The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (Campop) celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with the launch of a new blog – Top of the CamPops – aiming to bust myths about life since the Middle Ages.

Director of Campop and Fellow of Churchill College, Professor Alice Reid, said, “Assumptions about lives, families and work in the past continue to influence attitudes today. But many of these are myths. Over the last 60 years, our researchers have gone through huge amounts of data to set the record straight. This blog shares some of our most surprising and important discoveries for a broad audience.”

 Some of the myths they are busting include:

  • Sex before marriage was unusual in the past:  In some periods, over half of all brides were already pregnant when they got married.
  • Women working (outside the home) is a late 20th century phenomenon: Most women in the past engaged in gainful employment, both before and after marriage
  • The rich have always outlived the poor: Before the 20th century the evidence for a survival advantage of wealth is mixed. In England, babies of agricultural labourers (the poorest workers) had a better chance of reaching their first birthday than infants in wealthy families, and life expectancy was no higher for aristocrats than for the rest of the population. These patterns contrast strongly with national and international patterns today, where wealth confers a clear survival advantage everywhere and at all ages.
  • In the past people (particularly women) married in their teens: In reality, women married in their mid-20s, men around 2.5 years older. Apart from a few decades in the early 1800s, the only time since 1550 that the average age of first marriage for women fell below 24 was during the baby boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

You can find more myths debunked on the Campop blog, part of the Department of Geography and Faculty of History, including Professor Reid’s exploration of whether people really did marry younger in years gone by.