Life under Pressure

From Eurasian Population and Family History

Life under Pressure

Mortality and Living Standards in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900

By Tommy Bengtsson, Cameron Campbell and James Z. Lee

A pioneering work in comparative history and social science that compares population behavior in response to adversity in Europe and Asia.





A pioneering work in comparative history and social science that compares population behavior in response to adversity in Europe and Asia.

This highly original book—the first in a series analyzing historical population behavior in Europe and Asia—pioneers a new approach to the comparative analysis of societies in the past. Using techniques of event history analysis, the authors examine 100,000 life histories in 100 rural communities in Western Europe and Asia to analyze the demographic response to social and economic pressures. In doing so they challenge the accepted Eurocentric Malthusian view of population processes and demonstrate that population behavior has not been as uniform as previously thought—that it has often been determined by human agency, particularly social structure and cultural practice.

The authors examine the complex relationship between human behavior and social and economic environment, analyzing age, gender, family, kinship, social class and social organization, climate, food prices, and real wages to compare mortality responses to adversity. Their research at the individual, household, and community levels challenges the previously accepted characterizations of social and economic behavior in Europe and Asia in the past. The originality of the analysis as well as the geographic breadth and historical depth of the data make Life Under Pressure a significant advance in the field of historical demography. Its findings will be of interest to scholars in economics, environmental studies, demography, history, and sociology as well as the general reader interested in these subjects.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262025515 546 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 29 illus.


$23.00 X ISBN: 9780262512435 546 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 29 illus.


  • A major milestone in preindustrial population history.


  • The book is amazingly rich and fascinating and represents a major advance in historical demography in data collection, theory, and methods.

    Ronald Lee and Richard H. Steckel

    Historical Methods


  • In this remarkable volume, Bengtsson, Campbell, Lee, and their collaborators compare population dynamics in Europe and Asia in the centuries just before industrialization. Using both causal models and local studies, they show how household structures, cultural values, and domestic decisions produced variations in mortality across age, gender, and income levels. Combining exceptional geographic breadth with rigorous attention to local details, these studies are essential for understanding fundamental patterns of life in preindustrial societies.

    Jack A. Goldstone

    Hazel Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University

  • The authors have assembled powerful new data sets that shed light on questions about demographic behavior in the context of household and community, and permit comparative analysis across Europe and Asia. This is the richest and most important work in population history in many years.

    Ronald Lee

    Professor of Demography and Economics, University of California

  • There is much talk about comparative history, but very little systematic effort to do it. Bengtsson, Campbell, Lee, and their collaborators have produced a work that is truly remarkable in its conception and execution, and a model for future generations.

    Richard Easterlin

    University Professor and Professor of Economics, University of Southern California

  • China is undergoing the greatest transformation in its history. Life Under Pressure is a fundamental contribution to understanding the background of this change. It is a deep and serious book that should be read by all those interested in China's past and future.

    Alan Macfarlane

    Professor of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University

  • This book is a comprehensive discussion of current knowledge on the interrelationships among nutrition, health, and economic growth by leading investigators of the subject. It is essential reading for those interested in both the theory and the empirics of the synergisms that govern these relationships.

    Robert W. Fogel

    Center for Population Economics, Graduate School of Business, The University of Chicago, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences