I'm looking at a chart of world population from 10,000 BCE to modern times. It appears the world population rate rose sharply somewhere around the 1700's (and maybe a tad bit earlier):

The size of the world population over the last 12,000 years

I'm confused because it is earlier then expected (as I understand things). First, efficient fertilizer production did not occur until the early 1900s, so food production was mostly constant (confer, Haber process). Second, preventative and curative medicine is rather modern and seems to be dated somewhere after the 1800's, and penicillin debuted the early 1900's (confer, History of medicine).

What caused the increase in world population rate around 1700's?


The general pattern of rapid population growth seen in early modern Europe around the 1800s (and to a more limited extent in the 1700s) is known as "stage two" of the demographic transition. Quoting from Wikipedia:

This stage leads to a fall in death rates and an increase in population.The changes leading to this stage in Europe were initiated in the Agricultural Revolution of the eighteenth century and were initially quite slow. [...]

The decline in the death rate is due initially to two factors:

  • First, improvements in the food supply brought about by higher yields in agricultural practices and better transportation reduce death due to starvation and lack of water. Agricultural improvements included crop rotation, selective breeding, and seed drill technology.

  • Second, significant improvements in public health reduce mortality, particularly in childhood. These are not so many medical breakthroughs (Europe passed through stage two before the advances of the mid-twentieth century, although there was significant medical progress in the nineteenth century, such as the development of vaccination) as they are improvements in water supply, sewerage, food handling, and general personal hygiene following from growing scientific knowledge of the causes of disease and the improved education and social status of mothers.

A consequence of the decline in mortality in Stage Two is an increasingly rapid growth in population growth (a.k.a. "population explosion") as the gap between deaths and births grows wider and wider. Note that this growth is not due to an increase in fertility (or birth rates) but to a decline in deaths. This change in population occurred in north-western Europe during the nineteenth century due to the Industrial Revolution.

Europe was the first region to experience such a transition. A similar pattern spread to other parts of the world, on an increasingly rapid scale as various technologies were introduced into the twentieth century.

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