MEHR Seminar: Jacob Weisdorf, University of Copenhagen, 'The Child Quantity-Quality Trade-off in England during the Industrial Revolution'

Abstract: We take Gary Becker's child quantity-quality trade-off hypothesis to the historical record, investigating the causal link from family size to the educational status of offspring using data from Anglican parish registers, c. 1700-1830. Since public schooling was not yet widespread we proxy educational status of offspring by whether or not they had an occupation which required substantial training (i.e. more than one year) and whether they were literate or not. Extraordinarily for historical data, the parish records enable us to control for parental literacy, longevity and social class, as well as sex and birth order of offspring. In a world without modern contraception and among the couples whose children were not prenuptially conceived we are able to explore a novel source of exogenous variation in family size: marital fecundability as measured by the time interval from the marriage to the first birth. Consistent with previous findings among historical populations, we document a large and significantly negative effect of family size on children's educational status.