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Women and economic growth: the European marriage pattern in the context of modern day countries

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  • Victoria Bateman

    () (University of Cambridge)

Abstract

"In recent years, the European Marriage Pattern (EMP) has received renewed attention. De Moor and Van Zanden (2010) and Voigtländer and Voth (2006, 2013) have argued that a high age of female first marriage in pre-industrial Europe had a strong hand in explaining why certain parts of Europe, notably England and the Netherlands, were successfully able to advance, and, by inference, why Europe was ultimately able to overtake the East, leading to the West’s economic dominance up to the modern day. Underlying this story is a more general hypothesis of female empowerment, particularly in the years which followed the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century. At a time of growing interest in feminism, and when global bodies such as the World Bank and United Nations are placing emphasis on gender equality as a means to economic development, this type of explanation of European success has significant appeal in the wider public domain. With this modern day agenda in mind, a small number of economic historians have begun to contrast the EMP with conditions in today’s developing countries (see, for example, Engelen and Puschman, 2011, Carmichael, 2011 and Carmichael and van Zanden, 2015). However, the future contribution of economic historians to the question of how poor countries can become rich comes with an important caveat: a question mark over the impact of the relatively high age at marriage on fertility and, more generally, a debate as to the real extent of female empowerment in Europe in the pre-modern period (Clark, 2007, chapter 4; Lee and Wang, 1999; Dennison and Ogilvie, 2014; Humphries and Weisdorf, 2015). Further exploration is clearly required and there is a particular need to bring together the type of work conducted by economic historians with that of economic growth theorists and development economists. As such, this paper uses data on modern day countries to explore whether factors such as the female first age of marriage and the fertility rate can deliver economic success, as measured in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction. Econometric analysis is carried out on a sample of over 150 modern day countries, whilst a comparison of China and India provides a more detailed case-study. The results provide support for the notion that female empowerment, through its effect on fertility, is an important contributor to economic performance and that it can help account for the difference in performance between China and India over the last three decades. In particular, this paper finds that one less child per woman raises the economic growth rate of an economy by around 0.5% a year (in per capita terms) and lowers the poverty rate by 7%- points. Applying these results suggests that had the birth rate in China not fallen over the last forty years, the poverty rate in the country today would now be 37% instead of the current 11%. Furthermore, we find that the greater success that China has experienced in terms of decreasing fertility compared with India explains 70% of difference in poverty between the two countries. Moreover, not only would reducing fertility help in South Asia, this paper also finds that it would have a dramatic effect in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the results of the data analysis suggesting that reducing fertility to 2.1 births per woman (the level required for a stable population) would cut the poverty rate in the region by half."

Suggested Citation

  • Victoria Bateman, 2016. "Women and economic growth: the European marriage pattern in the context of modern day countries," Working Papers 16023, Economic History Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehs:wpaper:16023
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    References listed on IDEAS

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