Gender equality in the armed forces is in the news. The UK army has just appointed its first front line fighting woman officer. There is discussion in US government about having women register for the draft. In a future war, if both men and women are allowed to fight, then, if there is compulsory conscription, it is hard to imagine how both men and women would not have to be compelled to fight. In WWI, only men were compelled to fight.

The UK in World War One lost something over 700000 young people (almost all men) killed. This did make a significant dent in the UK population, but the population recovered relatively quickly. I have been struggling to find accurate details for the population history. The National Archives site that supplies older data seems to be broken - I cannot make the filter or search function work in chrome or firefox. The current UK government site is all Flash-based, and I cannot see Flash documents here for security reasons.

  • Is detailed UK population data for the period before and after WWI available and accessible online, please?

Had the UK lost, instead of 700k men killed, 350k young men and 350k young women, it seems likely that the way that the population recovered after the war would have been different.

  • Has any numerical analysis been made of how gender equality in war would affect population recovery or family structure?

While the answer below from @user2448131 makes an excellent point, it's not clear how to use this information to deduce the effect of gender balance on population recovery. The flu was immediately after the war, so the actual UK population recovery was in the context of the deaths of about 100k women and 800k men (flu and war combined), and it's hard to see how to extrapolate this to a putative 400k women and 400k men. I'd like to know if any study has been done on population recovery in modern times when the number of deaths of men and women are equal. Perhaps looking at population recovery in a nation unaffected by war deaths? Spain? But where can I find detailed population data?

  • I'd like to make plain that I strongly support gender equality in all fields. I'm just trying to find out if governments have thought through and planned for the consequences.
    – emrys57
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 10:47
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    This question is about alternative History. Doesn't fit in this SE
    – EvanM
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 11:11
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    Thanks for pointing this out. I removed the request for specific estimates on the UK population in an alternative history, leaving just requests for specific historical population data and a generic analysis of gender and population. Does that make it not-alternative enough?
    – emrys57
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 11:44
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    Remember the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 killed more people worldwide than WWI, so you may be able to apply statistics from this non-gender related event to answer your question.
    – justCal
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 13:07
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    This is a hypothetical question if ever there was one. The notion that had there been gender equality in 1914 that an exact same number of men and women would have been killed is frankly ridiculous. My grandfather was one of those killed (100 years ago next Monday). At the time my grandmother had three young daughters, including my mother aged 15 months. Is it being suggested that even pregnant women and mothers of toddlers might have occupied the trenches?
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 seems to reflect the kind of data you are looking for. The deaths would not be strongly gender related, and the time frame coincides generally with the time frame of your theoretical query. The deaths in England specifically are discussed at Historic UK:

During the pandemic of 1918/19, over 50 million people died worldwide and a quarter of the British population were affected. The death toll was 228,000 in Britain alone. Global mortality rate is not known, but is estimated to have been between 10% to 20% of those who were infected.

Other nations which were less involved in WWI but more involved in the pandemic may be able to provide you with an idea of how a population recovers after losing a more gender balanced population percentage. This historical demographics page lists the 1907 population of the United Kingdom as 39,700,000 which means the WWI deaths accounted for about 1.76% of the population. An abstract for a study, Mortality burden of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in Europe gives an estimate of 1.1% of the European population, so percentages are similar to the losses suffered by Great Britain due to the war, and may be applicable to your query.

  • Thanks very much, this is an excellent suggestion, but I'm not sure it answers the question. I've added some commentary at the end of the question above.
    – emrys57
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 7:40
  • OK, you get the tick before somebody else votes to close :-) Yes, this is how the analysis could be done. I was hoping for an answer telling me that the analysis has been done and the answer is... plus a pointer to the detailed population data I know exists but which I cannot find. But, well done and thanks!
    – emrys57
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:26

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