Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 15
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: March 2008

Chapter3 - British population during the ‘long’ eighteenth century, 1680–1840



Although large for an island, Britain does not rank among the bigger countries of western Europe. The land surface of the island is 230,000 square kilometres: that of France, the largest west European country, is 552,000 square kilometres; Spain is almost as large as France (505,000 square kilometres), while Germany (357,000 square kilometres) and Italy (301,000 square kilometres) are also substantially larger than Britain. If, for purposes of comparison, western Europe is taken to consist of the area now comprising the Scandinavian countries, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Britain, Ireland and the Iberian peninsula, then Britain occupies only 5.7 per cent of the land surface of western Europe. In the early modern period the British population did not greatly exceed the total to be expected from its proportionate share of the land surface of western Europe. For example, in 1680 the population of Britain was about 6.5million, or 7.6 per cent of the west European total of about 86 million. Yet in 1840 the British share had risen to 10.5 per cent (18.5 million out of a total of 177 million). By 1860 the comparable totals were 23.1 and 197 million and the British percentage had reached 11.7, an increase of almost 60 per cent compared with the situation 180 years earlier. Since 1860 there has been a further rise in the British share of the west European total, but it has been much slower and more modest. In 1990 the population of Britain was 56 million, 13.1 per cent of the west European total of 429 million.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Bourgeois-Pichat, J. 1951. La mesure de la mortalité infantile. Population 6.
Desjardins, B. 1995. Bias in age at marriage in family reconstitutions: evidence from French Canadian data. Population Studies 49.
Flinn, M. W., ed. 1977. Scottish Population History from the 17th century to the 1930s. Cambridge.
Goldstone, J. A. 1986. The demographic revolution in England: a re-examination. Population Studies 40.
Henry, L. and Blanchet, D. 1983. La population de l’Angleterre de 1541 à 1871. Population 38.
Houston, R. A. 1996. The population history of Britain and Ireland, 1500–1750. In Anderson, 1996.
Lee, R. D. 1985. Population homeostasis and English demographic history. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 15.
Leneman, L. and Mitchison, R. 1987. Scottish illegitimacy ratios in the early modern period. Economic History Review 40.
Maddison, A. 2001. The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. Paris.
Malthus, T. R. 1986b. An Essay on the Principle of Population; or a View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness, 6th edn [1826], in The Works of Thomas Robert Malthus, II and III, ed. Wrigley, E. A. and Souden, D..
McEvedy, C. and Jones, R. 1978. Atlas of World Population History.
Mitchell, B. R. 1981. European Historical Statistics 1750–1975, 2nd rev. edn.
Mitchell, B. R. 1988. British Historical Statistics. Cambridge.
Mokyr, J. 1983. Three centuries of population change. Economic Development and Cultural Change 32.
Razzell, P. 1993. The growth of population in eighteenth-century England: a critical reappraisal. Journal of Economic History 53.
Razzell, P. 1994. Essays in English Population History.
Rogers, J. 1988. Family Reconstitution: New Information or Misinformation?Reports fromthe Family History Group, Department of History, 7. Uppsala.
Ruggles, S. 1992. Migration, marriage, and mortality: correcting sources of bias in English family reconstitution. Population Studies 46.
Teitelbaum, M. S. 1984. The British Fertility Decline: Demographic Transition in the Crucible of the Industrial Revolution. Princeton.
Wrigley, E. A. 1994. The effect of migration on the estimation of marriage age in family reconstitution studies. Population Studies 48.
Wrigley, E. A. 1997. How reliable is our knowledge of the demographic characteristics of the English population in the early modern period?Historical Journal 40.
Wrigley, E. A. and Schofield, R. S. 1981, 1989. The Population History of England 1541–1871: A Reconstruction. Cambridge, MA.