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About the Cambridge Group

The Cambridge Group for the History of Population & Social Structure was founded in 1964. In the fifty years since then, members of the Group have made a spectacular series of discipline-transforming contributions to social science history. These include work on historical demography and household structure, on the interdependence of these elements with welfare systems, and on occupational structure.

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The occupational structure of Britain 1379-1911

This research program directed by Leigh Shaw-Taylor and Tony Wrigley aims ultimately to reconstruct the evolution of the occupational structure of Britain from the late medieval period down to the early twentieth century. The project has been designated as a British Academy Research project since 2007 (renewed for a further five years in 2016).

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Our research seeks to understand the demographic pressures and choices people in past societies experienced, from the medieval period to the recent past. We focus primarily on the population history of the world's first industrial nation, Britain, understood within the context of European and global developments.

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Radical changes in the form and location of economic activity, income and wealth have occurred in Britain and Europe in various phases from Medieval times up to the present. These affected personal economic opportunity, the occupational choices of the population, their welfare, mobility, skills, consumption and demographic structures. These in turn influenced the development of business growth and innovation, and the economies of localities, regions and nations.

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Welfare systems both past and present rely upon a combination of support supplied by kin and charity, either legally enforced or voluntary. This research theme is concerned with exploring the demographic, legal and economic underpinnings of past welfare regimes in order to throw light on the different strategies which societies have adopted to support their most vulnerable members. More broadly, this research theme encompasses the economic and social implications of demographic change.

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COVID-19 related information

18th May, 2020


The history of mortality, infectious diseases and long-term improvements to life expectancy is the focus of a major Wellcome funded project led by Richard Smith and Romola Davenport. Davenport and co-authors have recently published papers on: smallpox, the early history of public health from an evolutionary perspective and mortality and urbanisation.

Leigh Shaw-Taylor has published a beginners' guide to the history of disease, epidemics and long-term improvements to mortality in a special issue of Economic History Review. This is one of three free-to-download special issues on the history of disease published by leading journals on the subject.

Chris Briggs, Romola Davenport, Leigh Shaw-Taylor and Samantha Williams have contributed to podcasts in Chris Clark's History of Now series.

(When) are you going to have children?

3rd December, 2020


An article in the new issue of the Cambridge University research magazine, Horizons, explores decisions about if and when to have children, considering what influences come into play and how these have changed over time. The article brings together research from across the University, featuring Campop member Dr Alice Reid.

The Changing Geography of Ill Health

26th November, 2020


The Chief Medical Officer of the UK Chris Whitty's recent lecture on 25th November on the Geography of Ill Health will be of interest to all geographers, but it is particularly pleasing to see it featuring some maps from our interactive online atlas, Whitty uses the maps to illustrate the fact that the areas with particularly high infant mortality in the past still have high levels of ill health today.

Height and health in late eighteenth-century England

1st October, 2020


A new paper by CamPop members Hanna Jaadla, Leigh Shaw-Taylor and Romola Davenport, published Online Early in Population Studies, analyses a very unusual sample of representative data on adult male heights, recorded in militia ballot lists in the county of Dorset in the years 1798 and 1799.

The paper confirms the tall stature of English men relative to other European populations in this period, and reports evidence of a positive social gradient in height. However the gradient was small, and labourers were on average only 2 cm shorter than farmers and gentlemen.

Re-introducing the Cambridge Group Family Reconstitutions

28th September, 2020


A new paper has been published on the Cambridge Group Family Reconstitutions by George Alter, Jim Oeppen and Gill Newton. English Population History from Family Reconstitution 1580–1837 was important both for its scope and its methodology.

The volume was based on data from family reconstitutions of 26 parishes carefully selected to represent 250 years of English demographic history. These data remain relevant for new research questions, such as studying the intergenerational inheritance of fertility and mortality.

To expand their availability, the family reconstitutions have been translated into new formats: a relational database, the Intermediate Data Structure (IDS) and an episode file for fertility analysis. The paper describes that process and examines the impact of methodological decisions on analysis of the data.

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  • 24th February 2021:
    Can the slope of adult mortality by age be changed? An examination of case fatality for pneumonia under different treatment regimes, 1822-2010. Details…
  • 10th March 2021:
    Major macro-socioeconomic driving forces of China’s mortality decline in recent decades. Details…