Modes of Reproduction *


Alan Macfarlane


[From Geoffrey Hawthorn (ed.), Population and Development; High and Low Fertility in Poorer Countries (Frank Cass, London, 1978)]




The continued rapid growth of population in many parts of the world and

the failure of most family -planning campaigns makes the topic of the value

and desirability of children into more than a purely academic one. If some

general theory could be devised which would account for the very different

fertility rates and attitudes to fertility in different societies, this would be of

practical as well as theoretical importance. Despite intensive research and a

vast expenditure of time and money we still do not know how to influence

reproduction, largely because we do not yet know why children are highly

valued. Yet the importance of the topic justifies what is bound to

be an over-ambitious solution to the puzzle. Firstly we may briefly

look at some previous theories which provide hints of a solution, but which in

their crude form have not been accepted. The question we are seeking to

answer is this: what accounts for the very large differences in attitudes towards

having children in various societies?


One suggestion is a demographic answer which has already become part

of the conventional wisdom. It is the argument that high fertility and desire

for children is the "result' of high infant mortality. It is pointed out that in

many societies. in order to ensure living heirs, parents needed to stockpile

children, as for example, argued by Gould [Marshall and Polgar, 1976:

188-91]. The practical consequence is that family planning will not work

until death control is introduced. There is an element of truth in this, but as

a general theory to account for all differences over time and space it is far

too simple. It is not difficult to find instances where, as in Taiwan in the late

1960s, people living in areas of high infant mortality show more enthusiasm

for birth control than those where infant mortality is much lower [Kantner

and McCaffrey, 1975: 273]. Historical data from England in the

seventeenth century also shows that family planning can be combined with

very high mortality rates [Wrigley,, 1966]. One reason for the absence of a

direct connection is the fact that perceptions and attitudes are involved.

Mortality rates may decline, but individuals may still operate as if they were

high. There is no direct link between reproductive behaviour and

contemporary events. This is well shown in a study of an Eskimo

community by Masnick and Katz which shows that women's fertility does

not reflect their present economic circumstances. but those in which they

began their reproduction [in Kaplan, 1976: 37-58]. It could also be shown


* Lecturer in the Dept. of Social Anthropology, Cambridge. I am grateful to the Social Science Research Council for support in the historical project upon which some of this article is based and to Sarah Harrison and Geoffrey Hawthorn for their comments on an earlier draft. The first half was originally given as the Malinowski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics, February 1978.








that fertility has been encouraged and children highly desired even where

mortality rates were low and many children survived. A simple

demographic explanation only gets us a little way. As Mamdani states: *an

overwhelming majority of the people ... have a large number of children

not because they overestimate their infant mortality rates, but because they

want larger families' [Mamdani, 1972: 43].


Others see the explanation lying in what may broadly be termed

'technology' and non-human resources. This is roughly where Malthus

stands. He noted that pastoral and arable parts of Switzerland varied

greatly in their population growth rates; population was stationary in

pastoral regions, whereas it grew rapidly in arable areas. He generalised

even further when stating that corn countries are more populous than

pasture countries, and rice countries more populous than corn countries

[Malthus: i, 314]. He also noted that population where potatoes were grown

was denser than in areas where wheat was grown [Malthus.- ii, 73]. He did

not consider the alternative explanation of the correlation put forward by

Boserup that population density altered the agricultural technology

[Boserup, 1965]. For Malthus it was the nature of the means of subsistence

which 'allowed' births to exceed deaths. A more careful reading of Malthus

suggests that he did not predict that every increase in food would

necessarily lead to increased population, but that in the absence of

preventive and other checks it would do so. The sequence, over- simplified,

was firstly the discovery of a new technique, or an accidental 'windfall' in

the shape of a new food source appearing, then increased food which

allowed the natural pressure towards higher fertility. Recently an

alternative and attractive form of technological determinism has emerged

in the work of several anthropologists. It is the view that the tools/crops

and 'means of production' generally will determine the value of labour, and

that the value of labour will determine the attitude towards having

children. We may look at three rather different applications of the



Nag in a recent survey has tried to take account of the fact that even in

densely populated countries such as India, parents who are poor seem to

want more children, even though it would appear to planners to be against

their self-interest. Nag's argument is that this is rational behaviour.

Making a broad dichotomy between industrial and agricultural societies,

he brings forward some statistics to show that, in the absence of machinery,

the scarce factor in production. at least in terms of power, is human labour

[in Marshall and Polgar, 1976: 3-23]. This is the development of an

argument put forward long ago by Kingsley Davis [Davis, 1955: 37]. It is

one of the essential components of 'Demographic Transition Theory',

which argued that fertility was bound to fall rapidly as heavy industry made

human labour redundant. The explanation has been most powerfully put

forward by Mamdani as the major explanation of the desire for children in

a Punjab village, which undermined an intensive family planning project in

the area. People need extra labour: 'Given a very small income, to have to

hire even one farm hand can mean disaster. If such a farmer is merely to

survive, he must rely on his family for the necessary labour power"

[Mamdani, 1972: 76]. 'Labour is the most important factor [in production].




For them, family planning means voluntarily reducing the family labour

force' [Mamdani, i, 19 76: 103]. All but the very young and the very old make

some productive contribution to the economy of the household' [Mamdani,

1976: 129]. With intensive agriculture, and a very marked seasonal demand

for \ children are economically valuable. But with the introduction

of other forms of power . he argues. the desire for children may decline; the

introduction of tractors among the upper level Jats may already be having

this effect. 'It is therefore true that the newly married sons of the

mechanized farmers are the Jat group most favourable to the idea of family

planning through the use of modern contraception' [Mamdani, 1976: 87].

This type of argument is given an added dimension by contrasts between

'hoe' cultures of Africa, where female labour is often more valuable than

male. and the *plough' cultures of Asia and Europe, where the demand for

male labour means that there is a male-specific desire for children [Boserup,

1970: 15-52; Goody, 1976]. In both areas human labour is the source of

wealth and prestige and children, who become net producers in their early

teens, are greatly desired. There is much to attract us in this theory, since it

strikes one as plausible and explains a good deal. Yet it is again too simple.

We know that the attitude towards having children and fertility rates varies

enormously between societies with the same agricultural technology, for

instance that Japan and China in the early twentieth century had

contrasted fertility patterns, though both were wet-rice cultivating

countries or that Northern Thailand and India are contrasted.

Furthermore, we know that many of the simplest societies, where human

labour is even more basic in production and even animal power is absent,

namely Hunters and Gatherers, usually have little stress on fertility.


The reason for the inadequacy of the theory seems to lie in the fact that

the objective value, from an economist's point of view, of the child's labour

both as an adolescent and later as an adult is not the issue. It is the value to

its parents. The crucial factors concern the length and nature of the

children's contribution to their parent's prestige and economy, how long

they are expected to contribute to the family fund. This suggests that it is

not in the means of production, but in the relations of production, in Marx's

sense, that we are likely to find the solution to the desirability of children,

and the reason why identical technologies produce entirely different

fertility patterns. This was the heart of Marx's criticism of Malthus. We

must look at the specific 'mode of production', which encompasses the

family organisation if we are to see what determines fertility patterns: 'In

different modes of social production there are different laws of the increase

of population and of over-population' [Marx, 1973: 604]. The 'baboon'

Malthus had oversimplified far too much in making a general law based on

a 'false and childish' conception of a simple relationship between only two

variables, reproduction and the means of subsistence. In fact we need to

look at the 'very complicated and varying relations' within a 'specific

historic development' [Marx, 1973: 605-6]. We will do this shortly. But

before doing so it is worth considering one further general hypothesis

concerning the determinants of fertility which approaches closer to an

analysis in terms of the relations of production than any other.


Two inextricably muddled but separate arguments have been put





forward concerning the way in which social structure, as manifest in

kinship, has influenced fertility. One is that there is a correlation between

household structure and fertility, the other is that household structure is

only one aspect of kinship in a society and that the important variable is the

whole kinship system including the method of reckoning descent. Frank

Lorimer long ago argued that fertility would be higher in societies with

'corporate' kinship groups, which usually means those where descent is

exclusively traced through males or females. With bounded groups formed,

children are especially valued as they expand a particular lineage [Lorimer,

1954: 200, 247]. Thus large-scale societies with unilineal kinship such as

India or China had high fertility; bilateral societies in modern industrial

settings, or even the small groups of Hunters and Gatherers who usually

have cognatic descent, have a low emphasis on fertility. There appears to be

a certain plausibility in this argument, but it became discredited largely

because it became muddled with another concerning the nature of the

household. Unilineal systems often, though not invariably, produce

households where, for a time, married brothers live together with their

parents. It was suggested that there were several reasons why the

combination of permanent groups and large, complex households, should

encourage fertility. These were summarised by Kingsley Davis [Davis,

1955: 34-5]:

(i) the economic cost of rearing children does not impinge directly on

the parents to the same extent as in a 'nuclear' family system.

(ii) the inconvenience and effort of child care do not fall so heavily on

the parents alone.

(iii) the age at marriage can be quite young, because under joint

household conditions there is no necessity for the husband to be able to

support his wife and their family independently immediately at marriage-

a woman and her children are absorbed by a larger group.


Although attractive, both parts of the argument came under attack. As

regards household composition, there is considerable evidence, for

instance from India. that fertility in households with a 'nuclear' structure is

often higher than that in 'joint' households [Myrdal, 1968: ii, 1515 note;

Freedman, 1961-2: 50]. A recent study by Ryder tests the hypothesis in

Yucatan and supports the growing number of studies which have failed to

show any simple correlation between household structure and fertility [in

Kaplan, 1976: 93-97]. Defined in terms of residence, recent work from

South India by Montgomery also finds no correlation [in Marshall and

Polgar, 1976: 50-61. The difficulty here is that the counter-evidence comes

mainly from census-type data. If the hypothesis was more carefully

formulated to contrast not residence, but operation, it might have more

chance of survival. An Indian village may be filled with groups of brothers

and their parents who live apart but who operate social and economic units

larger than the nuclear family. In such a situation there may well be a

different attitude to fertility than in a system, such as that of the modern

west, or small bands of Hunters, where the effective unit is husband and

wife who are cut off from their kin. The second major attack has been made

on the negative side of the argument. It is predicted that, all else being

equal, fertility in non-unilineal systems will be lower. Put in this simple





form, it is easy to find counter-examples and Nag cites two American tribal

groups which he studied with high fertility and in which 'no corporate

unilineal descent groups were present' [Nag, 1962: 69]. Yet he admits that

'the traditional ideal in both the tribes is an extended family system based

upon patrilocal residence'. even though most households at present are

nuclear units (as they often are in unilineal systems). and that there are

'bilateral kin group. Much of the criticism against Lorimer is now

irrelevant in view of the emergence during the 1950s and 1960s of a new

contrast which make,, a distinction not between unilineal and non-unilineal

but between those societies. whether cognatic, agnatic or uterine where the

formation of groups is possible through an ancestor-focused descent

system. and those where there are no groups because descent is reckoned

from the ego [Fox, 1967: (,h. 1, 6]. Using this new distinction. the thesis

could be reformulated to state that where there are groups formed, by

whatever principle, fertility will be favoured, whereas where individuals are

the centre of a web of relations, as in the simplest Hunting and Gathering

bands or the most complex of modern cities, there will be a de-emphasis on

fertility. But such a thesis is only one step in the direction of suggesting a

new interpretation. We need to complement kinship with economics,

particularly ownership of property. In order to do this we must approach

the puzzle from a different direction.


On the basis of recent work in historical and comparative demography it

is possible to suggest that three models describe the population patterns of

most historically recorded societies. These have been analysed in my work

on the Gurungs of Nepal [Macfarlane, 1976: 303-10]. The 'pre-transition

phase I' model postulates perennial and uncontrolled fertility controlled by

perennial high mortality, which cancel each other out and keep the

population steady. Few societies have conformed to such a model for long

periods. More frequently they have fitted into a 'crisis' model, where

perennial high and uncontrolled fertility is not counterbalanced by annual

high mortality, but periodic crises, war, epidemics, famine, topple the

population, which then mounts again. This is characteristic of China,

traditional India and much of Europe. The third, 'homeostatic', model is

one where fertility is controlled, even in the presence of abundant

resources, by social and economic controls, and mortality is not the main

factor in preventing population growth. This fits certain animal and human

populations and parts of Western Europe in the seventeenth to twentieth

centuries. When discussing fertility, the first of these models can be

amalgamated to form the 'uncontrolled' situation, the third being

'controlled'. For certain purposes, as Matras has argued [quoted in

Zubrow, 1976: 211], it is useful to break each of these in half in terms of age

at marriage. thus:


Uncontrolled Controlled


Marriage Early A B

Late C D







This makes it possible to compare societies which move from A to C or

from A to D. But for the purpose of the present argument, just two models

will suffice: the 'uncontrolled' and the 'controlled', whether the means is

contraception, abortion or late age at marriage, thus amalgamating

Malthus' prudential checks (celibacy, late marriage) and 'vice' (con-

traception, abortion). In summarising these models, apart from noting

their approximate location and some instances, no attempt was made to

explain why they occurred in various societies, to what social, economic or

ideological facts they were related. In order to proceed with this much

harder task we may first look at a few hints offered by others who have

attempted to find a solution.


It will be remembered that the answer seems to lie not in the means of

production, but in these combined with the relations of production-in

other words, as Marx claims, in the whole assemblage of beliefs and

practices he labelled 'mode of production'. This is indirectly alluded to by

Mamdani, but never directly confronted. In explaining a possible growth of

a desire to limit childbearing, he is not content to stop at tractors;

something is also happening to the relations of production: a labourer is

paid for the work he does, rather than being given a customary amount in

bundles of wheat, 'In short, labour is becoming a commodity in Manupur.

Feudal relations of work are giving way to capitalist relations of work'

[Mamdani, 1972: 91]. This is an important clue. Another is his statement

that the 'fact that the family is the basic unit of work has important social

implications' [Mamdani, 1972: 132]. It also has important demographic

implications, but these are not explicitly pursued since it would only have

been by comparing India with other countries that Mamdani would have

seen that what he took to be the result of a certain type of agriculture, is in

fact the result of a certain social structure, or mode of production. This

solution is indirectly implied by the common assumption that 'peasants-"

by whom are meant those who not only live in the country, but organise

production in a certain way, have an almost universally pro-natalist

attitude. Goode has assumed that fertility is a highly valued attribute in

peasant societies [Goode, 1963: 111]; Notestein stated 'peasant societies in

Europe, and almost universally throughout the world, are organized in

ways that bring strong pressures on their members to reproduce'

[Notestein, 1953: 15]. Galeski noted that peasant families in Poland were

distinguished by a higher birth rate than other groups [Galeski, 1972: 58].

At first sight this fits well. If we look at a map of areas of dense population

on the earth and a map of the distribution of peasantries the two exactly

overlap; India, China, Europe are both. Of course there is still a chicken

and egg difficulty and there may well be tautology since the word 'peasant'

may have built into part of its definition features which necessitate there

being a dense population. Yet there is something intriguing and worth

pursuing. To do this let us construct two further ideal-type 'modes of

production' which seem to coincide quite well with the 'controlled' and

uncontrolled' fertility models earlier alluded to.


The first can be termed 'peasant' or 'domestic' according to one's fancy.

The central feature of this mode is that production and consumption are

inextricably bound to the unit of reproduction or family; units of social and






economic reproduction are identical. The farm and family are found

together as the place where both wealth and children are produced. This

central feature of peasantry is described by Thorner as follows:


Our fifth and final criterion. the most fundamental. is that of the unit of

production. In our concept of peasant economy the typical and most

representative units of production are the peasant family households. We

define a peasant family household as a socio-economic unit which grows crops

principally the physical efforts of the members of the family [in Shanin, 1971: 205].


As Shanin puts it 'the family is the basic unit of peasant ownership,

production consumption and social life. The individual, the family and the

farm, appear as an indivisible whole [Shanin, 1971: 241]. Or as

Chayanov summarised the position:


The first fundamental characteristic of the farm economy of the peasant is that

it is a family economy. Its whole organization is determined by the size and

composition of the peasant family and by the coordination of its consumptive

demands with the number of its working hands [quoted in Wolf, 1966: 14].


This has nothing, as yet, to do with the nature of the residential household,

nor even the kinship system. It is basically the assertion that in many

agricultural societies the basic or smallest unit of production and

consumption is not the individual, but the members of a family, which may

merely consist of parents and children, or a larger group. All those born

into this minimal group have an equal share and rights in the resources,

labour is pooled in the group. the 'estate' is passed on undiminished from

generation to generation. In this situation. each new child is an asset, giving

his labour and drawing off the communal resource, contributing to the

welfare of his parents as they pass their prime, increasing the prestige,

political power, as well as the economic well-being of the group. It is this

system which Mamdani found even after the introduction of individualistic

western law had destroyed much of the original fabric. In this situation

family planning appears to go right against the interests of both the group

and the individual. The unit of production and the unit of reproduction

coincide. To increase production, one increases reproduction; likewise in

reverse, as Malthus would argue, if production increases, so will

reproduction. As Ryder has perceptively remarked, 'It may be that fertility

should be examined in relation to family structure only in so far as family

structure is related to control over production and distribution of econ-

omic resources' [in Kaplan, 1976: 98]. Where the basic unit of

production consumption is the domestic group, whether co-residential or

operationally united in work and consumption, there fertility will be highly

valued. It may be against the interests of the State or of family

planners,. but each small group will try to maximise its size. Fertility will be valued and

high, as in traditional China, India, eastern Europe. Until this is realised,

attempts to bludgeon unwilling 'peasants , to give up what they perceive to

be their economic livelihood are bound to fall. Economics, social structure,

politics, ideology and demography have become intertwined, to control






fertility is to alter part of a delicate structure which also threatens many

other areas.


This hypothetical model only gains significance when we contrast it to

another. It might be objected that the argument above merely resuscitates

the old contrast between non- Industrial ' industrial, 'group'/'individual',

'pre-transition'/'post-transition' which has continued over the years. This

would be true if all non-industrial societies could be lumped together under

the 'domestic' or 'peasant I mode. Fortunately, however, there is an

alternative model which is the social and economic correlate of the

'controlled' pattern earlier described.


This alternative we will label as the 'Individual' pattern. This model has

been less extensively described. The central feature is that the lowest unit of

production and consumption is not the family, but the individual. There is

an enormous stress on the individual as opposed to the group in every

respect; the kinship system (as in the 'Eskimo' terminology of many

Hunting-Gathering groups or modern England and North America) is

ego-centred; property is not communally owned-there is either no group

property at all, as in the simplest hunting bands, or else there are extreme

individual property rights; production is not based on the family but on

non-familial lines (the capitalist market, feudal ties); the permanent unit of

consumption is never larger than husband and wife.


The extreme and ultimate form of such 'possessive individualism' is set

out bleakly among the starving Ik, who act as lonely individuals and forage

for themselves, pushing their children away from their food, letting their

old people die [Turnbull, 1974]. In a less desperate situation, we see such a

society in parts of Europe or America today. Thus the pattern cuts across

normal boundaries of tribal /peasant /industrial. By focusing on the

individual, rather than the family, many demographic features are

changed. Instead of a population expanding in quantity, as Malthus had

predicted, an increase in the means of subsistence is used to increase the

quality of life for the individual. He or she does not see production and

reproduction as inextricably connected; sex and childbearing are separate

things, women's main role is no longer as a productive and reproductive

machine, extra children do not increase the prestige and well-being of a

group or even of their parents. In fact, additional children become a threat

to the happiness of their parents. to their mother's health, to their father's

peace and pocket, a drain on the individual which is not recompensed by

labour invested in a common resource which provides a store for the future.

This pattern helps to explain why it is that only societies which have ego-

centred systems, which also means, when put in kinship terms, cognatic

descent, have taken to fertility control with enthusiasm. It has often been

noted that hunting-gathering bands limited their fertility by numerous

methods [Douglas, 1966]; those societies with cognatic kinship in Asia,

broadly in the Tibeto-Burman area. that is Thailand, Burma, Tibet and

most conspicuously Japan, have all controlled fertility. China provides an

interesting example of a case where, when the 'domestic mode' was

abolished with the destruction of the traditional family, one of the most

successful family planning campaigns in history may have occurred. One

could push the argument further, noting that a tell-tale mark of such




societies is the high respect for celibacy in the monastic institutions of

Buddhism and Christianity in these two areas. But enough has probably

been said to show the lines of the argument. The other major example, of

course, is the modern European North American family system which is

often combined with controlled fertility.


To summarise the argument: in a 'peasant' or domestic mode, fertility

increases the well-being of the smallest unit of the society, and particularly

of those who will have to do the reproducing, namely the parents. As a

Spanish farmer told the poet Laurie Lee, 'Buy land and breed sons and you

can't go wrong. Come wars and thieves and ruined harvest-they don't

signify at all ... If a man's got strong blood like me, and scatters his seed

wide enough, that man must flourish.' Or as a Punjabi water carrier

reprimanded Mamdani, mistaking him for the family planner who had

visited him years before:


You were trying to convince me in 1960 that I shouldn't have any more sons.

Now, you see, I have six sons and two daughters and I sit at home in leisure.

They are grown up and they bring me money. One even works outside the

village as a labourer. You told me I was a poor man and couldn't support a

large family. Now you see, because of my large family, I am a rich man'

[Mamdani, 1972: 1091.


To invest in reproduction is to increase production and consumption. The

equation is frighteningly simple: peasant /domestic mode of production is

connected to high fertility. In reverse. where society is so structured that

what holds people together is not kinship but relations of power

(feudalism), economics (market capitalism) or merely geographic

proximity (Hunter-Gatherer bands), then children are as much a burden as

an asset. The individual has to choose between children and other leisure

goods, between a child and a mortgage, between a child and geographical

mobility, perhaps between a child and wealth. Acquisitive individualism,

whether among the Ik or the inhabitants of modern western Europe seems

intimately connected to the controlled fertility model.


The argument above has suggested as a hypothesis that peasantry

high fertility, individualism = controlled fertility. There are plenty of

documented cases of the former, perhaps the best of them being India, on

which there is now a very considerable literature. Nearer at hand, there is

evidence of a considerable demand for children in much of pre-industrial

western Europe. There is, however, a dearth of examples of one particular

category of the 'individualist' pattern. The examples that have been

examined are at the two extremes of the spectrum, either the very simplest

of human groups, the Ik, Hadza, Kung, Netsilik Eskimos, or at the

supposedly most complex, modern European, American and Japanese

society. We may wonder whether there are middling societies, still

predominantly agricultural yet with a State and towns which would make

them comparable to the large agrarian civilisations of China, India. It is

possible that parts of South-East Asia would fit within this category, but

probably the best documented of all examples, which illustrates in practice

the mechanisms we have described abstractly, is England between the

thirteenth and eighteenth centuries.








The majority of historians and sociologists would class England as a

society moving from 'peasant' to proto -industrial during this period. For

most of the period it is held to be socially a peasantry, similar to other

European nations in its structure. If this were true, we would expect.

according to our hypothesis, that it should have a high fertility pattern. The

features of such a system may be briefly summarised as follows. In our

model peasant society the desire to maintain fertility, and hence production

and consumption, as high as possible, is expressed in many ways. Marriage

is regarded mainly as a way of producing children, rather than for

companionship; if a woman is barren she is returned to her home. The

woman's status Is dependent on the number of children she produces, her

main role is as a child bearer. Thus, typically, her sexual capabilities are

carefully guarded before marriage and she is married off soon after

puberty. In order to ensure the success of the marriage as a reproductive

enterprise, however, there may be a period of licensed sexual testing or

'bundling' as it is known in Western Europe. Premarital pregnancy is not

regarded with horror, if it is by the future husband. All women who are

physically capable of doing so, marry, and non-married persons are

regarded as socially immature. If a couple do not manage to produce

sufficient children of the right sex, they adopt sons and daughters. Sexual

intercourse is undertaken largely for the purpose of procreation with one's

wife, not for its intrinsic pleasure. Contraception is infrequently used and

abortion, infanticide and child abandonment are only very occasionally

resorted to. The fertility of the woman is encouraged by means of ritual and

magic through puberty rituals, pregnancy rituals, fertility- inducing drugs

and ceremonies. There is abundant evidence in people's statements that

they want children. No single peasant society would exactly conform to all

of this archetype, but most would have many of these features. We would

expect England in the five hundred years up to the industrial revolution to

exhibit most parts of the pattern if the two premises above are correct,

namely that peasantry implies a high stress on fertility and England was



A superficial reading of early modern sources could be made to yield

evidence for the belief that marriage was mainly undertaken for

procreation. For instance, the First and Second Prayer Books of Edward

VI, still in use, reiterated the old church priorities concerning the 'causes for

which Matrimony was ordained': 'one was the procreation of children ...

Secondly it was ordained for a remedy against sin ... Thirdly, for the

mutual society, help and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other.'

Pamphleteers also provide some evidence that procreation of heirs was an

important motive; those who wrote about women's menstrual disorders

claimed that barrenness was 'the greatest misfortune' and churchmen

argued that one of the alms of marriage is 'by children and succession, to

have his family and name extended'. Osborne in his Advice to his Son speaks

of those 'that Cry, Give me Children, or else my Name dies'. The

astrologers were also frequently questioned about whether a person would

have heirs. Yet if we search the most likely source, the rich autobiographi-

cal literature of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, it is impossible to






sustain such an argument. When people wrote down why they decided to

marry they gave a variety of reasons. Some did so for companionship and

support. John Pym in 161'-'1 seeing so much wickedness in the world and so

much casualty among men. thought good to choose out a companion for

me in an honest course and took a wife. John Milton argued that marriage

should be a total relationship. N,,-hose main purpose was to control 'defects

of loneliness'. It appears that it was emotional and physical attraction, the

desire for comfort and companionship, the 'romantic love complex' which

pushed most people into marriage in England in this period. This was not a

situation where marriages, except among the higher nobility, were

arranged between groups of kin in order to consolidate an estate or increase

the political and economic power of a kinship group. Such a romantic love

ideology is consistent with a view of marriage as a partnership and a

pleasure, not with a view of it as mainly a mechanism to obtain legal

offspring. There were also economic motives: as Tusser had put it, 'To

thrive one must wive.' Yet the interesting point is that the 'thriving' was not

thought to come from having children to increase one I 's labour power, but

from the fact that the wife would by her housewifely activities save one

from the expense and mischief of servants and lodging. Thus a rector in

1605 was accused of wheedling a betrothal out of a girl by saying that 'I am

a sole man, I pay for my diet and lodging at Mistress Widdowson 10 by the

year, which I am put to for want of a wife.' When the autobiographer

Thomas Wright's first wife died he had a succession of servants, 'One was

an incurable drunkard, and proved very expensive to me; the other, the

greatest liar and the greatest thief that ever fell under my observation', so

that I now plainly perceived that I must have a wife, or be ruined.' When a

late-sixteenth-century clergyman's wife was in great pain and about to give

birth, he listed the difficulties which would ensue if she died; most of these

were social and economic, none were to do with reproduction.


First the fear of marrying again, dangerous as 2 marriages are. Want of it in the

mean while. Forgoing so fit a companion for religion houswifery, and other

comforts. Loss and decay in substance. Care of household matters cast on me.

Neglect of study. Care and looking after children. Forgoing our borders. Fear

of losing friendship among her kindred. These are some.


It was recognised that it was the relationship between prospective husband

and wife, of an economic, social and erotic nature, that was important and

that this relationship would grow with time. This was encapsulated in

Francis Bacon's aphorism that 'Wives are young men I 's mistresses;

companions for middle age; and old men's nurses.' It is always impossible

to document an absence, but in comparison to our ideal-type peasant

society the lack of interest in marriage for propagation is very marked

indeed. Our predictions do not appear to work.


An indirect indicator of whether marriages are largely undertaken to

produce children is the attitude towards unions which lead to no children,

to barrenness and infertility. This is taken as an index by demographic

anthropologists and there is abundant evidence from many societies from

traditional western Ireland. through Africa to New Guinea that childless




women are looked on with intense dislike amounting almost to horror. the

marriage is dissolved and they are sent home to their family [Nag, 1962:70].

Usually the woman is blamed for the lack of children, as reported for

the Punjab [Mamdani, 1972: 140]. Childlessness is often a great personal

tragedy and humiliation, 'a woman with a large family is highly honoured:

a childless wife is an object of pity, often tempered with scorn' [Schapera,

1955.- 25]. Again a superficial glance at the English evidence might give

support for such a view. Astrologers were besieged by clients who wanted

to know how to overcome childlessness. Various magical and other cures

were advocated for its cure and it was even believed that God had a hand in

helping, sending an angel to anoint the genitals of Strafford's father, for

instance. Yet again, if we search more deeply, the evidence points in entirely

the opposite direction to that for pro-natalist societies. Barrenness or

infertility was not one of the recognised grounds at law for either the

annulment of marriage (a vinculo) or the separation (a mensa et thoro) of

married partners; 'Impotence', or the inability by man or woman to

perform the sexual act was such a ground. Sexual relations were necessary

for a true marriage, but not procreation. A woman could not be sent away

for this reason, barrenness was no justification for breaking off a marriage.

Nor in all the voluminous court material dealing with sexual affairs and

marriage in the church and other courts have I ever come across any

attempts to separate or annul a marriage on these grounds. Nor is there any

evidence that it was held to be shameful; while Elizabethan abusive

vocabulary was extremely rich, among the 'whoremaster', 'bugger', 'lewd

fellows', 'jackanapes', 'bastard', I have never come across barrenness in

any form being used as a term of abuse, nor have I in the very considerable

number of slander and libel cases in the ecclesiastical courts heard of people

either making jokes, innuendos, or spreading scandal concerning this topic.

Witchcraft beliefs were widespread in this society, but whereas in Scotland

and the Continent witches would make men and women sterile, in England

this effect of their power is never brought in specific trials. It does not seem

to have been something sufficiently serious and mysterious for a witch to

have caused. Nor is there any evidence that childless women were

particularly victimised or that their status increased with the number of

children they had. If this had been deeply felt, we might have expected that

a large proportion of the women contemplating suicide and visiting the

astrologers would have had this as a reason. But neither in the casebooks,

nor in the general discussions of why people attempted to take their own

lives, is there any stress on barrenness as a motive. Furthermore,, there

seems to have been a general recognition that the cause of infertility might

as well be in the man's physiognomy as the woman's. There were folk and

semi-medical methods of discovering whether a woman or man was the

infertile one-a handful of barley in their respective urine was one

suggested by Culpepper in the seventeenth century. Sometimes the cause

lay in women: 'there are certain women who have the neck of the womb

long and hardened ... [which] ... renders them incapable of conceiving',

menstruous blood could also be to blame, a woman could have been bled

too early, before puberty or have had some accident. But It could also be

the result of bad blood on the male's part, or defective genitals, or even






because the couple were too similar, of 'one Complexion'. Ultimately,

barrenness should be born patiently, for it was sent by God, though it

might be caused by more humdrum actions such as over-frequent sexual

intercourse, or over-eating. Again it is difficult to document something that

is absent, but, with the possible exception of the higher gentry and nobility,

it would appear that there was a singularly tolerant attitude towards

infertility. As in England today, there were clearly people who were

unhappy that they could not have children. But the disaster, shame and

ridicule which breaks up marriages and demeans women seem to have been

conspicuously absent. Again England fails to fulfil the prediction.


The dishonour of sterility, especially for women, is closely associated

with the general role of women in society. In our archetypal peasant society

they are, above all, producers of children, that is their major role, from

which prestige for them and wealth for their kin flows. This is so widely

documented in the anthropological literature that we need only refer to

three examples: in traditional Ireland, we are told that their main function

was to provide children and it was by this that they were judged [Arensberg,

1937:89], in -nineteenth-century France they were regarded by many as 'une

machine a enfantement' [Shorter, 1975: 77], in Africa they are often mainly

looked on as reproductive assets [Lorimer, 1954: 370]. They were not

primarily valued for their intelligence, independence, physical attractive-

ness. Looked at from the legal and social angle, their status when regarded

as baby-creating machines is often extremely low, their role limited. We

might therefore expect to find women's roles defined in terms of

childbearing and their status very low in pre-industrial England. Yet the

expectation is again thwarted. Contemporaries were not wrong when they

described England as a 'Paradise for married women'. As compared with

other agrarian societies, their jural, economic and social position was

amazingly high. And there is no evidence that any of this was related to

their reproductive capacities. Their position before the law and

economically was highest when they were unmarried and by definition had

no children; their power within marriage did not increase in any obvious

way with the birth of children. The marriage was not cemented by

childbirth. Nowhere is there evidence that their status, prestige or power

was enhanced by their reproductive performance. Again, a negative

finding is impossible to prove. But nowhere in the very considerable

literature and law of the period is there strong evidence that a married

woman with a large family was treated as superior to one with few or even

no children. The idea present in some societies that a woman is incomplete

until she has a child, sometimes expressed in the view that she is without a

soul until she gives birth, is nowhere to be found. Women are full, complete

persons without children and they seem, for many centuries to have had

many roles and outlets--economic, social and religious, which were

independent of their reproductive ability. The poetry addressed to them

extolled their beauty, their wit, their elegance,, it did not praise their

childbearing hips, large suckling breasts or fertile womb. The plays of the

seventeenth century saw women as dominant, scheming, independent-not

as child-bearing appendages of men, whose prestige increased with every







A further feature of the ideal pattern is the protection of women's

'honour' or virginity before marriage. Their wombs will be their husband's

or husband's kin's joy, and therefore their sexuality should not be tampered

with. This varies in emphasis and expression across societies. In traditional

India it took the form that a Hindu father ought to marry off his daughter

as soon as she menstruated; a nubile unmarried daughter was a threat and

an invitation and her honour and that of the family should not be put in

jeopardy. In the Mediterranean area it took the form of the 'honour and

shame' complex where a girl was carefully watched by her family, where her

brothers and kin would avenge any dishonour to their sister. The ultimate

test of the virginity and wholeness of the bride, whose full potential

childbearing ability was reserved for her husband, was the viewing of the

blood-bespattered nuptial sheets which would show that the hymen had

been broken for the first time. Among the Greek Sarakatsani shepherds, we

are told, virginity almost provoked a sense of awe, there is a very heavy

emphasis on the girl's virginity before marriage [Campbell, 1964: 100-1,

178, 278] and in a Turkish village, a girl is inspected before marriage in

order to see if her hymen is intact [Stirling, 1965, 184]. In Yorubaland,

where fertility is very highly valued, there is also the custom of the virginity

sheet [Marshall and Polgar, 1976: 130]. We might expect some similar

institution in England, especially as a work translated into the language in

the early sixteenth century, and describing contemporary Germany, gives

enormous praise to those who retain their virginity and stresses the social

pressure against those who fail. Again there are a few preliminary hints of a

mild interest in the topic: there are lamentations over the untimely loss of

virginity, people went to astrologers to ask 'whether she has her

maidenhead or no', others dreamed that they were feeling women to see if

they were still virgins. Yet the weight of the evidence again forces us

towards a different conclusion. It seems certain that if the bridal sheet

institution had been present, some trace of it would have been left in

autobiography or literature. There is no such trace. I have nowhere seen

even an oblique reference to it. This appears to have been evident to

contemporaries. Mrs Sharp in her Midwives Book of the later seventeenth

century had heard about the showing of the bloody sheet as a sign of

virginity as a custom of certain African tribes described by Leo Africanus.

But she not only failed to link it to anything similar in England, but

doubted whether it was much of a test in any case:


the sign of bleeding perhaps is not so generally sure; it is not so much in maids

that are elderly, as when they are very young; bleeding is an undoubted token

of Virginity: But young Wenches (that are lascivious) may lose this, by

unchaste actions, though they never knew man.


I have come across no reference in the ecclesiastical courts to a man trying

to break off a marriage or gain some kind of compensation because his wife

was not a virgin. There is little evidence, in fact, that the family or kin were

greatly interested in the subject. The detailed analysis of pre-marital sexual

behaviour which it is possible to make from contemporary sources suggests

that many parents shielded and protected and supported their incontinent

children and that it was the church courts and village officers who tried to




prevent the offence. Nowhere have I come across a man being attacked

physically for deflowering a virgin or threatening the honour of her

brothers and parents. The chastity belt, of which drawings and examples

from the period can be seen. seems to have been something which prevailed

in Spain. Italy, German,,. but never to have been used in England. There

was freedom and unchaperoned contact between the sexes in the long

period between puberty and marriage and that does not fit well with an

'honour and shame', high-fertility, structure.


Yet there is another institution which appears to be diametrically

opposed to the bridal sheet and chastity belt; that is the pre-marital testing

of the woman's fertility or custom of 'bundling'. In order to ensure that the

wife is fecund, there is a number of societies an institution whereby a couple

who are known to have serious intentions of marriage are allowed, even put

under pressure, to cohabit sexually. If the woman becomes pregnant, they

marry, if the 'test' falls, they do not. This has been noted, for example, as an

index of a high desire for children in Africa [Southall, 1961: 311]. The

custom seems to have been present in several parts of pre-industrial

Europe, in fact, possibly in all those areas where its logical opposite, the

virginity sheet, was absent. Thus we find it widely reported for parts of

Scandinavia [Shorter, 1975: 102-3], for France [Goody, 1976: 44], and in

Scotland where, in the Outer Isles, for example, there was a trial 'marriage'

for a year. If no child was conceived, the relationship was broken off. If we

turn to England, at first sight there appears to be an institution which fits

well with this. In the period after a formal betrothal, popular opinion and

even the authorities often allowed the couple to cohabit. There is very

considerable evidence concerning this [Laslett, 1971: 138-54]. Yet on closer

examination this institution was not a form of fertility testing, but the

reverse. Once the young people were betrothed, and particularly if the

betrothal was cemented by sexual intercourse, they were in the eyes of the

church married; to break off a betrothal was as difficult as to terminate a

marriage; it could only be done on a limited range of grounds. The young

couple must marry, whether the wife became pregnant or not. Preferably

this marriage should take place within a couple of months, when, in any

case, it would be difficult to tell whether the wife was with child. Nowhere in

the extensive descriptions of pre-marital intercourse or the cases brought

by disappointed lovers whose betrothal had been broken off have I come

across a single instance where the reasons given for terminating the

relationship was infertility. Betrothal was merely the first stage of a process

which led to a full and indissoluble union. Another superficial argument

might seem to support the 'fertility testing' hypothesis. There was

considerable sexual freedom allowed between the sexes throughout the

period, including heavy petting. They were allowed to spend days and even

nights together kissing and cuddling. The descriptions of courtship in the

diary of Roger Low and autobiography of Thomas Wright show young

couples spending evenings and nights in long discussions and in physical

contact. It is easy to mistake this for a form of institutionalised 'bundling'

especially as the superficial descriptions look rather similar. Yet in England

there is no evidence that what the young couple were trying to do was find

out if the girl would be able to bear children. In fact, when she became






pregnant. the man would often abscond. Nor is there any evidence that the

parents were interested in finding out that the wife would be able to bear

children. Those seventeenth-century historians who have considered the

question most extensively from the local evidence are agreed that bundling

was absent in England during this period [Laslett, 1977.- 110]. Young men

were never advised in the books of advice which were popular at the time,

or in any other literature, to test their spouse's fertility. Nor did those like

Stubbes who so fiercely anatomised the failings of their countrymen ever

suggest that one of the reasons for the all -too -prevalent vice, the

'whordom' which had 'now become a play, a pastime, a sport' was even

partly a desire to make sure that a marriage would not be barren. It seems

to have been sexual gratification, companionship and 'romantic love' and

other motives which impelled many people to live together or have sexual

relations before marriage, not a desire to find out if the wife would be



Where the aim is to increase the store of children, an obvious strategy is

to commence sexual relations as early as possible, particularly in the case of

women. In most human populations with the 'uncontrolled' pattern,

therefore, women have entered sexual union at, or soon after. puberty and

started to produce children in their late teens as the effect of the 'reduced

fertility' post-menarche period wears off. As female reproduction usually

tails off in the late thirties, this gives them an effective reproduction span of

some twenty years in which to produce up to ten offspring at two-yearly

intervals. This is the pattern in most agricultural societies, notably much of

traditional India and China and eastern Europe, as well as most of tribal

Africa. If the aim had been to push fertility to its maximum, then we would

have expected a similar pattern in England and Europe. During the last

fifteen years it has become increasingly obvious that this was not the case.

The work of Hajnal and others has shown that in parts of north-western

Europe and particularly in England, from at least the early sixteenth

century. girls did not have this twenty-year span. The mean age of women

at marriage and consequently first childbearing fluctuated in England at

between 25 and 30 in many parts of the country from the sixteenth century

to mid-eighteenth [Hajnal, 196.5]. In effect this would cut the reproductive

period by between one-third and two-thirds, which would have an

enormous effect on completed fertility. Furthermore, long-term popu-

lation growth would be slowed down very considerably since the average

gap between one generation and the next would be lengthened from about

18 to 28 years. Although it would be facile to believe that people 'design' an

institution like the age of marriage specifically to limit fertility, thus

confusing its function with the ends of the actors involved, it is clear that

where such an institution does exist it is difficult to see how a very obsessive

desire for large families could co-exist. If girls can remain single and

childless until their late twenties, it is difficult to believe that there were

strong pressures towards high fertility.


Not only is it normal in human societies for women to be married soon

after puberty, but maximum reproduction is encouraged by making sure

that ' t all women (and most men) who are not physically or mentally

deformed in some way become married. This can be shown by statistical





evidence from societies where 'universal' marriage is reported, and also

from the attitude to those who do not marry in most non-western societies.

Particularly for women, marriage is not a matter of choice. or chance, it is a

life-cycle stage. as inevitable as puberty or death. When we turn to England

and parts of I north-western Europe, Hajnal has again shown that the high-

fertility expectation does not work. There is now considerable

evidence that in the period between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries there

were a large number of unmarried and never-married persons of both

sexes. The demographer Petty noted that as a combination of the late age at

marriage and high proportion never marrying, 'of 100 capable women only 32 are

married, and these 32 brought 11 children p.a.' It is clear that the early-

twentieth-century proportions of 15 per cent women single at the age of

45-49 was, if anything, exceeded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

There were also very many elderly bachelors. This pattern was contrasted

with that of neighbouring Celtic societies where marriage was almost

universal, as Arthur Young noted in the eighteenth century. The statistical

situation is correlated with a remarkable tolerance towards non-married

persons. Unmarried women were of equal status and position in private law

to men. There is no evidence that it was believed to be physically or

mentally dangerous never to marry. There is very little evidence of

unmarried persons being ridiculed or condemned in the diaries and letters

of the time. It was marriage, not the single life, which was the subject of

ridicule in the plays and poetry of the period.


Elsewhere [see note 1] I will present evidence to show that on a number of

other indices England clearly falls to fit the predictions we made for a

I peasant' society. It will be argued that there was a high valuation of

celibacy and marriage was regarded as a sometimes inferior option. People

were only put under mild pressure to marry. Furthermore, the whole sexual

ethics of the period were conducive to controlled fertility. Sexual relations

were considered as an end in themselves, not merely a means to

childbearing. Women were not seen as passive sexual objects upon whom

children were engendered, but as equal partners in a pleasurable activity.

The treatment of women in pregnancy and after childbirth also suggests

greater concern for sexual pleasure than procreation, indeed pregnancy

was even looked on as almost an unfortunate disease. After childbirth there

were no attempts to protect the young infant by taboos on intercourse.

Another index of the desire for children, the adoption of children, also

indicates a negative attitude. Indeed, adoption was legally impossible in

England up to the nineteenth century and few cases of even quasi-adoption

can be found. With this negative attitude, it is not surprising that recent

historical demographic work should suggest that at least in the seventeenth

century, in some parishes, some effective form of birth control was

practised [ Wrigley, 1966] and there is considerable evidence of abortion

and infanticide. All these findings suggest a marked lack of emphasis on

having children; none of them fit the predictions of the peasant model. One

final index may be examined briefly to establish the argument.


If there had been a pro-natalist attitude in the society, similar to that in

many non-industrial societies, the great anxiety to increase the number of

births should have been echoed in art and literature as well as in






biographical and other sources. I have collected a very considerable

amount of information which again goes flatly against such an

interpretation; from diaries, autobiographies and many other sources it

becomes clear that people, on the whole, were quite happy to have one or

two children, but after that they became a burden and a nuisance. Even

their motives for those one or two are curious. If we bear in mind that such

children are a social, economic and often ritual necessity in most agrarian

societies, we may look at the reasons given by Culpepper in the middle of

the seventeenth century to explain why 'all Men and Women desire

Children'. The first reason is very abstract; 'they are blessings of God, and

so saints desire them' but Culpepper then immediately admits that only

1/100 at the most are moved by this as an important cause. Secondly,

'because they are pretty things to play withall, like desiring to play with his

like', in other words they are a source of emotional gratification, or, in the

crude theory of modern demographic enquiry, a consumer good, to be

compared In pleasure-giving to other goods, for example, pets. But

Culpepper thinks that the main reason why people desire children is, most

probably. Lust [which] is the cause of begetting more Children' than the

other reasons. Of course, looked at from this point of view, children are the

price one pays for sex; sex is not to produce children. but for itself, pleasure

always has its cost, and children are the by-product in this case. This view,

so extraordinary for people in the many societies which see things the other

way round, sex as the means, children the ends, is an essential prerequisite

for widespread birth control. It is also curious to notice a complete absence

of two strong motives which might have been mentioned by Culpepper.

Parents do not desire children to increase or maintain their family line; nor

do they desire them as an economic support, their labour for middle age

and support in old age. In fact they were often looked at as an economic

disaster. Francis Quarles wrote:


Seest thou the fruitful womb'? how every year it moves the Cradle; to thy

slender chear Invites another guest, and makes thee Father to a new son. who

now, perchance, had'st rather bring up the old, esteeming propagation a

thankless work of superrogation ... Perchance thou grumblest. counting it a

curse unto thy faint estate, which is not able to increase the bounty of thy

slender table; poor miserable man what e'er thou be.


This is a view diametrically opposed to the quotations concerning the

Punjabi peasants with whom we started, and there is plenty of evidence that

it is not merely a view ascribed to the *peasants' by an intellectual. It is an

attitude which could easily lead to the condemnation of reproduction as

wasteful, to the sarcasm of a late -seven teenth-century diarist who wrote

that 'The Clergy ... begin to look plump, and get children without mercy:

as if they had nothing else to follow but the Catholic cause of generation.'




The preliminary equation of 'peasantry' with 'uncontrolled fertility'

appears to be totally incorrect for England. Here Is a society which

historians and anthropologists are fully agreed was 'peasant' in every sense

until the seventeenth century. yet which, on every index we use is. in terms






of fertility, diametrically opposed to what we would expect. It is a classic

'controlled' fertility society. the best example we have for a 'middle-range

society' lying between the two better-documented extremes of post-

industrial or early Hunter-Gatherer societies. The hypothesis appears to be

disproved. But before abandoning it. we may look briefly at the other end

of the equation which has been left unexamined Was England, as the

conventional wisdom assumes, broadly a peasant society between the

thirteenth and eighteenth centuries" Was it truly based on the 'domestic

mode of production', on the identification of farm and family, similar in its

structure to the peasantries of India, eastern Europe, traditional China? I

have examined this question at some length in a work to be published at

roughly the same time as this article [Macfarlane, 1978]. There I have

maintained that England has never, at least from the time when detailed

records begin in the mid-thirteenth century, been a 'peasant' society in the

sense defined earlier in this article. Its kinship system and property law, its

basic social structure and ideology has always been much closer to an

individualistic system. Why this should have been the case, we do not yet

know. But this sets it off in many respects from other 'peasant' societies,

whether in the Celtic fringe, continental Europe, eastern Europe or Asia

and Africa. This difference was not a product of the spread of market

capitalism or protestantism in sixteenth-century Europe; it is much older. If

I am right in this argument it turns what looks like a complete refutation of

the original hypothesis into one of the strongest confirmations of it. The

singularly controlled attitude towards fertility fits well with an economic

and social system which is ultimately based on the individual and no larger

group. Parents do not recoup what they invest in their children, nor is there

any larger kinship line or 'group' which is embellished by having children.

When considering the 'cost' of rearing children, it is insufficient to look

merely at what is spent. We have to look at what is returned by the children.

It is here that we find that a combination of kinship and economics in pre-

industrial England meant that parents could not hope to recoup anything

from their children-not even much love and affection. The analogy for

English children is the domestic pet', kept mainly because it is 'a pretty thing

to play with', but not something which will last a lifetime or which will

contribute its labour to the family enterprise or provide support in old age.

Max Weber singled out as one of the two essential prerequisites of modern

capitalism 'the separation of business from the household, which

completely dominates modern economic life ... our legal separation of

corporate from personal property' [ Weber, 1930: 21-2]. This is also, it

would seem,, one of the prerequisites for the success of birth control; where

ownership is in some form of corporation, a 'household' or a 'lineage' for

example, it is in the interests of parents to increase reproduction and

thereby production and consumption. Where the individual is alone and

'free', then children do not provide the means to affluence or social prestige,

but must be chosen as one among a set of paths, others of which may be

more efficient. The 'mortgage or the child' system is not the product of the

rootlessness of post-industrial society. We can push it back well beyond



What we have tried to do is to show that there does seem to be a close






association between reproduction and the mode of production, in Marx's

sense. This does not have much to do with technology; English plough

culture was not very different from that on the continent at the same time.

Nor is it very subject to rapid changes. The basic non-peasant

'individualistic' social and economic system seems to be present the

moment the documents for its observation emerge, in other words, in the

thirteenth century, and it continues to this day. The Black Death, the Civil

War and the Industrial Revolution have not shaken the patterns

altogether. Of course, this hypothesis only suggests a host of other

questions-where did the English pattern originate, why was England so

different? It should also be said that the final version of the thesis will need

numerous qualifications: there were always sectors, groups, strata in a large

and complex society such as England over five centuries which do not fit.

The nobility and upper middle class, for example, may have conformed to a

different pattern. But before we descend to exceptions, it is helpful to have

the rule. We will also need to explore the implications for current family

planning programmes. It is clear that technology is not at the root of the

matter, but kinship and social and economic relations. Those who wish

birth control to work now know that it is not enough to provide techniques,

there must be a strongly felt desire to limit a family. The thesis outlined

above suggests that such a desire is unlikely unless the connection between

reproduction and production is carefully disentangled. As long as

reproduction is believed to increase production and consumption people

will not willingly control their fertility.





1. Only a brief survey of the historical material can be presented here. I hope to present a

full account, with further examples and statistics, in a book to be published in 1980 dealing not only with attitudes to children, but also sexual behaviour. women's status and old age. For this reason I have not given the references to contemporary, pre-eighteenth century, documents referred to here. Full references will be given in the book. The present account is therefore intended to put forward a thesis and to elicit some comments: the proof, when the argument is modified, will come later.




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