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The Historical Fertility Transition: A Guide for Economists

  • Timothy W. Guinnane

The historical fertility transition is the process by which much of Europe and North America went from high to low fertility in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This transformation is central to recent accounts of long-run economic growth. Prior to the transition, women bore as many as eight children each, and the elasticity of fertility with respect to incomes was positive. Today, many women have no children at all, and the elasticity of fertility with respect to incomes is zero or even negative. This paper discusses the large literature on the historical fertility transition, focusing on what we do and do not know about the process. I stress some possible misunderstanding of the demographic literature, and discuss an agenda for future work. (JEL I12, J13, N30)

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jel.49.3.589
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Literature.

Volume (Year): 49 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (September)
Pages: 589-614

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jeclit:v:49:y:2011:i:3:p:589-614
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jel.49.3.589
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  1. Sascha O. Becker & Francesco Cinnirella & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "The Trade-off between Fertility and Education: Evidence from before the Demographic Transition," CESifo Working Paper Series 2775, CESifo Group Munich.
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  13. Timothy Guinnane & Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2008. "Institutions and Demographic Responses to Shocks: Württemberg, 1634-1870," Working Papers 962, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
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  15. Nicolini, Esteban A., 2007. "Was Malthus right? A VAR analysis of economic and demographic interactions in pre-industrial England," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(01), pages 99-121, April.
  16. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1.
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  18. Guinnane, Timothy W. & Streb, Jochen, 2010. "Moral Hazard in a Mutual Health-Insurance System: German Knappschaften, 1867–1914," Ruhr Economic Papers 163, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (RWI), Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
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