For the first time, the government included a section on ‘fertility in marriage’ in the 1911 census.
The decreasing birth rate, the amount of people emigrating and the general poor health of the population were causing the government concern. It wanted to find out what potential there was for the future workforce as this would be essential to develop Britain’s industrial standing.
The following are some of the trends in fertility and marriage from the 1911 census taken from Changing Family Size in England and Wales, Place, Class and Demography, 1891-1911 by Eilidh Garrett, Alice Reid, Kevin Schürer and Simon Szreter and published by Cambridge University Press.
The percentage of women marrying in 1911 was falling and the age at marriage was increasing. Interestingly, eight per cent of first-time brides in 1911 were pregnant before they got married and illegitimacy was in decline due to pressure for couples to marry when the pregnancy was apparent.
The 1911 census shows that 7.4% of married women weren’t residing with their husbands on census night compared to 5.2% of men. Potential reasons for this include men being at sea or in the army, and women who had children illegitimately pretending that their non-existent husband was away.
Years of marriage duration tended to be inaccurate in long-term marriages and marriages of less than a year which could be rounded up to a year (especially when the child of these marriages was illegitimate).
Exaggeration of length of marriage
Despite the fact that the heading of the column on the census clearly stated that marriages of less than a year should be recorded as ‘under one’, there was a shortfall of these marriages recorded. This could have been because couples tended to record the length of their marriage by their next anniversary rather than the previous. The Registrar-General, however, suggested that people were sometimes deliberately generous with regard to the length of their marriage to hide illegitimate births and pre-nuptial pregnancy.
Up to 20% of conceptions resulted in miscarriages and infant mortality was generally high, which paints a grim picture of women trying to bring up healthy children. Perhaps unsurprisingly, infant mortality was less common in households with more rooms and in those with a servant. Infant mortality increased when women had children when they were younger and at shorter intervals.
This information adds a definite level of colour to the census and helps to build the picture of how life was in 1911.