Prudence and Pressure

From Eurasian Population and Family History

Prudence and Pressure

Reproduction and Human Agency in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900

By Noriko O. Tsuya, Feng Wang, George Alter and James Z. Lee

A study of human reproduction and social organization in preindustrial communities that reveals important similarities between Europe and Asia.





A study of human reproduction and social organization in preindustrial communities that reveals important similarities between Europe and Asia.

This pioneering study reconceptualizes the impact of social organizations, economic conditions, and human agency on human reproduction in preindustrial communities in Europe and Asia. Unlike previous studies, in which Asia is measured by European standards, Prudence and Pressure develops a Eurasian perspective.

Drawing on rich new data and the tools of event-history analysis, the authors challenge the accepted Eurocentric Malthusian view that attributes “prudence” (smaller families due to late marriage) to the preindustrial West and “pressure” (high mortality due to overpopulation) to the East, showing instead important similarities between Europe and Asia in human motivation and population behavior.

The authors analyze age, gender, family and household, kinship, social class and power, religion, culture, and economic resources in order to compare reproductive strategies and outcomes. They reveal underlying similarities between East and West in two major components of the reproductive regime—marriage and childbearing—and offer evidence showing that preindustrial reproduction was motivated and governed by human agency at least as much as by human biology.

Prudence and Pressure is part of a large-scale interdisciplinary effort to use new data and methods to re-examine the Malthusian paradigm of population growth. It represents a significant advance in the fields of historical demography, history, and sociology.


$42.00 X ISBN: 9780262013529 406 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 6 maps, 27 figures, 61 tables


  • This striking comparative historical study examines the reproductive response to both short-term and long-term economic stress in different regional and cultural settings. It is an outstanding successor to Life Under Pressure.

    Ronald Lee

    Professor of Economics and Demography, University of California, Berkeley

  • This volume tackles the thorniest issue in comparative demography—what factors govern reproduction rates and practices in different societies? The authors provide not only the widest range of empirical data on this topic available in a single volume, but a theoretically sophisticated causal analysis that identifies the essential features of Asian and European practices, and their critical similarities and differences. This work marks a major step forward in the science of comparative demography, and must be addressed by every demographer, economic historian, and world historian.

    Jack Goldstone

    George Mason University