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The Children of Eve: Population and Well-being in History

Author(s):Cain, Louis P.
Paterson, Donald G.
Reviewer(s):Logan, Trevon D.

Published by EH.Net (December 2012)

Louis P. Cain and Donald G. Paterson, The Children of Eve: Population and Well-being in History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. xix + 391 pp. $60 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-4443-3690-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Trevon D. Logan, Department of Economics, Ohio State University.

Louis Cain of Loyola University Chicago and Donald Paterson of the University of British Columbia have an ambitious agenda, to tell the population and health histories of the world in one volume.? Along the way they cover a great deal of health, medicine, economics and anthropology in describing how homo sapiens managed to grow in number, average size, and longevity over the last several thousand years.? Cain and Paterson are not attempting to tell the population history of the world, but rather the economic demography of human populations.? In other words, the goal is not simply to present the trends in population but to provide an economic interpretation for them.? This makes the book much more ambitious than its predecessor, Livi-Bacci?s Concise History of World Population, since it still aimed at an audience which was assumed to know little about either population history or economics.?

The book begins with a short section on ?Initial Conditions,? which describes the beginning of the species, how populations are measured, and the demographic transition.? This is where the ?Eve? of the book?s title comes from, the mitochondrial DNA remnants which link back to one common female.? The book makes little use of genetics, however, and moves quickly to the establishment of agriculture, the basics of Malthusian theory, and the beginnings of population counts.? The next chapter covers the demographic transition, and this is where its economic focus first shows up.? Cain and Paterson put the demographic transition into firmly economic territory.? They describe not only trends in birth and death rates but also national income, inequality, female labor force participation and dependency ratios.? Along the way the authors carefully define terms such as endemic, social benefits, GDP, and other terminology in specialized boxes.
The second part of the book is the heart of the text.? Mortality, fertility, long-distance and regional migration each receive their own chapters.? The chapter on mortality begins with the present causes of death and works backwards, covering mortality due to wars, infant mortality, and the basics of life expectancy calculations.? After briefly covering some of the basics of seasonality (which could be greatly enhanced by linking the discussion more closely to cause of death), the chapter concludes with the basics of the mortality transition.? The fertility chapter has a similar structure, beginning with a fairly long list of terminology (fecundity, nuptiality, doubling times, and the like).? Then Cain and Paterson move to the choices involved in fertility, and the economics comes through more clearly.? The authors cover the constraints on fertility mainly through marriage, which is appropriate given the historical focus.? As with the chapter on mortality, they conclude with a brief review of the crude birth rate and a more general discussion of the decline in fertility.

The chapters on migration are split between long distance and short distance.? I think this ordering is a bit odd since humans first moved short distances, as the authors note earlier in the text.? The long-distance migration chapter begins by looking at nativity and then forced migrations.? The largest section is devoted to the movement from Europe to the Americas in the Age of Mass Migration.? The authors then move to a discussion of remittances, an issue that has been underdeveloped in population history.? The chapter also has a very nice section which gives broad overviews of the diasporas of the Irish, Jews, and Chinese.? What is missing from the chapter is a model of migration that would justify the discussion of immigration restrictions that follows.? I was hoping for the development of a model which would link migration to wages and show how stakeholders may face different incentives to oppose immigration depending on whether they are substitutes or complements to the immigrants.? The regional immigration chapter begins by focusing on the westward movement in the United States and the black migration of the early twentieth century.? It then moves to a discussion of urbanization in history and provides case studies of Scotland-England and Canada-U.S.? One thing missing from this discussion is a role for economics is explaining chain migration or the role of social networks in migration more generally.? Also, given the focus on the species overall, the lack of a discussion of general migration patterns and the earliest migrations is a worrisome omission.

The last section of the book looks at related economic issues.? It beings with the changing family and discusses marriage, divorce, and child labor.? The chapter on wealth introduces the concept of morbidity and disability, then moves to nutrition and human physiology and includes a welcome section on human living spaces, which are usually neglected in historical inquiry.? The chapter on macroeconomic effects seems somewhat out of place. It describes intergenerational constraints, the labor-leisure tradeoff, household time use, and human capital.? What is lacking is a link between these factors and the population issues at play.? The book would have been greatly enhanced if it had started with some of these ideas.? The penultimate chapter describes catastrophes.? This includes a description of famines, plagues, HIV and the influenza pandemic. As with the chapter on macroeconomic effects, it is difficult to see why the discussion in its own chapter was necessary.? The material could have been covered in the mortality chapter.
Overall, this book is a worthy successor to earlier population histories.? It updates much of what we know and integrates those insights into a decidedly economic framework.? Its key strengths are the ability to present a range of demographic and economic concepts and to use the sweep of history to provide some interpretation and illustration.? In the end, a lay reader comes away with a fairly sophisticated understanding of population processes and how they have played out in human history.? The drawback is that the scope of the book is far from global, and a reader could be left with the false impression that the trends described for northwest Europe are truly generalizable.? Some are, and others are not.? Then again, considering every nuance is beyond the stated intent of the authors, but for researchers the nuances are what keep us excited. This book is an excellent reminder of what first motivated this demographer?s interest in population issues.? As such, it should serve as a very useful, entertaining, and clear introduction to population and its relationship to human welfare and economic choices.?

Trevon D. Logan is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ohio State University and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Recent publications include ?Economies of Scale in the Household: Puzzles and Patterns from the American Past,? Economic Inquiry (2011); ?The Transformation of Hunger: Demand for Calories Past and Present,? Journal of Economic History (2009); and ?Health, Human Capital, and African American Migration before 1910? Explorations in Economic History (2009).

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Subject(s):Historical Demography, including Migration
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative