Origins of World War one
When asked to discuss the origins of the first world war, there is generally little debate. Most would site the growth of Germany as an economic, military and naval power, the rise in nationalism and an arms race throughout Europe. All of which was characterized by the growing occurrence of political disruptions, culminated by the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in Serbia. This is, of course true, but many historians tend neglect the effect of demographic change on a society. During the late 1800's and up to 1914, most European nations were undergoing fundamental changes in the makeup of their societies. Some countries experienced dramatic rises in population, while others were stagnating or even in decline. The changes in population in Europe greatly affected the balance of power. This had effects on nationalism, militarism and influenced the popular attitudes toward war across Europe. Demographic changes in Europe made "The Great War" inevitable.

Europe has always been politically tumultuous. Conquerors and revolutionaries have traded power with despots and dictators, back and forth, for centuries. Prior to the nineteenth century, Great Britain and France were the two major players. With the conquest of Napoleon, the First and later the Third, it seemed the rivalry was over in Europe. In the late nineteenth century Europe had a relatively stable, albeit precarious, balance of power. The empires could focus their attention toward colonies and trade. This peace lasted until the turn of the century when a new threat to the status-quo arose. This threat to the balance of power was the growth of Germany. In 1850 France's population was almost 36 million, the largest in Europe, with the exception of Russia who had 57 million. France was therefore the central power in Europe. Though Great Britain only had 27.6 million, it remained powerful due to its navy and colonies. In 1850, there was no Germany, only a group of individual states, the largest and most powerful being Prussia. Prussia's population at the time was only 16 million, hardly a threat. Even if you combine the Germanic States, the total population is only 35.9 million. 1 If we skip ahead 1880 though, it is possible to see some trends starting to take shape in Europe. The contrast between the populations of Germany and France is startling. We see that France's population had only grown to 37 million, while a united Germany's population had swelled to 45 million. Great Britain lay somewhere between the two with an increase of just over seven million people to a moderate 35 million people. In the thirty years that followed these trends only intensified. In 1910 Germany's population had almost doubled its population of sixty years prior. With a population 65 million strong, Germany was great force to be reckoned with in Europe. France on the other hand had hardly grown at all. Its population was only 39 million, the smallest in Europe next to Italy who was not far behind. Great Britain continued to grow steadily and moderately to 45 million in 1910.3 What became evident was a redistribution of potential power due to population growth. France's stagnant population growth meant that it's overall percentage of Europe's total population had declined. France's population went from fourteen percent of Europe's total population in 1850, to less than ten percent in 1910. Conversely, Germany in 1910 contributed fifteen percent of the total as compared to Prussia's five percent in 1850.4 Another key to the balance of power in Europe had always been Russia, due to its' vast empire. For such a large nation, though, in 1910 Russia only had twenty million more citizens than France. Like Germany, Russia's population was also rising. In the years between 1850 and 1910 Russia's population doubled to 111 million people. The other major powers in Europe, Austria-Hungary and Italy both, like Great Britain, grew only moderately. Austria-Hungary's population grew from 30.7 million to 50 million in 1910. Italy's population grew from 24.3 million to 35 million in 1910.5 The trends were obvious. On one end, France's population was completely static. In the middle Great Britain, Austria-Hungary and Italy grew only moderately, yet steadily. At the other end of the spectrum, Russia and Germany's populations had doubled.

The population trends in Europe during the late 1800's