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Demographic information

       Life in the 17th Century

  • Average life expectancy at birth was 32 years. This is skewed because of the very high rates of infant mortality as follows: 25% to 30% died before their fifth birthday and a further 25% before they were 25 years old. After this a further 30 or 40 years of life could be expected.

  • Between 1560 and 1600 in Greystoke one in seven women died during or within one month of childbirth. In the same parish stillbirths averaged 9%, the only other figure available is for a London parish where it was 6%. This is not to say that one in seven births resulted in the death of the mother: the cause of death of one in seven women was as a result of childbirth.

  • Illegitimacy was rare, accounting for 3.4% of births in the late 1500s falling to 0.9% by 1650. However,  Studies in Greystoke found that illegitimacy was about 6% at the end of the 1500s which is similar to that found in Alverstoke in the early 1600s. Armstrong notes that other communities come out nearer the 3% mark


     Marriage in the 17th Century

  • Median age on first marriage for middle and lower classes was 27 for men and 25 for women. ie. the average age at which people were first married. This is not to say that no-one was married earlier, but for every woman that was married at 18 another did not marry until she was 32. Both Laslett (for Canterbury) and Armstrong (for Greystoke in Cumbria) arrive at a lower figure for women at just over 23.

  • During the period between 1595 and 1610 39% of brides were pregnant at time of marriage but remarks that few teenage brides were pregnant and most did not become pregnant until more than a year after marriage, this teenage sub fecundity is common in developing countries today.

  • Average duration of first marriage 18 years. Not until 1770 did half the marriages last 25 years.

  • Less than 10% of family units were extended. ie. unusual to have three generations co-residing. 


     Family in the 17th Century

  • Average number of children in a lower class conjugal family unit was 2.2. Armstrong found that the average number of children born per marriage was 5, (range 0 - 10), and siblings averaged 28 months apart. Where an infant died young another was likely to follow quickly.

  • Typhus is an adult specific and is spread by lice. Children were particularly vulnerable to the summer diseases of dysentery, scarlet fever, smallpox and plague.



'The Family , Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800'. L.Stone. Penguin. Reprinted 1990.

'Time, Family and Community'. Ed. M.Drake. Ch.3 by M.Anderson. Cambrdge U.P. 1994.

'17th Century England, A Changing Culture' Vol 2. Ed. W.Owens. Ward Lock. 1988.

'Stuart Economy and Society'. Nigel Heard. Hodder and Stoughton. 1995.

'Birth, Mariage and Death in Elizabethan Cumbria'. LPS No.53 1994.

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