MEHR Seminar: Nina Boberg-Fazlic, University of Copenhagen, 'Nothing but a poor man with money? Explaining the changing fertility decisions of the rich before the English demographic transition'

Abstract: This paper investigates the socio-economic fertility differential in pre-industrial England. Although the onset of the demographic transition is usually dated around 1870, we find that the richer groups of society started limiting fertility much earlier than this. Thereby, a reversal in the fertility pattern emerges where the rich have more children than the poor up to the 1700's and fewer by the early 19th century. A possible theoretical explanation for this pattern is presented in Galor and Moav (2002). This model includes heterogeneous agents, quality and quantity types, differing in their preference for education of their children. The economy then goes through a transition phase where the quality types are affected by a quantity-quality trade-off first and thus limit fertility earlier than other agents in the economy. We use data collected by the Cambridge group to provide an empirical test of the theory. First, we show that the fertility decline among the richer groups of society indeed was a conscious decision. Exploring the intergenerational structure of the data, we then present evidence for this choice being due to different preferences of the rich. Finally, these different preferences seem in fact to be about quality or education. This is evident from both literacy rates as well as skill levels. Whereas other empirical studies have pointed at the early fertility transition of the rich, no explanation has so far been provided. This paper shows that one such explanation could well be the differing strength in preferences for education between different groups of society.