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Cliometrica

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 25–54 | Cite as

Key forces behind the decline of fertility: lessons from childlessness in Rouen before the industrial revolution

  • Sandra Brée
  • David de la CroixEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

To better understand the forces underlying fertility decisions, we look at the forerunners of fertility decline. In Rouen, France, completed fertility dropped between 1640 and 1792 from 7.4 to 4.2 children. We review possible explanations and keep only three: increases in materialism, in women’s empowerment, and in returns to education. The methodology is one of analytic narrative, bringing together descriptive evidence with a theoretical model. We accordingly propose a theory showing that we can discriminate between these explanations by looking at childlessness and its social gradient. An increase in materialism or, under certain conditions, in women’s empowerment, leads to an increase in childlessness, while an increase in the return to education leads to a decrease in childlessness. Looking at the Rouen data, childlessness was clearly on the rise, from 4% in 1640 to 10% at the end of the eighteenth century, which appears to discredit the explanation based on increasing returns to education, at least for this period.

Keywords

Demographic transition Childlessness Quality-quantity trade-off Forerunners Women’s empowerment 

JEL Classification

J13 N33 O11 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the financial support of the project ARC 15/19-063 of the Belgian French-speaking Community. We thank Jean-Pierre Bardet, Paula E. Gobbi, and two referees for comments on an earlier draft.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Demographic ResearchUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.IRES and COREUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

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