The Journal of Economic History

Papers Presented at the Thirty-first Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association

The Demographic History of Colonial New England

Daniel Scott Smitha1

a1 University of Connecticut

The central fact of the demographic history of early North America is rapid growth. Both Canada and the white population of the English colonies experienced increases of 2½ percent per year during the eighteenth century. Seventeenth-century rates, beginning from a low base and more influenced by immigration, were even higher. In contrast, the expansion of population in early modern Europe rarely exceeded 1 percent per annum over an extended period. Since Franklin and Malthus, interpretations of early American demography have centered on the high fertility associated with near universal marriage for women at a low average age. The extremely youthful population, high dependency ratio, and one of the largest mean census family sizes ever recorded all follow from the high level of fertility.