Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2000-03 > 0953845317

From: Renia Simmonds <>
Subject: Re: Life expectations
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2000 21:01:57 +0000

Deep in the archives of many universities, are probably hiding such
demographic studies, which would go some way to answering your question.
The most well-known of these statistical demographers are probably
Wrigley and Schofield, who have had much published. The ESRC Cambridge
Group for the history of Population and Social Structure have also
completed a lot of demographic work, using parish registers, and family

However, the extract from the following article might be of use:
"Life Expectancy and 'Age of First Appearance' in Medieval Manorial
Court Rolls" by LR Poos, Local Population Studies, no 37, Autumn 1986.

[LR Poos is an Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University
of America in Washington, D.C. He completed his PhD dissertation at
Cambridge University, under the supervision of Dr R. M. Smith of the
ESRC Cambridge Group for the history of Population and Social Structure.
He has published several papers on the historical demography of England
before 1500, and is cuurently (1986) completing a book about rural
social structure in central Essex in the late middle ages.]

Q ... Moss's [re Douglas Moss's article, 'Death in fifteenth-century
Tottenham'] point of departure in his article is his questioning the
widespread assumption that middle-aged or elderly persons were rare
among the lower orders of medieval society. This assumption may stem
from such evidence as that, cited by Moss, of excavations in the
twelfth-century graveyard of St Nicholas shamlbes within the City of
London. Examination of remains unearthed in this excavation indicated
that as many as 75 per cent of persons interred there had died by the
age of thirty-five. Since urban environmental circumstances (even from
such an early period as this) would doubtless have contributed towards
especially high levels of mortality, particularly among infants and
children, this indication of age-specific mortality must not be taken as
paradigmatic of all of England's population at that time. But even if
this be disregarded for the moment, and if, quite unrealistically, the
population contributing to this graveyard were assumed to have been
closed (i.e. without any distortion of the age distribution of deaths,
resulting from the movement in or out of particular age groups), an
age-specific mortality pattern as severe as this would not necessarily
imply that middle-aged and elderly persons were rare in medieval London.

A simple exercise involivng Princeton Model West life tables and stable
populations will illustrate this point. Table 1 ([not!] below) displays
life expectancies, paroportions of deaths by age thirty-five, and
proportions of current population aged thirty-five and older and fifty
and older, in stationary populations under a variety of mortality
conditions ranging from extremely severe to approximately identical to
early modern England.

Under Mortality Level 1 (according to female life expectancy at birth of
20.0 years, or in other words a mortality schedule of a severity almost
unheard-of in recorded Western experience), approximately three-quarters
of each birth cohort would have died by age thirty-five. But even so,
when one had reached age twenty-five one could reasonably have expected
to live on to around age fifty. Moreover, one must be careful to
distinguish between proportions of a given birth cohort who have died by
a given age, and the proportions of the resultant current population who
fell within diferent age-groups. Even under stuch severe mortality, more
than one-quarter of the current population would be aged over
thirty-five (and more than one-tenth over fifty). As expectation of life
at birth increases, of course, expectation of life at age twenty-fieve
increases also, while proportions dying at relatively young ages drop

All this is not to imply that the population of twelfth-century London
was similar, let alone identical, to any of the scenarios tabulated
above. Indeed it is highly liekly that factors specific to the medieval
urban environment (specifically, rural/urban migration contributing to
age and sex distributions and associated nuptiality and fertility
patterns) conspired to produce a quite different demographic regime from
this notional closed population. In particular, a considerable influx
into towns by young persons, especially females, in their mid-to late
eens and twenties was characteristic of pre-industrial European urban
communities, and has been documented for several Egnlish towns during
the later middle ages. Under these circumstances the deaths of young
persons would have been especially prominent among all deaths, and
infant burials may perhaps have been fewer, inproportion to this model
population. But Moss is undoubtedly correct to point out that in
medieval society generally, even an extremely sever mortality schedule
would not necessarily have rendered persons aged fifty eyars and older
into rare oddities among their contemporaries.

The rest of the article explains reasons for the difficulties in
demographic research using manorial records, commenting "These remarks
have been intended merely as suggestions towards a better understanding
of those circumstances, and towards establishing a common format in
which future investigations might take place. Only by amassing data from
many local invetigations will this broader knowledge be attained. It is
encouraging that local studies of this kind are proceeding."

As to age at marriage, "Applied Historical Studies" by Michael Drake,
Methuen, London, 1973, contains an article "A demographic and genetic
study of a group of Oxfordshire villages." by CF Kuchemann, AJ Boyce and
GA Harrison.

This article contains a graph captioned "Age at first marriage of
persons born and married in Charlton", gives the lowest age as 23, and
the highest as 29, with the mean being about 24, from 1710 to 1950. Most
of the demographic work I have seen (which is not exhaustive) shows
similar ages, of around 22-25.

As to later studies, the two books I have cited, above, and others,
contain much demographic data of this nature.


Dr. George Tsambourakis wrote:

> I was wondering if any individuals or Uni's did
> a study about life expectations for males and females
> and how these improved (or other wise) over the centuries.
> I did a few quick calculations, and it appears that in the 12th
> century, life expectation for a man was 38-40 years and
> for a women 53-55 years.
> Average marriage age was 17 for man, 14 for woman.
> I know it is based on a very small sample and therefore it is
> questionable.
> I hope that there is out there somebody who did study this
> because (I have noticed) many birth dates (years) and/or
> death dates (years) are based on guess work.
> regards
> Dr. George Tsambourakis
> Omega Thoroughbreds
> Email:
> Web-Site:

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