DP11752 | “Decessit sine prole” – Childlessness, Celibacy, and Survival of the Richest in Pre-Industrial England

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Previous work has shown that England’s pre-industrial elites had more surviving offspring than their lower-class counterparts. This evidence was used to argue that the spread of upper-class values via downward social mobility helped England grow rich. We contest this view, showing that the lower classes outperformed the rich in terms of reproduction once singleness and childlessness are accounted for. Indeed, Merchants, Professionals and Gentry married less, and their marriages were more often childless. Many died without descendants (decessit sine prole). We also establish that the most prosperous socio-economic group in terms of reproduction was the middle class, which we argue was instrumental to England’s economic success because most of its new industrialists originated from middle-class families.