anarchy archives


About Us

Contact Us

Other Links

Critics Corner


The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
  Art and Anarchy
  Education and Anarchy
  Anarchist Poets

Godwin, William. Of Population. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row, 1820.


Chapter IX:


THERE is a further point highly worthy of attention in the subject now under consideration, and our investigation will be incomplete if that is not distinctly adverted to.

We have found that, according to all Tables which have yet been formed upon the registers of births and marriages, the union of two persons of opposite sexes does not produce upon an average, in Europe at least, more than four births.

But it may be objected that this rule applies to Europe only, and may have relation to some accidents or customs which belong peculiarly to this division of the globe. In other countries the proportion of the number of births to the number of marriageable women may be greater. In America Dr. Franklin proposes that we should set it down as eight to one.

It may be further objected, that this rule may at last prove fallacious, as being founded on nothing but the actual registers of births and marriages


which after all nobody will affirm to be perfect and infallible. [The question of number of marriageable women stands on higher grounds.] To this we have hirtherto given but one answer, respecting on the surprising coincidence in this respect of all the registers which have hitherto been produced from different countries, governed by laws and modes of record extremely unlike to each other.

But, wherever any phenomenon universally prevails, there may be found a principle, built up on the whole mass of the observations that have been made, shewing why it ought to be expected universally to prevail. It is the glory and the privilege of the human mind to investigate such principle. This is the concluding step by which observation is reduced into science: and, if it can be effectually accomplished, then, and then only, the enquirer after truth arrives at a suitable state of repose. He knows what has been, not merely by a record of apparent facts, but by the more satisfactory method of analysis, and he is able with some degree of confidence to predict what shall be.

The first consideration that occurs, which is calculated to qualify our ideas on the subject, is what I would call the value of a marriage, or the number of years which a married life, taking married lives on average, may be computed to endure. If the human species were immortal, or, more exactly speaking, if men and women in their greatest vigour and the most procreative period of


their existence, were not exposed to the accident of death, then the value of a marriage ,or the number of years that it might be computed to endure, would be twenty-five years.

But this is not the case. No period of human life is exempted from the great law of mortality; and this consideration plainly limits the number of children that a marriage, when we are engaged in the survey of a community or political society, may be expected to produce.

Some women die in the first year of their marriage. These may for the most part be regarded as leaving no offspring. Others die in the second, third, or fourth year of their marriage, and so on through the whole period of twenty five years.

To the mortality of the women, we must add that of their husbands. It has appeared that a very small proportion of widows marry again, consequently the death of the husband may be considered as operating no less effectually to put a stop to the fruitfulness of a child bearing woman, than the death of the woman herself.

All that relates to this part of the subject is susceptible of an exact calculation; and Dr. Halley and Dr. Price have furnished us with Tables of the probabilities of human life, from which may be easily extracted whatever may conduce to throw light on this question.

I have myself entered into some computations


founded on the data furnished by these authors and one or two of my friends, more devoted than myself to matters of calculation, have furnished me with others which I had intended to insert in this place. But I am unwilling to give to a book, the express object of which is to correct a pernicious, and unhappily a widely diffused error, any portion of a dry and repulsive air, that can without injury be avoided. Whoever is disposed fully to investigate the subject for himself, may easily form such computations as I have done. The general result of my investigation has been, that marriages, taken one with another, are worth about sixteen years.

To assist any one who should be inclined to go over the same ground, it is proper however that I should mention the data upon which I have proceeded. I have supposed one hundred thousand marriages to be solemnized. I have taken for granted, that the females of these marriages were every one of them precisely twenty years of age. As men are found to marry somewhat later in life than women, I have taken the bridegrooms as all of them of the age of twenty-five. This in reality produces a very slight difference in the result, from what it would have been if I had taken them also at twenty. But in matters of computation one must fix one's foot somewhere.

With these premises I have proceeded upon ihe foundations afforded by Dr. Halley and Dr.


Price, to calculate, among one hundred thousand men and one hundred thousand women of the ages above specified, how many would die an nually through the whole period of twenty-five years. The result of my computation has been to fix the value of a marriage at about sixteen years.

Let us next consider the various circumstances in human society, which limit this absolute measure, and consequently bring the average amount of children that a marriage shall produce, or, more accurately speaking, the proportion to be borne by the number of births to the number of women capable of bearing children in any community, greatly within that which the period of sixteen years for the duration of a marriage might lead us to expect.

We have hitherto, in our community of one hundred thousand men and one hundred thousand women, taken for granted that all marry, and that the women all marry at twenty, and the men at twenty-five. But that is not really the case with any community that ever existed on the face of the earth.

First, all women do not marry. We have seen reason to believe, that the number of women who spend their lives in the single state is by no means so large, as our first reflections might have led us to suppose. They are however a considerable number, and constitute a real


proportion of the number of females of an age adapted for child bearing in every community.

Secondly, it is by no means true, that every woman marries at twenty, and every man at twenty-five years. To marry earlier than twenty will not, I believe, tend to increase the chance of augmenting the population in any country. But many marry later from motives of prudence. And, wherever a great proportion of females are employed in the capacity of domestic servants, this of course opposes a sensible obstacle to early marriage on the part of the female. But, in case the husband or the wife at the period of marriage is older than is above set down, the chance of the number of years that their union shall last is diminished; and in the case of the woman, the abstract period of twenty-five years in which we have supposed her capable of child-bearing, is reduced also.

Thirdly, we have reckoned death only, as a period putting a termination on the value of a marriage. But there is a sickness not unto death. And, in a numerous community, the amount of the females who, under the influence of temporary disease, may for a longer or shorter time be prevented from bearing children will not be inconsiderable.

I may add here, that, in calculating the number of births to a marriage, we may reasonably take into our consideration the duty which nature imposes upon the human female of suckling


her offspring. This is scarcely omitted in the lower and more numerous walks of life: and where it is, perhaps it always happens that some female is occupied in the care of the infant, who might otherwise by child bearing have been engaged in increasing the numbers of the community.

Fourthly, a further deduction from the number of children born into the world, or from the average amount that we should otherwise find of births to a marriage, is produced by the number of women who in the experiment are found barren, and of marriages which afford no children: for debility, in the man may equally be attended with that effect, as barrenness in the woman.

Fifthly, we must subtract from the number of women, who might otherwise be expected to prove mothers a certain proportion of women, who by some defect of constitution have a fatal indisposition to produce any but abortive births, and who, though often with child, are never found to continue pregnant long enough to produce a living offspring.

Sixthly, there is a considerable number of married women who may be placed in a class next above those last named, that though not absolutely incapable of bringing a living child into the world, are yet found during the whole period of their marriage, though it should last from the age of twenty to the age of forty-five years, some never to produce more than one, and others not more than two children.


Lastly. When we take the term of twenty-five years, from twenty to forty-five years of age, as the period in which a woman is capable of child-bearing, we must not suppose that capacity to subsist in equal strength during the whole period. A woman, endowed with all the fruitfulness of the most fruitful of her sex, may for a time bear a child regularly within a certain interval. From twenty to thirty, we will say, she may do so. But this is less likely to happen after thirty; it is still more improbable after thirty-five; and the improbability is further increased after forty. It is not the march of nature immediately to step out of one state into another state essentially different. The colours of Nature are insensibly blended, and change by very gentle gradations, from one tint, to another of contrasted or opposite hue. Of consequence, forty-five may be the age at which a woman may be calculated on as ceasing to be capable of bearing children; but for a number of years before that, she no longer the teeming mother, the prolific female, she was. This has happened repeatedly within my own knowledge, and similar cases will occur to every one, that the woman who in the flower of her age bore a child every second year, or perhaps, if she did not suckle her children, still oftener, comes afterwards to the condition of bringing a child after an interval of three, four, or even five years.


To illustrate this let us consider, that when we have taken sixteen years as the value of a marriage, this is an average duration, and implies that half of them last less, and half more than sixteen years. Of consequence the whole period of a marriage is by no means to be taken as belonging to a vigorous and prolific period of life, but as indifferently spread over the entire period from twenty to forty-five years of age. That we may understand the value of this consideration I would once more have recourse to the Swedish Tables, deducing from them a view of the number of women to be found in Sweden in 1763, of all different ages that fall within the child-bearing period. To render this more intelligible to every reader, I will divide them into twenty-five classes, one for every year. I might have calculated the chances of survivorship from year to year according to the Tables of Halley and Price; but this would have made so little difference, that I have preferred the simple method of dividing the number of females between twenty and twenty-five, and so on, by five, and setting them down accordingly, as follows:

In their 21st year 21,023 In their 29th year 20,200
22nd --- 21,023 30th --- 20,200
23rd --- 21,023 31st --- 19,162
24th --- 21,023 32nd --- 19,162
25th --- 21,023 33rd --- 19,162
26th --- 20,200 34th --- 19,162
27th --- 20,200 35th --- 19,162
28th --- 20,200 36th --- 16,290


In their 37th year 16,290 In their 41st year 14,971
38th --- 16,290 42nd --- 14,971
39th --- 16,290 43rd --- 14,971
40th --- 16,290 44th --- 14,971
  45th --- 14,971
Amount of fractions rejected 6
Total 458,236

Hence it appears that, out of 458,236 women, living in Sweden in 1763 within the child-bearing age, 74,855 had passed their fortieth year, 81,450 were between thirty-five and forty, and only 21,023 of the whole number were in the twenty-first year of their age. It is from these only that we can expect, if married, all the fruitfulness of which the human female, upon an average, shall be found capable. It is easy to see therefore what proportion of the whole were in the highest state of vigour and fecundity, and what deduction as to the chance of frequent child-bearing we are entitled to make, for the number of those with whom that state was entirely past. This of course forms a very considerable deduction from the average number we might otherwise expect of births to a marriage.

Let us put together the different considerations, which are calculated to persuade us that, from the number of women living at a given time in any country between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, a smaller number of children will be born, than from the mere


calculation of the probability of the lives of the parties we might at first have been led to expect.

1. All will not marry. 2. A great number of brides are above twenty, and bridegrooms above twenty-five years of age; and this reduces the number of years, that their union might otherwise have laster, and the period in which the woman might have lasted, and the period in which the woman might have been counted on as capable of child-bearing. 3. A deduction will arise upon the average of births, not only from the mortality of the child-bearing women, but from the consideration of a certain number in every year, that by ill health will be cut off from the chance of becoming mothers. 4. There will be a certain number of barren wives and imbecile husbands. 5. Some women have a predisposition to produce only abortions. 6. Many women are found never to bear more than one, or more than two children. 7. Though the actual period of the capacity of child-bearing may be states as from the age of twenty to the age of forty-five years, yet the activeness of that capacity will be found to be greatly diminished, for a considerable time before it totally ceases.

The whole of these considerations, if accurately weighed, will perhaps lead to a conclusion, similar to that which will be found suggested by all the reports which have yet been collected of all the marriages and births that take place in European society, viz., that four births to a marriage are an ample average allowance.


Let us turn from these, which may be considered as constituting a sort of à priori reasonings on the subject, to a summary of what may be regarded as the result of every man's observation and experience with relation to the question in hand.

At first sight it is probably, that most men's superficial impression ont he subject will be at variance with the conclusion above laid down, and they will start with incredulity from the average of four children to a marriage, as being greatly under the truth. Every man has seen within the circle of his acquaintances families of eight, or perhaps ten children. It is not unexampled that the same woman may have brought sixteen living human beings into the world.

But then it is to be considered, that these are remarkable cases, which every body notices, and every body talks of. They are not one in twenty, and add little to the average; not half a child.

Though a marriage have only one, two, three or even no children, this may not be from barrenness in the ordinary sense, or from any of the causes I have recently enumerated. The marriage may be unprolific from the removal of either of the parties by death. But in the one case as in the other it counts equally in the average against large families.

Large families, as I have said, always attract a certain degree of observation. The marriages


which produce few, are extremely common, and therefore pass without remark. The woman who dies, is soon forgotten.

These remarks are susceptible of easy illustration. Let us take five marriages: one produces twelve children, one five, two four, and one none: the sum is twenty-one children; scarcely more than four to a marriage.

Again, let us take five other marriages: one produces seventeen children, two two children each, and two none: the sum is as before twenty-one; scarcely more than four to a marriage.

Here then, if any where, we are presented with the real checks upon population, as they may be supposed to operate under the most favourable circumstances. No one of the seven checks above enumerated, even if we add to them the limitation of the value of a marriage arising from the precariousness of life either in the wife or the husband, comes within the meaning of the terms, as used by Mr. Malthus, "vice and misery." They are indeed the Law of Nature, benevolently providing that we should not "live like Nature's bastards, but her sons," and not be cut off from our natural inheritance, from that food which is necessary to and the right of all that are born, through the crowding and elbowing and violence of the multitude of claimants. This is a Law of Nature, the reverse of that impiously set up in the Essay on population. It is not a Law, "forbidding to marry," telling


the new-born infant to "be gone" from the face of the earth, and pronouncing sentence that "there is no vacant room from him." It is a Law, that is every where executed, in all places and at all times, constantly and in silence, no man 's attention being called to its operation, no man 's aid being required to its administration, and accompanied with no calamity, unless we should chuse to call our common frailty by that name, and reproach the God who made us, that he did not ordain us another species of beings than that which we are.

From the evidence then collected in this and the six preceding chapters in appears, that Nature takes more care of her works, than such irreverent authors as Mr. Malthus are apt to suppose,-- indeed exactly that care, which elder and more sober writers were accustomed to give her credit for. She has not left it to the caprice of the human will, whether the noblest species of beings that she has planted on this earth, shall be continued or not. She does not ask our aid to keep down the excess of human population. And, however an ascetic and barbarous superstition has endeavored in different countries and ages to counteract her genial laws, the propensity remains entire; and nothing but a despotism, founded at once upon the menaces of a dismal hereafter as the retribution of a breach of the vows of celibacy, joined with the utmost seve-


rity of temporal punishments, can suspend its operation.

Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurrel.

And this happens, not as Mr. Malthus supposes, by an impulse, similar to that of hunger, and equally wild for its gratification. It answers better to the apostolical description of charity, or love. "It suffereth long, and is kind. It beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." It tranquilly postpones its purposes from month to month, and from year to year: but they are not the less firmly fixed: and both man and woman are intimately convinced, that they have not fulfilled the ends of their being, nor had a real experience of the privileges of human existence, without having entered into the ties, and participated in the delights of domestic life.

Previous Chapter Table of Contents Next Chapter


[Home]               [About Us]               [Contact Us]               [Other Links]               [Critics Corner]