Population Limited by Territoriality?

McCarthy John (jmc@white.wisdom.weizmann.ac.il)
Fri, 2 Dec 1994 12:40:44 GMT

I have never been convinced by the statements that population has been
limited by the death rate equalling the birth rate even though this is
obviously true. The problem is that the birth rate is usually taken
as determined by prosperity and how many children people want.

The notion I want to advance is that the birth rate was often
traditionally limited by economic opportunities for marriage.
Here is some evidence.

1. "Can you support a wife?" is a question asked in modern societies
well into the 20th century.

2. Whether a girl could marry depended (and still depends in India)
on whether a dowry can be found for her.

3. Folklore is full of tales about the youngest son succeeding in
being able to support a wife by success in a longshot enterprise.

4. Traditional societies have many social roles that preclude marriage.
priests, members of religious orders both male and female, most domestic
servants, often soldiers and sailors

5. Younger sons and daughters had a particularly hard time.

Now we come to a more conjectural part.

Land and social roles are divided up. Land is not divided with each
property supporting as many people as possible. Landowners, whether
peasants or lords, hold onto as much land as they can and divide it
only reluctantly.

Verifiable conjecture: A piece of land that supports a few people is
divided among heirs. After that it supports more people.

The general hypothesis is that population is traditionally limited by
the division of land into territories. Those who can't get a territory
usually can't reproduce. Occupations also serve as territories.

Some demographers have expressed puzzlement about the fact that
English population exploded at the time of the industrial revolution
when no improvement in medicine or public health had yet been created.

Conjecture: The cause was the creation of a labor market for factory
jobs outside of the traditional occupational roles. Instead of having
to inherit a job from a father, a young man could move to the city and
compete in the labor market.

It is often asserted that the industrial cities during the early part
of the industrial revolution were less healthy than rural areas. This
is irrelevant if the death rate wasn't the limiting factor on

I apologize for proposing an idea outside of my own field of computer
science and for not knowing what previous literature on it there might
be. I promise to read two books relevant to the subject if some are