The striking improvement in life expectancy that took place in England between the Middle Ages and the seventeenth century cannot be explained either by an increase in real wages or by better climatic conditions. The decrease in the risk of utter destitution or of death from famine that was evident on the eve of the Industrial Revolution stemmed, in part, from institutional changes in the old poor law, which began to take shape and become effective early in the seventeenth century.

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