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Endogenous Fertility, Mortality and Economic Growth: Can a Malthusian Framework Account for the Conflicting Historical Trends in Population?

  • Isaac Ehrlich
  • Jinyoung Kim

The 19th century economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, hypothesized that the long-run supply of labor is completely elastic at a fixed wage-income level because population growth tends to outstrip real output growth. Dynamic equilibrium with constant income and population is achieved through equilibrating adjustments in "positive checks" (mortality, starvation) and "preventive checks" (marriage, fertility). Developing economies since the Industrial Revolution, and more recently especially Asian economies, have experienced steady income growth accompanied by sharply falling fertility and mortality rates. We develop a dynamic model of endogenous fertility, longevity, and human capital formation within a Malthusian framework that allows for diminishing returns to labor but also for the role of human capital as an engine of growth. Our model accounts for economic stagnation with high fertility and mortality and constant population and income, as predicted by Malthus, but also for takeoffs to a growth regime and a demographic transition toward low fertility and mortality rates, and a persistent growth in per-capita income.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11590.

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Date of creation: Sep 2005
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Publication status: published as "Endogenous fertility, mortality and economic growth: Can a Malthusian framework account for the conflicting historical trends in population?" Journal of Asian Economics, 16 (2005), pp. 789-806.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11590
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  1. 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.
  2. Ehrlich, Isaac & Lui, Francis, 1997. "The problem of population and growth: A review of the literature from Malthus to contemporary models of endogenous population and endogenous growth," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 205-242, January.
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  15. Kalemli-Ozcan, Sebnem & Ryder, Harl E. & Weil, David N., 2000. "Mortality decline, human capital investment, and economic growth," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 1-23, June.
  16. Matthias Doepke, 2001. "Accounting for Fertility Decline During the Transition to Growth," UCLA Economics Working Papers 804, UCLA Department of Economics.
  17. Ehrlich, Isaac & Lui, Francis T, 1991. "Intergenerational Trade, Longevity, and Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 1029-59, October.
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