EH444      Half Unit
Population Dynamics and Economic Growth: A Historical Perspective

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Eric Schneider SAR.5.18


This course is available on the MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Global Economic History and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


There are no specified pre-requisites, but the course requires comfort with quantitative analysis and basic knowledge of regression analysis. Quantitative Analysis in Economic History I (EH402) or an equivalent course is highly recommended.

Course content

For millennia, population and the available resources in an economy were in careful Malthusian equilibrium with population growth preventing meaningful increases in income per capita. In the premodern era, many people died in childhood, waves of epidemic disease ravaged the population, and women gave birth to many children. This course explores how this equilibrium changed, first through changes in marriage patterns in early modern Europe and later through the demographic transition, falling mortality and fertility rates in the past 250 years, a pattern that has been or is being replicated all around the world.

The course is divided into three units. The first unit covers the premodern era, assessing the role of epidemics, famine, marriage patterns and fertility control on population dynamics. The second unit will explore the health transition, the vast improvements in health and decline in mortality since roughly the nineteenth century. We will track the health transition across different dimensions of health, discuss the causes of the health transition and consider the effect of the health transition on economic growth. The third unit will focus on the historical fertility decline, the shift from high birth rates to replacement level birth rates. We will explore theories of fertility decline, the historical evidence on the timing and speed of the fertility decline and the causes of fertility decline in Europe and other parts of the world.

In addition to these themes, the course also introduces the sources, methods and basic demographic indicators used to reconstruct population history. The focus of the course is mainly on historical Europe, but there will be some topics and weeks that bring in other regional or global perspectives.


20 hours of seminars in the WT. 1 hour of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

There will be one formative essay due in Winter Term.

Indicative reading

  • Livi-Bacci, M. (2017). A Concise History of World Population (6th ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
  • Wrigley, E. A., Davies, R. S., Oeppen, J. E., & Schofield, R. S. (1997). English population history from family reconstitution, 1580-1837. Cambridge University Press.
  • Floud, R., Fogel, R. W., Harris, B., & Hong, S. C. (2011). The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World since 1700. Cambridge University Press.
  • Riley, J. (2005). The timing and pace of health transitions around the world. Population and Development Review, 31(4), 741–764.
  • Jaadla, H., Reid, A., Garrett, E., Schürer, K., & Day, J. (2020). Revisiting the Fertility Transition in England and Wales: The Role of Social Class and Migration. Demography, 57(4), 1–27.
  • Bongaarts, J., & Hodgson, D. (2022). Fertility Transition in the Developing World. Springer.
  • Preston, S. H., Heuveline, P., & Guillot, M. (2001). Demography : measuring and modeling population processes. Blackwell Publishers.
  • Schneider, E. B. (2020). Collider bias in economic history research. Explorations in Economic History, 78, 101356.


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills