Ages of the Population

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As the population in its distribution may be studied in space, so under the head of age it may be studied in relation to changes of generations, in time. Standing in the nineteenth century, we have before us in the Census, the centenarians descended from the middle of the eighteenth century; and the infants just born, of whom a certain number will live into the middle of the century coming.

Natural limit of human life

A century is the natural limit of human life, and of every generation a few men and women attain the age of a hundred years where the last waves of population break. Two hundred and one reputed centenarians were returned in 1861, out of a population of twenty millions; 216 centenarians were enumerated in 1821; one in 100,000 is now the existing proportion.

Men and women in vicennial periods of age, 1821 and 1861

The men and women of the ages 80-100 were 81,546 in 1821, and 113,349 in 1861; the increase was 31,803, 39 per cent. in forty years, or at the rates of 0.8 per cent. per annum. Continuing the comparison between the numbers in 1821 and 1861, the persons of the age of 60 to 80 rose from 822,792 to 1,378,930; so the increase was 556,138, or 68 per cent. in 40 years, and 1.3 per cent. annually.

The men and women of 40-60 were 1,927,844 in 1821, and 3,506,510 in 1861, so the increase was 1,578,666, that is 82 percent. in the interval, or 1.5 per cent. annually. 3,439,926 of the age of 20-40, the athletic age of men, and the prolific age of women, were enumerated in 1821, and 6,147,201 in 1861; thus the increase was 2,707,275, or 79 per cent. in forty years, and 1.46 per cent. annually. 5,917,851 children and youths of the first twenty years of life were enumerated in 1821, and 9,135,396 in 1861. The increase was 3,217,545, or 54 per cent. in 40 years, and 1.1 per cent. annually.

The increase in the 40 years from 1821 to 1861 was greatest in the middle ages of life (20-60). This requires some explanation. 9,135,396 children and young persons under 20 years of age were enumerated in 1861; and they had all been born since the Census of 1841. Allowing something for emigration, they are the natural survivors of about 12,664,0001 children born in the 20 years.

Successive generations

It will be convenient for the moment to call the persons born in each successive twenty years a generation; and the 9,135,396 will be the division of the first of the new generation; which will all have passed to the second stage (20-40) in 1881, and according to the English Life Table, be reduced to 7,633,000; to become 5,839,000 of the third age (40-60) in 1901; and 2,927,000 of the fourth age (60-80) in 1921; and 291,479 of the fifth age (80-100) in 1941; leaving 245 centenarians struggling onward still further into the middle of the twentieth century.

We enumerated 6,147,201 persons of the second age (20-40) who were born in the twenty years (1821-41); and they are the survivors of 7,356,988 of the first age (0-20) who were enumerated in 1841, and were then only partially engaged in the employments of life. They are soldiers, sailors, artisans, and labourers, and constitute the mass of the junior members of the professions. They are the young fathers and mothers of the country.

The 3,506,510 persons of the third age (40-60) are the fathers and mothers of families with children grown up; they include the majority of overseers and masters; they comprise the heads of the professions. They were born in the twenty years 1801-21; and were enumerated not only in 1841 at the age (20-40) when the numbers of this generation were 4,980,655, but in 1821 when they were of the first age (0-20), and were in numbers 5,917,851. The diminution is chiefly by death, and to some extent by emigration, which has been partially counterbalanced by immigrations; for a certain number of immigrants are in their ranks. Born in the years of the war, and in the first years of the peace, this generation was in its prime (20-40) when trade emancipation began, and when the first railway was opened, and the Reform Bill was carried; further on in its life the corn laws were repealed after the failure of one of the great staple crops of the kingdom; the population at home was tranquillized by the Reform Bill, a war with a great and increasing power was conducted to a successful issue, and our empire was extended and consolidated in India.

In all the measures for the improvement of the country, and in the inventions which are at present in use, they were aided and often led by the generation born in 1781—1801, of whom 1,378,930 (age 60-80) were living on the Census day of 1861. Born at the end of the American war, and in the earlier stages of the French Revolution, this generation consisted in 1801 of four millions, including Wilkie, Macauley, Peel, Graham, Byron, Shelley, and some of the most distinguished men now living. The steam-engine, and various machines were now placed in the hands of manufacturers; and the United States, ceasing to be the colonies, became the best customers of England.

We are carried still further back into the last century by the 113,349 persons of the fifth age (80-100), who were born in the years 1761-81, and then formed part of a young corps of three millions of the first age, including Wellington, Cobbett, Mackintosh, Robert Hall, Chalmers, Malthus, Astley Cooper, Sidney Smith, Wordsworth, Walter Scott, Moore, Coleridge, Southey, Campbell, Ricardo, Mill, Turner, Jeffrey, Hume, Hallam, and Brougham, who is one of the living representatives of this glorious generation.


With regard to the 201 persons of the reputed age of 100 years and more, the evidence of age requires careful scrutiny; only documentary evidence can be relied on, and that of course was not accessible on the Census day. But we see no reason to doubt the statements, that a certain number of the 201 centenarians who are scattered over every division of the kingdom were born before 1761, and before George III. ascended the throne; when the great Commoner was in his zenith; when Nelson and Burns were born; when Canada was conquered, and the foundations of our Indian empire were laid by Clive.

Table 63

The Table (App. 63.) should be carefully studied by those who would clearly understand the organization of the English population and its relations with the generations past, present, and to come.

It is a common error to reason about England as if its population and its power were stationary, while progress is the natural law of the land. As an instance, it will be seen that the 6,147,201 persons of the age 20-40 in 1861 are not, as is sometimes supposed, the survivors of a number equal to- 9,135,396 living at the age (0-20) in 1861, but of 7,356,988 who were enumerated of the age (0-20) in 1841.

Availing ourselves of this property, the population living at several ages far back into the past century can be calculated, and we can also look into the probabilities of the future.

Probable number of persons in 1881

According to this law of increase since 1821, the population of England—now 20,281,587—will be 25,511,445 in the year 1881; comprising 11,343,700 persons of the first age (0-20); 7,660,850 of the second age (20-40); 4,453,332 of the third age (40-60); 1,893,012 of the fourth age (60-80); 160,274 of the fifth age (80-100); and of 277 centenarians, The number will not equal this estimate, if emigration increase; but diminutions in the rate of mortality prolonging the lives of the successive generations will tend to augment the number of survivors. The population is only limited by its skill and industry, so long as its valour is unshaken, and its merchants have access to the markets of the world.

1 The births of 12,144,634 children were registered in the twenty years 1842-61 inclusive. The above numbers are deduced from the Life Table.

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