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Optimal fertility during World War I

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  • Vandenbroucke, Guillaume

Abstract

During World War I (1914–1918) the birth rates of countries such as France, Germany, the U.K., Belgium and Italy declined by almost 50 percent. The age structure of these countries’ populations were significantly affected for the duration of the 20th century. In France, where the population was 40 millions in 1914, the deficit of births is estimated to 1.36 millions over 4 years while military losses are estimated at 1.4 millions. In short, the fertility decline doubled the demographic impact of the War. Why did fertility decline so much? The conventional wisdom is that fertility fell below its optimal level because of the absence of men gone to war. I challenge this view using the case of France. I construct and calibrate a model of optimal fertility choice where households reaching their childbearing years on the eve of WWI face a loss of husband’s income during the War as well as an increase in the probability that the wife remains alone after the War. I calibrate this probability using the casualties sustained by the French army. The model accounts for 97% of the fertility decline even though it does not feature any physical separations of couples. It also accounts for no less than half of the increase in fertility after the War, and generates a temporary increase in the age at birth as observed in the French data. This effect of the War on the optimal level of fertility is robust to alternative calibrations.

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  • Vandenbroucke, Guillaume, 2011. "Optimal fertility during World War I," MPRA Paper 35709, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:35709
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Galor, Oded, 2006. "The Demographic Transition," MPRA Paper 76646, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Matthias Doepke & Moshe Hazan & Yishay D. Maoz, 2015. "The Baby Boom and World War II: A Macroeconomic Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(3), pages 1031-1073.
    3. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2005. "The Baby Boom and Baby Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 183-207, March.
    4. Ran Abramitzky & Adeline Delavande & Luis Vasconcelos, 2011. "Marrying Up: The Role of Sex Ratio in Assortative Matching," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 124-157, July.
    5. Larry E. Jones & Alice Schoonbroodt & Michèle Tertilt, 2010. "Fertility Theories: Can They Explain the Negative Fertility-Income Relationship?," NBER Chapters, in: Demography and the Economy, pages 43-100, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Stefania Albanesi & Claudia Olivetti, 2014. "Maternal health and the baby boom," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 5, pages 225-269, July.
    7. Larry Jones & Alice Schoonbrodt, 2016. "Baby Busts and Baby Booms: The Fertility Response to Shocks in Dynastic Models," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 22, pages 157-178, October.
    8. Gary S. Becker & Robert J. Barro, 1988. "A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 103(1), pages 1-25.
    9. Rodolfo E. Manuelli & Ananth Seshadri, 2009. "Explaining International Fertility Differences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 771-807.
    10. Ellen R. M cG rattan & Lee E. Ohanian, 2010. "Does Neoclassical Theory Account For The Effects Of Big Fiscal Shocks? Evidence From World War Ii," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 51(2), pages 509-532, May.
    11. Michael Bar & Oksana Leukhina, 2010. "Demographic Transition and Industrial Revolution: A Macroeconomic Investigation," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(2), pages 424-451, April.
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    1. About fertility declines in wars
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2012-01-27 21:31:00

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Fertility ; war ; growth ; uncertainty;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • E1 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation

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