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Key forces behind the decline of fertility: lessons from childlessness in Rouen before the industrial revolution

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  • Sandra Brée

    (Université catholique de Louvain)

  • David de la Croix

    (Université catholique de Louvain)

Abstract

To better understand the forces underlying fertility decisions, we look at the forerunners of fertility decline. In Rouen, France, completed fertility dropped between 1640 and 1792 from 7.4 to 4.2 children. We review possible explanations and keep only three: increases in materialism, in women’s empowerment, and in returns to education. The methodology is one of analytic narrative, bringing together descriptive evidence with a theoretical model. We accordingly propose a theory showing that we can discriminate between these explanations by looking at childlessness and its social gradient. An increase in materialism or, under certain conditions, in women’s empowerment, leads to an increase in childlessness, while an increase in the return to education leads to a decrease in childlessness. Looking at the Rouen data, childlessness was clearly on the rise, from 4% in 1640 to 10% at the end of the eighteenth century, which appears to discredit the explanation based on increasing returns to education, at least for this period.

Suggested Citation

  • Sandra Brée & David de la Croix, 2019. "Key forces behind the decline of fertility: lessons from childlessness in Rouen before the industrial revolution," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 13(1), pages 25-54, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:cliomt:v:13:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s11698-017-0166-9
    DOI: 10.1007/s11698-017-0166-9
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    Cited by:

    1. David de la Croix & Eric B. Schneider & Jacob Weisdorf, 2019. "Childlessness, celibacy and net fertility in pre-industrial England: the middle-class evolutionary advantage," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 223-256, September.
    2. Thomas TB Baudin & David De la Croix & Paula Eugenia Gobbi, 2019. "Childlessness and Economic Development: a Survey," Working Papers ECARES 2019-03, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    3. Paula Eugenia Gobbi & Marc Goñi, 2020. "Childless Aristocrats. Inheritance and the Extensive Margin of Fertility," Working Papers ECARES 2020-03, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    4. Blanc, Guillaume & Wacziarg, Romain, 2020. "Change and persistence in the Age of Modernization: Saint-Germain-d’Anxure, 1730–1895," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 78(C).
    5. de la Croix, David & Vitale, Mara, 2022. "Women in European Academia before 1800 - Religion, Marriage, and Human Capital," CEPR Discussion Papers 17229, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Le Bris, David & Tallec, Ronan, 2021. "The European Marriage Pattern and its Positive Consequences Montesquieu-Volvestre, 1660-1789," MPRA Paper 105324, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Jianchoun Dou, 2021. "Variety, Fertility, and Long-term Economic Growth," LIDAM Discussion Papers IRES 2021020, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
    8. Gobbi, Paula & Goñi, Marc, 2018. "Childless Aristocrats. Inheritance and the extensive margin of fertility," CEPR Discussion Papers 12744, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. David de la Croix & Eric B. Schneider & Jacob Weisdorf, 2019. "Childlessness, celibacy and net fertility in pre-industrial England: the middle-class evolutionary advantage," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 223-256, September.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Demographic transition; Childlessness; Quality-quantity trade-off; Forerunners; Women’s empowerment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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