconceivable, and must indeed have been in some measure accidental, as in the preceding periods the proportion was only as 10 to 14; but even this is very extraordinary, as it has been generally remarked, that in every stage of life, except during the period of childbearing, the mortality among females is less than among males. The climate of Sweden does not appear to be very different from that of Russia; and M. Wargentin observes, with respect to the Swedish tables, that it appears from them that the smaller mortality of females is not merely owing to a more regular and less laborious life, but is a natural law, which operates constantly from infancy to old age.*57


According to M. Krafft,*58 the half of all that are born at Petersburg live to 25; which shews a degree of healthiness in early life very unusual for so large a town; but after twenty, a mortality much greater than in any other town in Europe takes place, which is justly attributed to the immoderate use of brandy.*59 The mortality between 10 and 15 is so small, that only 1 in 47 males, and 1 in 29 females, die during this period. From 20 to 25 the mortality is so great, that 1 in 9 males and 1 in 13 females die. The tables show that this extraordinary mortality is occasioned principally by pleurisies, high fevers, and consumptions. Pleurisies destroy ¼, high fevers 1/3, and consumptions 1/6, of the whole population. The three together take off 5/7 of all that die.


The general mortality during the period from 1781 to 1785 was, according to M. Krafft, 1 in 37. In a former period it had been 1 in 35, and in a subsequent period, when epidemic diseases prevailed, it was 1 in 29.*60 This average mortality is small for a large town; but there is reason to think, from a passage in M. Krafft's memoir,*61 that the deaths in the hospitals, the prisons, and in the Maison des Enfans trouvés, are either entirely omitted, or not given with correctness; and undoubtedly the insertion of these deaths might make a great difference in the apparent healthiness of the town.


In the Maison des Enfans trouvés alone the mortality is prodigious. No regular lists are published, and verbal communications are always liable to some uncertainty. I cannot therefore rely upon the information which I collected on the subject; but from the most careful inquiries which I could make of the attendants at the house in Petersburg, I understood that 100 a month was the common average. In the preceding winter, which was the winter of 1788, it had not been uncommon to bury 18 a day. The average number received in the day is about 10; and though they are all sent into the country to be nursed three days after they have been in the house, yet, as many of them are brought in a dying state, the mortality must necessarily be great. The number said to be received appears, indeed, almost incredible; but from what I saw myself, I should be inclined to believe, that both this and the mortality before mentioned might not be far from the truth. I was at the house about noon, and four children had been just received, one of which was evidently dying, and another did not seem as if it would long survive.


A part of the house is destined to the purpose of a lying-in hospital, where every woman that comes is received, and no questions are asked. The children thus born are brought up by nurses in the house, and are not sent into the country like the others. A mother, if she choose it, may perform the office of nurse to her own child in the house, but is not permitted to take it away with her. A child brought to the house may at any time be reclaimed by its parents, if they can prove themselves able to support it; and all the children are marked and numbered on being received, that they may be known and produced to, the parents when required, who, if they cannot reclaim them, are permitted to visit them.


The country nurses receive only two roubles a month, which, as the current paper rouble is seldom worth more than half a crown, is only about fifteen pence a week; yet the general expenses are said to be 100,000 roubles a month. The regular revenues belonging to the institution are not nearly equal to this sum; but the government takes on itself the management of the whole affair, and consequently bears all the additional expenses. As children are received without any limit, it is absolutely necessary that the expenses should also be unlimited. It is evident that the most dreadful evils must result from an unlimited reception of children, and only a limited fund to support then. Such institutions, therefore, if managed properly, that is, if the extraordinary mortality do not prevent the rapid accumulation of expense, cannot exist long except under the protection of a very rich government; and even under such protection the period of their failure cannot be very distant.


At six or seven years old the children who have been sent into the country return to the house, where they are taught all sorts of trades and manual operations. The common hours of working are from 6 to 12, and from 2 till 4. The girls leave the house at 18, and the boys at 20 or 21. When the house is too full, some of those which have been sent into the country are not brought back.


The principal mortality, of course, takes place among the infants who are just received, and the children which are brought up in the house; but there is a considerable mortality amongst those who are returned from the country, and are in the firmest stages of life. I was in some degree surprised at hearing this, after having been particularly struck with the extraordinary degree of neatness, cleanliness and sweetness, which appeared to prevail in every department. The house itself had been a palace, and all the rooms were large, airy, and even elegant. I was present while 180 boys were dining. They were all dressed very neatly; the table-cloth was clean, and each had a separate napkin to himself. The provisions appeared to be extremely good, and, there was not the smallest disagreeable smell in the room. In the dormitories there was a separate bed for each child; the bedsteads were of iron without tester or curtains, and the coverlids and sheets particularly clean.


This degree of neatness, almost inconceivable in a large institution, was to be attributed principally to the present Empress Dowager, who interested herself in all the details of the management and, when at Petersburg, seldom passed a week without inspecting them in person. The mortality which takes place in spite of all these attentions, is a clear proof, that the constitution in early youth cannot support confinement and work for eight hours in the day. The children had all rather a pale and sickly countenance, and if a judgment had been formed of the national beauty from the girls and boys in this establishment, it would have been most unfavourable.


It is evident, that, if the deaths belonging to this institution be omitted, the bills of mortality for Petersburg cannot give a representation in any degree near the truth of the real state of the city with respect to healthiness. At the same time it should be recollected, that some of the observations which attest its healthiness, such as the number dying in a thousand, &c., are not influenced by this circumstance; unless indeed we say, what is perhaps true, that nearly all those who would find any difficulty in rearing their children send them to the foundling hospital; and the mortality among the children of those who are in easy circumstances, and live in comfortable houses and airy situations, will of course be much less than a general average taken from all that are born.


The Maison des Enfans trouvés at Moscow is conducted exactly upon the same principle as that at Petersburg; and Mr. Tooke gives an account of the surprising loss of children, which it had sustained in twenty years, from the time of its first establishment to the year 1786. On this occasion he observes that if we knew precisely the number of those who died immediately after reception, or who brought in with them the germ of dissolution, a small part only of the mortality would probably appear to be fairly attributable to the foundling hospital; as none would be so unreasonable as to lay the loss of these certain victims to death to the account of a philanthropic institution, which enriches the country from year to year with an ever-increasing number of healthy, active, and industrious burghers.*62


It appears to me, however, that the greatest part of this premature mortality is clearly to be attributed to these institutions, miscalled philanthropic. If any reliance can be placed on the accounts which are given of the infant mortality in the Russian towns and provinces, it would appear to be unusually small. The greatness of it, therefore, at the foundling hospitals, may justly be laid to the account of institutions which encourage a mother to desert her child, at the very time when of all others it stands most in need of her fostering care. The frail tenure by which an infant holds its life will not allow of a remitted attention, even for a few hours.


The surprising mortality which takes place at these two foundling hospitals of Petersburg and Moscow, which are managed in the best possible manner, (as all who have seen them with one consent assert,) appears to me incontrovertibly to prove, that the nature of these institutions is not calculated to answer the immediate end that they have in view; which I conceive to be the preservation of a certain number of citizens to the state who might otherwise perhaps perish from poverty or false shame. It is not to be doubted that if the children received into these hospitals had been left to the management of their parents, taking the chance of all the difficulties in which they might be involved, a much greater proportion of them would have reached the age of manhood, and have become useful members of the state.


When we look a little deeper into this subject, it will appear that these institutions not only fail in their immediate object, but by encouraging in the most marked manner habits of licentiousness, discourage marriage, and thus weaken the main spring of population. All the well-informed men, with whom I conversed on this subject at Petersburg, agreed invariably that the institution had produced this effect in a surprising degree. To have a child was considered as one of the most trifling faults which a girl could commit. An English merchant at Petersburg told me, that a Russian girl living in his family, under a mistress who was considered as very strict, had sent six children to the foundling hospital without the loss of her place.


It should be observed, however, that generally speaking six children are not common in this kind of intercourse. Where habits of licentiousness prevail, the births are never in the same proportion to the number of people as in the married state; and therefore the discouragement to marriage, arising from this licentiousness, and the diminished number of births, which is the consequence of it, will much more than counterbalance any encouragement to marriage from the prospect held out to parents of disposing of the children which they cannot support.


Considering the extraordinary mortality which occurs in these institutions, and the habits of licentiousness which they have an evident tendency to create, it may perhaps be truly said, that, if a person wished to check population, and were not solicitous about the means, he could not propose a more effectual measure, than the establishment of a sufficient number of foundling hospitals, unlimited as to their reception of children. And with regard to the moral feelings of a nation, it is difficult to conceive that they must not be sensibly impaired by encouraging mothers to desert their offspring, and endeavouring to teach them that their love for their new-born infants is a prejudice which it is the interest of their country to eradicate. An occasional child-murder from false shame, is saved at a very high price, if it can only be done by the sacrifice of some of the best and most useful feelings of the human heart in a great part of the nation.


On the supposition that foundling hospitals attained their proposed end, the state of slavery in Russia would perhaps render them more justifiable in that country than in any other; because every child brought up at the foundling hospitals becomes a free citizen, and in this capacity is likely to be more useful to the state than if it had merely increased the number of slaves belonging to an individual proprietor. But in countries not similarly circumstanced, the most complete success in institutions of this kind would be a glaring injustice to other parts of the society. The true encouragement to marriage is the high price of labour, and an increase of employments which require to be supplied with proper hands; but if the principal part of these employments, apprenticeships, &c., be filled up by foundlings, the demand for labour among the legitimate part of the society must be proportionally diminished, the difficulty of supporting a family increased, and the best encouragement to marriage removed.


Russia has great natural resources. Its produce is, in its present state, above its consumption; and, it wants nothing but greater freedom of industrious exertion, and an adequate vent for its commodities in the interior parts of the country, to occasion an increase of population astonishingly rapid. The principal obstacle to this, is the vassalage, or rather slavery, of the peasants, and the ignorance and indolence which almost necessarily accompany such a state. The fortune of a Russian nobleman is measured by the number of boors that he possesses, which in general are saleable like cattle, and not adscripti glebæ. His revenue arises from a capitation tax on all the males. When the boors upon an estate are increasing, new divisions of land are made at certain intervals; and either more is taken into cultivation, or the old shares are subdivided. Each family is awarded such a portion of land as it can properly cultivate, and will enable it to pay the tax. It is evidently the interest of the boor not to improve his lands much, and appear to get considerably more than is necessary to support his family and pay the polltax; because the natural consequence will be, that in the next division which takes place, the farm which he before possessed will be considered as capable of supporting two families, and he will be deprived of the half of it. The indolent cultivation that such a state of things must produce is easily conceivable. When a boor is deprived of much of the land which he had before used, he makes complaints of inability to pay his tax, and demands permission for himself or his sons to go and earn it in the towns. This permission is in general eagerly sought after, and is granted without much difficulty by the Seigneurs, in consideration of a small increase of the poll-tax. The consequence is, that the lands in the country are left half cultivated, and the genuine spring of population impaired in its source.


A Russian nobleman at Petersburg, of whom I asked some questions respecting the management of his estate, told me, that he never troubled himself to inquire whether it was properly cultivated or not, which he seemed to consider as a matter in which he was not in the smallest degree concerned. Cela m'est égal, says he, cela me fait ni bien ni mal. He gave his boors permission to earn their tax how and where they liked, and as long as he received it he was satisfied. But it is evident that by this kind of conduct he sacrificed the future population of his estate, and the consequent future increase of his revenues, to considerations of indolence and present convenience.


It is certain, however, that of late years many noblemen have attended more to the improvement and population of their estates, instigated principally by the precepts and example of the empress Catharine, who made the greatest exertions to advance the cultivation of the country. Her immense importations of German settlers not only contributed to people her state with free citizens instead of slaves, but, what was perhaps of still more importance, to set an example of industry, and of modes of directing that industry, totally unknown to the Russian peasants.


These exertions have been attended, upon the whole, with great success; and it is not to be doubted that, during the reign of the late empress and since, a very considerable increase of cultivation and of population has been going forward in almost every part of the Russian empire.


In the year 1763, an enumeration of the people, estimated by the poll-tax, gave a population of 14,726,696; and the same kind of enumeration in 1783 gave a population of 25,677,000, which, if correct, shews a very extraordinary increase; but it is supposed that the enumeration in 1783 was more correct and complete than the one in 1763. Including the provinces not subject to the poll-tax, the general calculation for 1763 was 20,000,000, and for 1796, 36,000,000.*63


In a subsequent edition of Mr. Tooke's View of the Russian Empire, a table of the births, deaths and marriages in the Greek church, is given for the year 1799, taken from a respectable German periodical publication, and faithfully extracted from the general returns received by the synod. It contains all the eparchies except Bruzlaw, which, from the peculiar difficulties attending a correct list of mortality in that eparchy, could not be inserted. The general results are,

Males. Females. Totals.
Births, 531,015. 460,900. 991,915.
Deaths, 275,582. 264,807. 540,389.
Marriages, 257,513.
of births
brace bracket Males, 255,432 brace bracket 451,525.
Females, 196,093


To estimate the population Mr. Tooke multiplies the deaths by 58. But as this table has the appearance of being more correct than those which preceded it, and as the proportion of deaths compared with the births is greater in this table than in the others, it is probable that 58 is too great a multiplier. It may be observed, that in this table the births are to the deaths nearly as 183 to 100, the births to marriages as 385 to 100, and the deaths to the marriages as 210 to 100.


These are all more probable proportions than the results of the former tables.



The population of Russia, including the wandering tribes, and the acquired territories, was in 1822 estimated at 54,476,931. But the most interesting part of the population to examine, is that where lists of the births, deaths and marriages can be obtained.


The following table, which is given in the Encyclopædia Britannica, under the head of Russia, is formed from the reports published by the Synod, including only the members of the Orthodox Greek Church, the most numerous body of the people.

1806 1810 1816 1820
Marriages 299,057 320,389 39,683 317,805
Births 1,361,286 1,374,926 1,457,606 1,570,399
Deaths 818,585 903,380 820,383 917,680


The population belonging to the Greek Church is estimated at 40,351,000.


If the average excess of the births above the deaths be applied to the 14 years ending with 1820, it will appear that, from this excess alone, the population had increased in that period, 8,064,616; and if the population in 1820 were 40,351,000, the population in 1806 was 32,286,384. Comparing the average excess of births with the average population during the 14 years, it will be found that the proportion is as 1 to 63, which (according to Table II. at the end of the 11th Chapter of this Book) would double the population in less than 44 years; a most rapid rate of increase.


The proportion of births to marriages is a little above 4½ to 1; of births to deaths, as 5 to 3; of marriages to the population, as 1 to 114; of births to the population as 1 to 25.2; and of deaths to the population, or the mortality, as 1 to 41.9.


Most of these proportions are essentially different from those mentioned in the earlier part of this chapter; but there is good reason to believe that they are more accurate; and they certainly accord better with the very rapid increase of population which is known to be going on in Russia.


The apparent increase of mortality is to be attributed rather to the former inaccuracy of the registers, than to increased unhealthiness. It is now allowed that the registers before 1796 were very imperfectly kept.

Notes for this chapter

Vol. ii. b. iii. p. 162.
Id. p. 145.
Nova Acta Academiæ, tom. iv.
View of the Russian Empire, vol. ii. b. iii. p. 148.
Mémoires par W. L. Krafft, Nova Acta Academiæ, tom. iv.
Tooke's View of the Russ. Emp. vol. ii. b. iii. p. 147.
Mémoires Abrégés dé l'Académie de Stockholm, p. 28.
View of Russ. Emp. vol. ii. b. iii. p. 146.
Mémoire par W. L. Krafft, Nova Acta Academiæ, tom. iv.
Mémoire par W. L. Krafft, Nova Acta Academiæ, tom. iv.
Mémoires Abrégés de l'Académie de Stockholm; p. 28:
Nova Acta Academiæ, tom. iv.
Tooke's View of the Russian Empire, vol. ii. b. iii. p. 155.
Id. p. 151.
Id. note, p. 150.
View of the Russian Empire, vol. ii. b. iii. p. 201.
Tooke's View of the Russian Empire, vol. ii. book iii. sect. i. p. 126, et seq. .

End of Notes

21 of 60

Book II, Chapter IV

Of the Checks to Population in the Middle Parts of Europe.


I have dwelt longer on the northern states of Europe than their relative importance might to some appear to demand, because their internal economy is in many respects essentially different from our own, and a personal though slight acquaintance with these countries has enabled me to mention a few particulars which have not yet been before the public. In the middle parts of Europe the division of labour, the distribution of employments and the proportion of the inhabitants of the country, differ so little from what is observable in England, that it would be in vain to seek for the checks to their population in any peculiarity of habits and manners sufficiently marked to admit of description. I shall therefore endeavour to direct the reader's attention principally to some inferences drawn from the lists of births, marriages and deaths in different countries; and these data will, in many important points, give us more information respecting their internal economy than we could receive from the most observing traveller.


One of the most curious and instructive points of view, in which we can consider lists of this kind, appears to me to be the dependence of the marriages on the deaths. It has been justly observed by Montesquieu, that, wherever there is a place for two persons to live comfortably, a marriage will certainly ensue:*64 but in most of the countries in Europe, in the present state of their population, experience will not allow us to expect any sudden and great increase in the means of supporting a family. The place therefore for the new marriage must, in general, be made by the dissolution of an old one; and we find in consequence, that, except after some great mortality, from whatever cause it may have proceeded, or some sudden change of policy peculiarly favourable to cultivation and trade, the number of annual marriages is regulated principally by the number of annual deaths. They reciprocally influence each other. There are few countries in which the common people have so much foresight, as to defer marriage till they have a fair prospect of being able to support properly all their children. Some of the mortality therefore, in almost every country, is forced by the too great frequency of marriage; and in every country a great mortality, whether arising principally from this cause or occasioned by the number of great towns and manufactories and the natural unhealthiness of the situation, will necessarily produce a great frequency of marriage.


A most striking exemplification of this observation occurs in the case of some villages in Holland. Sussmilch has calculated the mean proportion of annual marriages compared with the number of inhabitants as between 1 in 107 and 1 in 113, in countries which have not been thinned by plagues or wars, or in which there is no sudden increase in the means of subsistence.*65 And Crome, a later statistical writer, taking a mean between 1 in 92 and 1 in 122, estimates the average proportion of marriages to inhabitants as 1 to 108.*66 But in the registers of 22 Dutch villages, the accuracy of which, according to Sussmilch, there is no reason to doubt, it appears that out of 64 persons there is 1 annual marriage.*67 This is a most extraordinary deviation from the mean proportion. When I first saw this number mentioned, not having then adverted to the mortality in these villages, I was much astonished; and very little satisfied with Sussmilch's attempt to account for it, by talking of the great number of trades, and the various means of getting a livelihood in Holland;*68 as it is evident that, the country having been long in the same state, there would be no reason to expect any great accession of new trades and new means of subsistence, and the old ones would of course all be full. But the difficulty was in a great measure solved, when it appeared that the mortality was between 1 in 22 and 1 in 23,*69 instead of being 1 in 36, as is usual when the marriages are in the proportion of 1 to 108. The births and deaths were nearly equal. The extraordinary number of marriages was not caused by the opening of any new sources of subsistence, and therefore produced no increase of population. It was merely occasioned by the rapid dissolution of the old marriages by death, and the consequent vacancy of some employment by which a family could be supported.


It might be a question, in this case, whether the too great frequency of marriage, that is, the pressure of the population too hard against the limits of subsistence, contributed most to produce the mortality; or the mortality, occasioned naturally by the employments of the people and unhealthiness of the country, the frequency of marriage. In the present instance I should, without doubt, incline to the latter supposition; particularly as it seems to be generally agreed, that the common people in Holland before the Revolution were, upon the whole, in a good state. The great mortality probably arose partly from the natural marshiness of the soil and the number of canals, and partly from the very great proportion of the people engaged in sedentary occupations, and the very small number in the healthy employments of agriculture.


A very curious and striking contrast to these Dutch villages, tending to illustrate the present subject, will be recollected in what was said respecting the state of Norway. In Norway the mortality is 1 in 48, and the marriages are 1 in 130. In the Dutch villages the mortality 1 in 23, and the marriages 1 in 64. The difference both in the marriages and deaths is above double. They maintain their relative proportions in a very exact manner, and shew how much the deaths and marriages mutually depend upon each other; and that, except where some sudden start in the agriculture of a country enlarges the means of subsistence, an increase of marriages must be accompanied by an increase of mortality, and vice versâ.


In Russia this sudden start in agriculture has in a great measure taken place; and consequently, though the mortality is very small, yet the proportion of marriages is not so. But in the progress of the population of Russia, if the proportion of marriages remain the same as at present, the mortality will inevitably increase; or if the mortality remain nearly the same, the proportion of marriages will diminish.


Sussmilch has produced some striking instances of this gradual decrease in the proportional number of marriages, in the progress of a country to a greater degree of cleanliness, healthiness and population, and a more complete occupation of all the means of gaining a livelihood.


In the town of Halle, in the year 1700, the number of annual marriages was to the whole population as 1 to 77. During the course of the 55 following years, this proportion changed gradually, according to Sussmilch's calculation, to 1 in 167.*70 This is a most extraordinary difference, and, if the calculation were quite accurate, would prove to what a degree the check to marriage had operated, and how completely it had measured itself to the means of subsistence. As however the number of people is estimated by calculation and not taken from enumerations, this very great difference in the proportions may not be perfectly correct, or may be occasioned in part by other causes.


In the town of Leipsic, in the year 1620, the annual marriages were to the population as 1 to 82; from the year 1741 to 1756 they were as 1 to 120.*71


In Augsburg, in 1510, the proportion of marriages to the population was 1 to 86; in 1750 as 1 to 123.*72


In Dantzic, in the year 1705, the proportion was as 1 to 89; in 1745 as 1 to 118.*73


In the dukedom of Magdeburgh, in 1700, the proportion was as 1 to 87; from 1752 to 1755 as 1 to 125.


In the principality of Halberstadt in 1690, the proportion was as 1 to 88; in 1756 as 1 to 112.


In the dukedom of Cleves, in 1705, the proportion was 1 to 83; in 1755, 1 to 100.


In the Churmark of Brandenburgh, in 1700; the proportion was 1 to 76; in 1755, 1 to 108.*74


More instances of this kind might be produced; but these are sufficient to shew that in countries, where from a sudden increase in the means of subsistence, arising either from a great previous mortality or from improving cultivation and trade, room has been made for a great proportion of marriages, this proportion will annually decrease as the new employments are filled up, and there is no further room for an increasing population.


But in countries which have long been fully peopled, in which the mortality continues the same, and in which no new sources of subsistence are opening, the marriages being regulated principally by the deaths, will generally bear nearly the same proportion to the whole population at one period as at another. And the same constancy will take place even in countries where there is an annual increase in the means of subsistence, provided this increase be uniform and permanent. Supposing it to be such, as for half a century to allow every year of a fixed proportion of marriages beyond those dissolved by death, the population would then be increasing, and perhaps rapidly; but it is evident, that the proportion of marriages to the whole population might remain the same during the whole period.


This proportion Sussmilch has endeavoured to ascertain in different countries and different situations. In the villages of the Churmark of Brandenburgh, one marriage out of 109 persons takes place annually:*75 and the general proportion for agricultural villages he thinks may be taken at between 1 in 108 and 1 in 115.*76 In the small towns of the Churmark, where the mortality is greater, the proportion is 1 to 98;*77 in the Dutch villages mentioned before, 1 to 64; in Berlin 1 to 110;*78 in Paris 1 to 137.*79 According to Crome, in the unmarrying cities of Paris and Rome the proportion is only 1 to 60.*80


All general proportions however of every kind should be applied with considerable caution, as it seldom happens that the increase of food and of population is uniform; and when the circumstances of a country are varying, either from this cause or from any change in the habits of the people with respect to prudence and cleanliness, it is evident that a proportion which is true at one period will not be so at another.


Nothing is more difficult than to lay down rules on these subjects that do not admit of exceptions. Generally speaking, it might be taken for granted that an increased facility in the means of gaining a livelihood, either from a great previous mortality or from improving cultivation and trade, would produce a greater proportion of annual marriages; but this effect might not perhaps follow. Supposing the people to have been before in a very depressed state, and much of the mortality to have arisen from the want of foresight which usually accompanies such a state, it is possible that the sudden improvement of their condition might give them more of a decent and proper pride; and the consequence would be, that the proportional number of marriages might remain nearly the same, but they would all rear more of their children, and the additional population that was wanted would be supplied by a diminished mortality, instead of an increased number of births.


In the same manner, if the population of any country had been long stationary, and would not easily admit of an increase, it is possible that a change in the habits of the people, from improved education or any other cause, might diminish the proportional number of marriages; but as fewer children would be lost in infancy from the diseases consequent on poverty, the diminution in the number of marriages would be balanced by the diminished mortality, and the population would be kept up to its proper level by a smaller number of births.


Such changes therefore in the habits of a people should evidently be taken into consideration.


The most general rule that can be laid down on this subject is, perhaps, that any direct encouragements to marriage must be accompanied by an increased mortality. The natural tendency to marriage is in every country so great, that without any encouragements whatever a proper place for a marriage will always be filled up. Such encouragements therefore must either be perfectly futile, or produce a marriage where there is not a proper place for one; and the consequence must necessarily be increased poverty and mortality. Montesquieu, in his Lettres Persannes, says, that, in the past wars of France, the fear of being enrolled in the militia tempted a great number of young men to marry without the proper means of supporting a family, and the effect was the birth of a crowd of children, "que l'on cherche encore en France, et que la misère, la famine et les maladies en out fait disparoître."*81


After so striking an illustration of the necessary effects of direct encouragements to marriage, it is perfectly astonishing that, in his Esprit des Loix he should say that Europe is still in a state to require laws, which favour the propagation of the human species.*82


Sussmilch adopts the same ideas; and though he contemplates the case of the number of marriages coming necessarily to a stand when the food is not capable of further increase, and examines some countries in which the number of contracted marriages is exactly measured by the number dissolved by death, yet he still thinks that it is one of the principal duties of government to attend to the number of marriages. He cites the examples of Augustus and Trajan, and thinks that a prince or a statesman would really merit the name of father of his people, if, from the proportion of 1 to 120 or 125, he could increase the marriages to the proportion of 1 to 80 or 90:*83 But as it clearly appears, from the instances which he himself produces, that, in countries which have been long tolerably well peopled, death is the most powerful of all the encouragements to marriage; the prince or statesman, who should succeed in thus greatly increasing the number of marriages, might, perhaps, deserve much more justly the title of destroyer, than father, of his people.


The proportion of yearly births to the whole population must evidently depend principally upon the proportion of the people marrying annually; and therefore, in countries which will not admit of a great increase of population, must, like the marriages, depend principally on the deaths. Where an actual decrease of population is not taking place, the births will always supply the vacancies made by death, and exactly so much more as the increasing resources of the country will admit. In almost every part of Europe, during the intervals of the great plagues, epidemics or destructive wars, with which it is occasionally visited, the births exceed the deaths; but as the mortality varies very much in different countries and situations, the births will be found to vary in the same manner, though from the excess of births above deaths which most countries can admit, not in the same degree.


In 39 villages of Holland, where the deaths are about 1 in 23, the births are also about l in 23.*84 In 15 villages round Paris, the births bear the same, or even a greater, proportion to the whole population, on account of a still greater mortality; the births are 1 in 22 7/10, and the deaths the same.*85 In the small towns of Brandenburgh which are in an increasing state, the mortality is 1 in 29, and the births 1 in 24 7/16.*86 In Sweden, where the mortality is about 1 in 35, the births are 1 in 28.*87 In 1056 villages of Brandenburgh in which the mortality is about 1 in 39 or 40, the births are about 1 in 30.*88 In Norway, where the mortality is 1 in 48, the births are 1 in 34.*89 In all these instances, the births are evidently measured by the deaths, after making a proper allowance for the excess of births which the state of each country will admit.


Statistical writers have endeavoured to obtain a general measure of mortality for all countries taken together; but, if such a measure could be obtained, I do not see what good purpose it could answer. It would be but of little use in ascertaining the population of Europe, or of the world; and it is evident, that in applying it to particular countries or particular places, we might be led into the grossest errors. When the mortality of the human race in different countries and different situations, varies so much as from 1 in 20 to 1 in 60, no general average could be used with safety in a particular case, without such a knowledge of the circumstances of the country, with respect to the number of towns, the habits of the people and the healthiness of the situation, as would probably supersede the necessity of resorting to any general proportion, by the knowledge of the particular proportion suited to the country.


There is one leading circumstance, however, affecting the mortality of countries, which may be considered as very general, and which is, at the same time, completely open to observation. This is the number of towns, and the proportion of town to country inhabitants. The unfavourable effects of close habitations and sedentary employments on the health are universal; and therefore on the number of people living in this manner, compared with the number employed in agriculture, will much depend the general mortality of the state.


Upon this principle it has been calculated that when the proportion of the people in the towns to those in the country is as 1 to 3, then the mortality is about 1 in 36: which rises to 1 in 35, or 1 in 33, when the proportion of townsmen to villagers is 2 to 5, or 3 to 7; and falls below 1 in 36, when this proportion is 2 to 7, or 1 to 4. On these grounds the mortality in Prussia is 1 in 38; in Pomerania, 1 in 37½; in the Neumark 1 in 37; in the Churmark 1 in 35; according to the lists for 1756.*90


The nearest average measure of mortality for all countries, taking towns and villages together, is, according to Sussmilch, 1 in 36.*91 But Crome thinks that this measure, though it might possibly have suited the time at which Sussmilch wrote, is not correct at present, when in most of the states of Europe both the number and size of the towns have increased.*92 He seems to be of opinion indeed, that this mortality was rather below the truth in Sussmilch's time, and that now 1 in 30 would be found to be nearer the average measure. It is not improbable that Sussmilch's proportion is too small, as he had a little tendency, with many other statistical writers, to throw out of his calculations epidemic years; but Crome has not advanced proofs sufficient to establish a general measure of mortality, in opposition to that proposed by Sussmilch. He quotes Busching, who states the mortality of the whole Prussian monarchy to be 1 in 30.*93 But it appears that this inference was drawn from lists for only three years, a period much too short to determine any general average. This proportion, for the Prussian monarchy, is indeed completely contradicted by subsequent observations mentioned by Crome. According to lists for five years, ending in 1784, the mortality was only 1 in 37.*94 During the same periods, the births were to the deaths as 131 to 100. In Silesia the mortality from 1781 to 1784 was 1 in 30; and the births to deaths as 128 to 100. In Gelderland the mortality from 1776 to 1781 was 1 in 27, and the births 1 in 26. These are the two provinces of the monarchy, in which the mortality is the greatest. In some others it is very small. From 1781 to 1784 the average mortality in Neufchatel and Ballengin was only 1 in 44, and the births 1 in 31. In the principality of Halberstadtz, from 1778 to 1784, the mortality was still less, being only 1 in 45 or 46, and the proportion of births to deaths 137 to 100.*95


The general conclusion which Crome draws is, that the states of Europe may be divided into three classes, to which a different measure of mortality ought to be applied. In the richest and most populous states, where the inhabitants of the towns are to the inhabitants of the country in so high a proportion as 1 to 3, the mortality may be taken as 1 in 30. In those countries which are in a middle state with regard to population and cultivation, the mortality may be considered as 1 in 32. And in the thinly-peopled northern states, Sussmilch's proportion of 1 in 36 may be applied.*96


These proportions seem to make the general mortality too great, even after allowing epidemic years to have their full effect in the calculations. The improved habits of cleanliness, which appear to have prevailed of late years in most of the towns of Europe, have probably, in point of salubrity, more than counterbalanced their increased size.



In a census which was made in 1817, of the population of Prussia in its present enlarged state, the number of inhabitants was found to be 10,536,571, of which 5,244,308 were males, and 5,320,535 were females. The births were 454,031, the deaths 306,484, and the marriages 112,034. Of the births 53,576, or 1/8.4 were illegitimate. The proportion of males to females born was as 20 to 19. Of the illegitimate children 3 out of every 10 died in the first year after birth; of the legitimate 2 out of 10.*97


The numbers here stated give a proportion of births to deaths, as 149 to 100; of births to marriages as 4 to 1; of births to the population as 1 to 23.2; of deaths to the population, of males, as 1 to 33; of females, as 1 to 36; of both together, as 1 to 34½; and of marriages to the population as 1 to 94. The proportion of the excess of the births above the deaths to the population is as 1 to 62; an excess which, if continued, would double the population in about 43 years. As it is not however stated how long these proportions have continued, no very certain conclusions can be drawn from them; but there is little, doubt that the population is proceeding with great rapidity.

Notes for this chapter

Esprit des Loix, liv. xxii. c. x.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. iv. sect. lvi. p. 126.
Crome, ueber die Grösse and Bevölkerung der Europ. Staaten, p. 88, Leips. 1785.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. iv. sect. lviii. p. 127. Such a proportion of marriages could not, however, be supplied in a country like Holland, from the births within the territory, but must be caused principally by the influx of foreigners: and it is known that such an influx, before the Revolution, was constantly taking place. Holland, indeed, has been called the grave of Germany.
Sussmilch, Götittliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. iv, sect, lviii. p. 128.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i, c. ii. sect. xxxvi. p. 92.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c, iv. sect. lxii. p. 132.
Id. sect. lxiii. p. 134.
Id. sect. lxiv. p. 134.
Id. sect. lxv. p. 135.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. iv. sect. lxxi. p. 140.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. iv. sect. lvi. p. 125.
Id. sect. lxxv. p. 147.
Id. sect. lx. p. 129.
Id. sect. lxix. p. 137.
Crome, ueber die Grösse und Bevölkerung der Europaischen Staaten, p. 89.
Lettre cxxii.
Esprit des Loix, liv. xxiii. c. xxvi.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. iv. sect, lxxviii. p. 151.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. vi. s. cxvi. p. 225.
Ibid. and c. ii. s. xxvii. p. 93.
Id. c. ii. s. xxviii. p. 80, and c. vi. s. cxvi. p. 225.
Id. c. vi. s. cxvi. p. 225.
Thaarup's Statistik, vol. ii. p. 4.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. iii. p. 60.
Vol. i. c. ii. s. xxxv. p. 91.
Crome, über die Gröss und Bevölkerung der Europaischen Staaten, p. 116.
Crome, über die Bevölkerung der Europaisch. Staat. p. 118.
Id. p. 120.
Id. p. 122.
Crome's Europaiscben Staaten, p. 127.
Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Article Prussia. .

End of Notes

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