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Relative Cohort Size: Source of a Unifying Theory of Global Fertility Transition?

  • Diane J. Macunovich

Using United Nations estimates of age structure and vital rates for 184 countries at five-year intervals from 1950 through 1995, this article demonstrates how changes in relative cohort size appear to have affected patterns of fertility across countries since 1950-not just in developed countries, but perhaps even more importantly in developing countries as they pass through the demographic transition. The increase in relative cohort size (defined as the proportion of males aged 15-24 relative to males aged 25-59), which occurs as a result of declining mortality rates among infants, children, and young adults during the demographic transition, appears to act as the mechanism that determines when the fertility portion of the transition begins. As hypothesized by Richard Easterlin, the increasing proportion of young adults generates a downward pressure on young men's relative wages (or on the size of landhold-ings passed on from parent to child), which in turn causes young adults to accept a tradeoff between family size and material wellbeing, setting in motion a "cascade" or "snowball" effect in which total fertility rates tumble as social norms regarding acceptable family sizes begin to change. Copyright 2000 by The Population Council, Inc..

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Article provided by The Population Council, Inc. in its journal Population and Development Review.

Volume (Year): 26 (2000)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 235-261

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Handle: RePEc:bla:popdev:v:26:y:2000:i:2:p:235-261
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  1. Diane J. Macunovich, 1998. "Fertility and the Easterlin hypothesis: An assessment of the literature," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 53-111.
  2. Diane Macunovich, 1999. "The Baby Boom As It Ages: How Has It Affected Patterns of Consumptions and Savings in the United States?," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 7, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
  3. Macunovich, Diane J., 1998. "Race and relative income/price of time effects on U.S. fertility," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 365-400.
  4. Diane Macunovich, 1999. "The Fortune of One's Birth: Relative Cohort Size and the Youth Labor Market in the United States," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 6, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
  5. Macunovich, D.J., 1996. "Relative Income and Price of Time: Exploring their effcts on U.S. Fertility and Female Labor Force Participation, 1963-1993," Department of Economics Working Papers 174, Department of Economics, Williams College.
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