IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

The Historical Fertility Transition: A Guide for Economists

  • Timothy W. Guinnane


    (Department of Economics, Yale University)

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 misunderstandings of the demographic literature, and discuss an agenda for future work.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Economic Growth Center, Yale University in its series Working Papers with number 990.

in new window

Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:egc:wpaper:990
Contact details of provider: Postal: PO Box 8269, New Haven CT 06520-8269
Phone: (203) 432-3610
Fax: (203) 432-3898
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Hans-Peter Kohler & Francesco C. Billari & José Antonio Ortega, 2002. "The Emergence of Lowest-Low Fertility in Europe During the 1990s," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 28(4), pages 641-680.
  2. Goldin, Claudia & Sokoloff, Kenneth, 1982. "Women, Children, and Industrialization in the Early Republic: Evidence from the Manufacturing Censuses," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(04), pages 741-774, December.
  3. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2000. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," NBER Working Papers 7527, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy & Robert Tamura, 1994. "Human Capital, Fertility, and Economic Growth," NBER Chapters, in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 323-350 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Goldin, Claudia & Katz, Lawrence F., 2000. "Education and Income in the Early Twentieth Century: Evidence from the Prairies," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(03), pages 782-818, September.
  6. Hoyt Bleakley & Fabian Lange, 2009. "Chronic Disease Burden and the Interaction of Education, Fertility, and Growth," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 52-65, February.
  7. Barro, Robert J & Becker, Gary S, 1989. "Fertility Choice in a Model of Economic Growth," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 481-501, March.
  8. Guinnane, Timothy & Streb, Jochen, 2009. "Moral Hazard in a Mutual Health-Insurance System: German Knappschaften, 1867-1914," Working Papers 70, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  9. Tommy E. Murphy, 2010. "Persistence of Malthus or Persistence in Malthus? Mortality, Income, and Marriage in the French Fertility Decline of the Long Nineteenth Century?," Working Papers 363, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  10. Timothy W. Guinnane & Jochen Streb, 2010. "Moral Hazard in a Mutual Health-Insurance System: German Knappschaften, 1867–1914," Ruhr Economic Papers 0163, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
  11. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "Education and Income in the Early 20th Century: Evidence from the Prairies," NBER Working Papers 7217, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Price V. Fishback & Shawn Everett Kantor, 2000. "A Prelude to the Welfare State: The Origins of Workers' Compensation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number fish00-1, July.
  13. Esteban A. Nicolini, 2006. "Was Malthus Right? A Var Analysis Of Economic And Demographic Interactions In Pre-Industrial England," Working Papers in Economic History wh060601, Universidad Carlos III, Instituto Figuerola de Historia y Ciencias Sociales.
  14. Michael R. Haines, 1994. "The Population of the United States, 1790-1920," NBER Historical Working Papers 0056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Oded Galor, 2005. "The Demographic Transition and the Emergence of Sustained Economic Growth," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 494-504, 04/05.
  16. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
  17. Martha J. Bailey, 2009. ""Momma's Got the Pill": How Anthony Comstock and Griswold v. Connecticut Shaped U.S. Childbearing," NBER Working Papers 14675, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Gary S. Becker & Robert J. Barro, . "A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility," University of Chicago - Population Research Center 85-11, Chicago - Population Research Center.
  19. Timothy Guinnane & Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2008. "Institutions and Demographic Responses to Shocks: Württemberg, 1634-1870," Working Papers 962, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  20. Robert T. Michael & Robert J. Willis, 1976. "Contraception and Fertility: Household Production under Uncertainty," NBER Chapters, in: Household Production and Consumption, pages 25-98 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Oded Galor, 2004. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," GE, Growth, Math methods 0409003, EconWPA.
  22. Sascha Becker & Francesco Cinnirella & Ludger Woessmann, 2010. "The trade-off between fertility and education: evidence from before the demographic transition," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 177-204, September.
  23. Timothy Guinnane & Barbara Okun & James Trussell, 1994. "What do we know about the timing of fertility transitions in europe?," Demography, Springer, vol. 31(1), pages 1-20, February.
  24. John C. Brown & Timothy W. Guinnane, 2007. "Regions and time in the European fertility transition: problems in the Princeton Project's statistical methodology -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 60(3), pages 574-595, 08.
  25. Khoudour-Castéras, David, 2008. "Welfare State and Labor Mobility: The Impact of Bismarck's Social Legislation on German Emigration before World War I," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 68(01), pages 211-243, March.
  26. Niels Framroze Møller & Paul Sharp, 2008. "Malthus in Cointegration Space: A new look at living standards and population in pre-industrial England," Discussion Papers 08-16, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  27. Tommy E. Murphy, 2010. "Old Habits Die Hard (Sometimes) Can département heterogeneity tell us something about the French fertility decline??," Working Papers 364, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  28. Oded Galor, 2006. "The Demographic Transition," Working Papers 2006-24, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  29. Easterlin, Richard A., 1981. "Why Isn't the Whole World Developed?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(01), pages 1-17, March.
  30. Easterlin, Richard A., 1976. "Population Change and Farm Settlement in the Northern United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(01), pages 45-75, March.
  31. Michael Anderson & Ronald Lee, 2002. "Malthus in state space: Macro economic-demographic relations in English history, 1540 to 1870," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 15(2), pages 195-220.
  32. Moehling, Carolyn M., 1999. "State Child Labor Laws and the Decline of Child Labor," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 72-106, January.
  33. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, July.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:egc:wpaper:990. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Louise Danishevsky)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.