Reasons Why the Population Increased Exponentially Since the Industrial Revolution

Reasons Why the Population Increased Exponentially Since the Industrial Revolution


            The Industrial Revolution ushered in an era of an exponential increase in the global human population. In the   mid 1700’s, when the Industrial Revolution began in earnest, there was witnessed a 57% increase in the world population, to 700 million (McLamb n.p.). By 1800, the global human population had reached the 1 billion mark. The purpose of the current essay is to discuss the reasons for this exponential increase in the world human population as witnessed since the Industrial Revolution. Towards this end, the essay will argue that because the Industrial Revolution brought with it improvements in living standards, agricultural production, and advances in medicine and sanitation, death rates declined while birth rates increased and hence the exponential increase in the global human population.

            Improvements in living standards and advances in medicine brought about by the Industrial Revolution has been largely associated with the exponential rise in the world human population not just during this period, but also in both the 20th and 21st centuries (Kent 238). By mid 1700’s, the world population was at 700 million, an increase of 57% (McLamb n.p.). By 1800, the world human population hit the 1 billion mark and by 1927, it had doubled to two billion people (Bulliet 87).  The Industrial Revolution brought with it a lot of transformation in such diverse areas as agriculture, sanitation, medicine, and settlement. In combination, these new developments enabled people to lead better and longer lives. As a result, the per capita resources and global population started to increase exponentially, albeit at varying rates in the different parts of the world.

             In particular, the exponential rise in human population in Western Europe as well as its industrializing extensions overseas was by far faster than it had ever been observed in the history of the human race.  To put this issue into a clearer perspective, between 1750 and 1845, the human population in Europe increased by about 80%. This was more than a two-fold increase in population growth compared to the last major rise in population recorded in the 12 century, at 36% (Bulliet 89).

             One of the explanations given for the dramatic rise in human population in Europe during the industrial population is the spectacular drop in death rates, owing to improved sanitation, agricultural practices, and breakthrough in medicine.  Before the industrial revolution, there was only an insignificant rise in life expectancy, both in every century and millennium (McLamb n.p.). Moreover, the entire increase in the human population prior to the Industrial Revolution was by far much less in comparison with decades prior to this period. The rise in per capital resources meant that more people could now afford to raise and take care of a family, and this resulted in an increase in the number of marriages and by extension, increased birth rates ( McLamb n.p.).

            Improved living standards, improved agriculture and increased food production all acted to increased human fertility and with it, an increase in population through increased birth rates. While there was no immediate recorded increase in the birth rates during the industrial revolution in such a manner as to balance the reduction in death rates, in effect maintaining the population growing, the rise in birth rates nonetheless exceeded the death rates in due course (Rosen 148).  There is no clear-cut explanation as to why there was no reduction in fertility in most countries for a long time, following the increase per capita resources, as would be expected.

             However, this could partly be explained by the following: a) individuals has previously wished for more children remaining alive and improved sanitation and availability of better medical care enabled them to realize this wish; b) the slow change in habits and social values hindered majority of the individuals from contraception; c)  individual demand for children increased as their ability to provide for them also improved; and d) the decline in mortality was not immediately felt and as such, it failed to have a instant impact on people’s changes in behaviour (McKeown 34).

            Various explanations have also been provided to explain the cause of the decline in death rates during the Industrial Revolution.  Some scholars opine that this mortality drop could partly be unconnected with the new-found economic progress; improved climatic conditions could have led to improved crop yields, improved sanitation resulted in a diminishing of the rat population and with it, a decline in plague-induced deaths, while improved sanitation could have also rendered some disease environment less dangerous (McLamb n.p.).  However, economic progress realized during the Industrial Revolution could also have caused some of the improvements in death rates, albeit indirectly. For example, as mothers may have breastfed their children for shorter periods of time as improved economic conditions meant better access to weaning foods. This may have led to less inhibition of pregnancy.

            Economic progress was undoubtedly responsible for much of the noticeable improved life expectancy. Economic progress meant better diets and hence longer lives.  While it is not easy to establish the significance of nutrition in the growth of (or decline in) the human population, a number of scholar have nonetheless wondered if sufficient nutrition has any impact at all on the longevity of the human race, citing a very interesting concept that during the middle ages, the life expectancy of commoners was curiously equivalent to that of the nobles (Simon 32).

             This notwithstanding, it has been established that societies that find it hard to attain sustenance, such as the desert nomad tribes or the Eskimos, are also characterised by very slow rates of population growth, suggesting the important role of sufficient nutrition in population growth. Therefore, we could argue that because the Industrial Revolution led to increased agricultural production, people tended to live longer and had more children, and hence the rise in population (Kent 239).  As such, the major reductions in chronic malnutrition witnessed during the Industrial Revolution could have been partly responsible for the sharp decline in mortality rates in Western Europe and the consequent improvements in population growth, especially in Britain and France (Bulliet 89).

            Another important point to note is that economic progress led to improved health environment, a development that saw people lives longer. This could partly be explained by the medical progresses realized during the Industrial Revolution, such as vaccination (Bulliet 91).  These advances in medical practice are as a result of increased scientific knowledge and scientific attitude that were ushered in by the Industrial Revolution. It is interesting to note that these types of advances took place in nations that were impacted by the Industrial Revolution such as France and England and not those that were outside its influence, such as India and China.

            Economic progress also had a somewhat indirect influence on the health environment the development of physical infrastructure, including the provision of potable water at the community level (Kent 241).  It is important to note that these kinds of improvements were not mainly aimed at reducing deaths or improving health although they eventually did so to a significant level. Building of infrastructure of this nature demands that there be sufficiently efficient farming to enable society employ individuals who can work on such kinds of projects.  In addition, it was necessary to have sufficiently dense and large population as a means of ensuring that the projects were economical. Similarly, roads as well as other communication systems that played a key role in the spread of health technology needed to fulfil these requirements as well.  Currently, poorer people live shorter lives than wealthier people on account of the reasons discussed above. In the same way, poorer countries are characterised by shorter average life expectancies in comparison with wealthier countries. On the basis of such facts, we can confirm that a causal association between improved living standards of the oppositional and a rise in its life expectancy. The two issues were quite evident during the Industrial Revolution.


            The exponential increase in the world human population during and after the Industrial Revolution has been associated to improved agricultural practices, advances in medicine, and improved sanitation. In particular, improved agricultural practices led to increased food production. With sufficient nutrition, and better breakthrough such as the development of vaccines, there was a major reduction in the human mortality rates. Also, the increased per capital resources resulted in improved community infrastructure such as the provision of potable water and improved sanitation, further reducing death rates. Birth rates also increased as the number of marriages and consequently, number of children born lived.

Works Cited

Bulliet, Richard W. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Boston: Houghton

            Mifflin, 1997. Print.

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Kent, Michael. Advanced Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

McLamb, Eric. “Impact of the Industrial Revolution.” Ecology Global Network.

            Ecology Communications Group, Inc., 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.



Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and

            Invention. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.

Simon, Julian. Population and Development in Poor Countries: Selected Essays. New

            Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.