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How the West "invented" fertility restriction

  • Nico Voigtländer
  • Joachim Voth

We analyze the rise of the first socio-economic institution in history that limited fertility – long before the Demographic Transition. The "European Marriage Pattern" (EMP) raised the marriage age of women and ensured that many remained celibate, thereby reducing childbirths by up to one third between the 14th and 18th century. To explain the rise of EMP we build a two-sector model of agricultural production – grain and livestock. Women have a comparative advantage in the latter because plow agriculture requires physical strength. After the Black Death in 1348-50, land abundance triggered a shift towards the landintensive pastoral sector, improving female employment prospects. Because women working in animal husbandry had to remain unmarried, more farm service spelled later marriages. The resulting reduction in fertility led to a new Malthusian steady state with lower population pressure and higher wages. The model can thus help to explain the divergence in income per capita between Europe and Asia long before the Industrial Revolution. Using detailed data from England after 1290, we provide strong evidence for our mechanism. Where pastoral agriculture dominated, more women worked as servants, and marriage occurred markedly later. Overall, we estimate that pastoral farming raised female ages at first marriage by more than 4 years.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1264.

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Date of creation: Dec 2008
Date of revision: Dec 2012
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1264
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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