Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII: Of the Checks to Population in France (continued). - An Essay on the Principle of Population, vol. 1 [1826, 6th ed.]
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Chapter VII: Of the Checks to Population in France (continued). - Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, vol. 1 [1826, 6th ed.] 
An Essay on the Principle of Population, or a View of its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness; with an Inquiry into our Prospects respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils which it Occasions (London: John Murray 1826). 6th ed.
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Book II, Chapter VII
Of the Checks to Population in France (continued).
I have not thought it advisable to alter the conjectural calculations and suppositions of the preceding chapter, on account of the returns of the prefects for the year IX., as well as some returns published since by the government in 1813, having given a smaller proportion of births than I had thought probable; first, because these returns do not contain the early years of the revolution, when the encouragement to marriage and the proportion of births might be expected to be the greatest; and secondly, because they still seem fully to establish the main fact, which it was the object of the chapter to account for, namely, the undiminished population of France, notwithstanding the losses sustained during the revolution; although it may have been effected rather by a decreased proportion of deaths than an increased proportion of births.
According to the returns of the year IX., the proportions of the births, deaths, and marriages, to the whole population, are as follows:—
But these are in fact only the proportions of one year, from which no certain inference can be drawn. They are also applied to a population between three and four millions greater than was contained in ancient France, which population may have always had a smaller proportion of births, deaths, and marriages; and further, it appears highly probable from some of the statements in the Analyse des Procès Verbaux, that the registers had not been very carefully kept. Under these circumstances, they cannot be considered as proving what the numbers imply.
In the year XI., according to the Statistique Elémentaire by Peuchet, published subsequently to his Essai, an inquiry was instituted under the orders of M. Chaptal for the express purpose of ascertaining the average proportion of births to the population;57 and such an inquiry, so soon after the returns of the year IX., affords a clear proof that these returns were not considered by the minister as correct. In order to accomplish the object in view, choice was made of those communes in 30 departments distributed over the whole surface of prance, which were likely to afford the most accurate returns. And these returns for the year VIII., IX., and, X., gave a proportion of births as 1 in 28.35; of deaths, as 1 in 30.09; and of marriages, as 1 in 132.078.
It is observed by M. Peuchet that the proportion of population to the births is here much greater than had been formerly assumed, but he thinks that, as this calculation had been made from actual enumerations, it should be adopted in preference.
The returns published by the government in 1813 make the population of ancient France 28,786,911, which, compared with 28,000,000, the estimated population of the year IX., shew an increase of about 800,000 in the 11 years, from 1802 to 1813.
No returns of marriages are given, and the returns of births and deaths are given only for fifty departments.
In these fifty departments, during the ten years beginning with 1802 and ending with 1811, the whole number of births amounted to 5,478,669, and of deaths to 9,696,857, which, on a population of 16,710,719, indicates a proportion of births, as 1 in 30½, and of deaths as 1 in 35½.
It is natural to suppose that these fifty departments were chosen on account of their shewing the greatest increase. They contain indeed nearly the whole increase that had taken place in all the departments from the time of the enumeration in the year IX.; and consequently the population of the other departments must have been almost stationary. It may further be reasonably conjectured that the returns of marriages were not published on account of their being considered as unsatisfactory, and shewing a diminution of marriages, and an increased proportion of illegitimate births.
From these returns, and the circumstances accompanying them, it may be concluded, that whatever might have been the real proportion of births before the revolution, and for six or seven subsequent years, when the mariages prématurés are alluded to in the Procès Verbaux, and proportions of births as 1 in 21, 22, and 23, are mentioned in the Statistique Générale, the proportions of births, deaths, and marriages, are now all considerably less than they were formerly supposed to be.58
It has been asked, whether, if this fact be allowed, it does not clearly follow that the population was incorrectly estimated before the revolution, and that it has been diminished rather than increased since 1792? To this question I should distinctly answer, that it does not follow. It has been seen, in many of the preceding chapters, that the proportions of births, deaths, and marriages, are extremely different in different countries, and there is the strongest reason for believing that they are very different in the same country at different periods, and under different circumstances.
That changes of this kind have taken place in Switzerland has appeared to be almost certain. A similar effect from increased healthiness in our own country may be considered as an established fact. And if we give any credit to the best authorities that can be collected on the subject, it can scarcely be doubted that the rate of mortality has diminished, during the last one or two hundred years, in almost every country in Europe. There is nothing therefore that ought to surprise us in the mere fact of the same population being kept up, or even a decided increase taking place, under a smaller proportion of births, deaths and marriages. And the only question is, whether the actual circumstances of France seem to render such a change probable.
Now it is generally agreed that the condition of the lower classes of people in France before the revolution was very wretched. The wages of labour were about 20 sous, or ten pence a day, at a time when the wages of labour in England were nearly seventeen pence, and the price of wheat of the same quality in the two countries was not very different Accordingly Arthur Young represents the labouring classes of France, just at the commencement of the revolution, as "76 per cent. worse fed, worse clothed, and worse supported, both in sickness and health, than the same classes in England."59 And though this statement is perhaps rather too strong, and sufficient allowance is not made for the real difference of prices, yet his work every where abounds with observations which shew the depressed condition of the labouring classes in France at that time, and imply the pressure of the population very hard against the limits of subsistence.
On the other hand, it is universally allowed that the condition of the French peasantry has been decidedly improved by the revolution and the division of the national domains. All the writers who advert to the subject notice a considerable rise in the price of labour, partly occasioned by the extension of cultivation, and partly by the demands of the army. In the Statistique Elémentaire of Peuchet, common labour is stated to have risen from 20 to 30 sous,60 while the price of provisions appears to have remained nearly the same; and Mr. Birbeck, in his late Agricultural Tour in France,61 says that the price of labour without board is twenty pence a day, and that provisions of all kinds are full as cheap again as in England. This would give the French labourer the same command of subsistence as an English labourer would have with three shillings and four pence a day. But at no time were the wages of common day-labour in England so high as three shillings and four pence.
Allowing for some errors in these statements, they are evidently sufficient to establish a very marked improvement in the condition of the lower classes of people in France. But it is next to a physical impossibility that such a relief from the pressure of distress should take place without a diminution in the rate of mortality; and if this diminution in the rate of mortality has not been accompanied by a rapid increase of population, it must necessarily have been accompanied by a smaller proportion of births. In the interval between 1802 and 1813 the population seems to have increased, but to have increased slowly. Consequently a smaller proportion of births, deaths, and marriages, or the more general operation of prudential restraint, is exactly what the circumstances would have led us to expect. There is perhaps no proposition more incontrovertible than this, that, in two countries, in which the rate of increase, the natural healthiness of climate, and the state of towns and manufactures are supposed to be nearly the same, the one in which the pressure of poverty is the greatest will have the greatest proportion of births, deaths, and marriages.
It does not then by any means follow, as has been supposed, that because since 1802 the proportion of births in France has been as 1 in 30, Necker ought to have used 30 as his multiplier instead of 25¾. If the representations given of the state of the labouring classes in France before and since the revolution be in any degree near the truth, as the march of the population in both periods seems to have been nearly the same, the present proportion of births could not have been applicable at the period when Necker wrote. At the same time it is by no means improbable that he took too low a multiplier. It is hardly credible under all circumstances that the population of France should have increased in the interval between 1785 and 1802 so much as from 25½ millions to 28. But if we allow that the multiplier might at that time have been 27 instead of 25¾, it will be allowing as much as is in any degree probable, and yet this will imply an increase of nearly two millions from 1785 to 1813; an increase far short of the rate that has taken place in England, but still sufficient amply to shew the force of the principle of population in overcoming obstacles apparently the most powerful.
With regard to the question of the increase of births in the six or seven first years after the commencement of the revolution, there is no probability of its ever being determined.
In the confusion of the times, it is scarcely possible to suppose that the registers should have been regularly kept; and as they were not collected in the year IX., there is no chance of their being brought forward in a correct state at a subsequent period.
Subsequent to the last edition of this work, further details have appeared respecting the population of France.
Since 1817, regular returns have been made of the annual births, deaths, and marriages, over the whole of the territory comprised in the limits of France, as settled in 1814 and 1815; and an enumeration was made of the population in 1820.
In the Annuaire of the Bureau des Longitudes for 1825, the numbers of births, deaths, and marriages are given for six years ending with 1822. The sum of these are,
The annual average:
The population in 1820, according to an enumeration in each department, was 30,451,187.
From these numbers it appears that the proportion of annual births to the population is as 1 to 31.79; or nearly 1/32; the annual mortality as 1 to 39.81, or nearly 1/40; the proportion of annual marriages to the population is as 1 to 139; the proportion of births to deaths as 125.23 to 100, or very nearly as 5 to 4; and the proportion of marriages to births as 1 to 4.37. The proportion of illegitimate to legitimate births is as 1 to 14.6; the proportion of male to female births as 16 to 15; and the proportion of the annual excess of the births above the deaths to the whole population, which, if the returns are accurate, determines the rate of increase as 1 to 157.
To what degree the returns of the births, deaths, and marriages in the 6 years ending with 1822 are accurate, it is impossible to say. There is a regularity in them which has a favourable appearance. We well know, however, that with the same appearance of regularity there are great omissions in the births and deaths of our own registers. This is at once proved by the circumstance of the excess of the births above the deaths in the interval between two enumerations falling considerably short of the increase of population which appears by such enumerations to have taken place. The enumerations in France during the last twenty-five years have not been so regular, or so much to be depended upon, as those in England. The one in 1813, before noticed, may, however, be compared with that in 1820, and if they are both equally near the truth, it will appear that the population of France during the seven years from 1813 to 1820 must have increased considerably faster than during the six years ending with 1822, as determined by the excess of the births above the deaths. The whole of this excess during these six years, as above stated, was 1,158,160, the annual average of which is 193,027, which, compared with the mean population, or the population of 1820, reduced by the increase of a year, will give a proportion of annual increase to the population, as 1 to about 156; and this proportion of the annual excess of the births above the deaths, to the population, will, according to Table II. at the end of Ch. xi. Book ii, give a rate of increase which would double the population in about 108 years.
On the other hand, as the population of old France in 1813 was 28,786,911, and in 1820 30,451,187, the difference or the increase of population during the seven years being 1,664,276, the annual average increase will be 237,753, instead of 193,026; and this greater annual increase, compared with the mean population of the seven years, will be as 1 to 124, instead of 1 to 156, and the rate of increase will be such as would double the population in about 86 years, instead of 108, showing the probability of considerable omissions in the returns of births and deaths in the 6 years ending with 1822. If, indeed, the two enumerations can be considered as equally near the truth, as there is no reason for supposing that any great difference in the proportion of births could have occurred in the three years preceding 1817, it follows that the French registers require the same kind of correction, though not to the same extent, as our own. In a subsequent chapter I have supposed that the returns of the births for England and Wales are deficient 1/6, and of the burials 1/12. This correction applied to the French returns would exceed what is necessary to account for the increase between 1813 and 1820. But if we suppose the births to be deficient 1/10, and the deaths 1/20, the proportion of the births to the population will then be 1/29.1, and the proportion of the deaths 1/38.1. These proportions will make the annual excess of the births above the deaths, compared with the population, as 1 to a little above 123, which, after a slight allowance for deaths abroad, will give the same period of doubling, or the same rate of increase as that which took place in France between 1813 and 1820, supposing both enumerations to be equally hear the truth.
It is worthy of remark, that, after making the above allowances for omissions in the returns of births and deaths, the proportion of deaths appears to be smaller than in any of the registers before collected; and as the proportion of the births is also smaller than either before the revolution or in the returns from the 30 departments in the years VIII., IX. and X. before noticed; and as there is every reason to believe that there were great omissions in the general returns of the year IX. and that the omissions in the returns from the 50 departments in 1813, were not fewer than in the later registers, it may fairly be presumed that the proportion of births has diminished notwithstanding the increased rate at which the population has been proceeding of late years. This increased rate appears to be owing to a diminished mortality, occasioned by the improved situation of the labouring classes since the revolution, and aided probably by the introduction of vaccination. It shews that an acceleration in the rate of increase is quite consistent with a diminution in the proportion of births, and that such a diminution is likely to take place under a diminished mortality from whatever cause or causes arising.
As a curious and striking proof of the error into which we should fall, in estimating the population of countries at different periods by the increase of births, it may be remarked that, according to Necker, the annual births in France on an average of six years, ending with 1780, were 958,586. The births for the same number of years ending with 1822, were, as above stated, 957,875. Estimating therefore the population by the births, it would appear that in 42 years it had rather diminished than increased, whereas, by enumerations, there is every reason to believe that it has increased in that time nearly four millions.
[57.]P. 331. Paris, 1805.
[58.]In the year 1792 a law was passed extremely favourable to early marriages. This was repealed in the year XI., and a law substituted which threw great obstacles in the way of marriage, according to Peuchet (p. 234.) These two laws will assist in accounting for a small proportion of births and marriages in the ten years previous to 1813, consistently with the possibility of a large proportion in the first six or seven years after the commencement of the revolution.
[59.]Young's Travels in France, vol. i. p. 437.