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How the West 'Invented' Fertility Restriction

  • Hans-Joachim Voth
  • Nico Voigtländer

Europeans restricted their fertility long before other parts of the world did so. By raising the marriage age of women, and ensuring that a substantial proportion remained celibate, the "European Marriage Pattern" (EMP) reduced childbirths by up to 40%. We analyze the rise of this first socio-economic institution in history that limited fertility through delayed marriage. Our model emphasizes changes in agricultural production following the Black Death. The production of meat, wool, and dairy (pastoral products) increased, while grain production declined. Women had a comparative advantage producing pastoral goods. They often worked as servants in husbandry, where they remained unmarried long after they had left the parental household. In a Malthusian world, this translated into lower population pressure, raising average wages by up to a quarter. The Black Death thus set into motion a virtuous circle of higher wages and fertility decline that underpinned Europe's high per capita incomes. We demonstrate the importance of this effect in a calibration of our model.

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Paper provided by Barcelona Graduate School of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 525.

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Date of creation: Dec 2010
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