Detecting Deliberate Fertility Control in Pre-transitional Populations: Evidence from six German villages, 1766–1863

  • Martin Dribe
  • Francesco Scalone


This article deals with the possible existence of deliberate fertility control before the fertility transition. The timing of the fertility response to economic stress, as measured by fluctuations in grain prices, is used as a measure of deliberate, but non-parity specific, control. Birth histories from six German villages (1766–1863), including information on occupation of the husband, are used together with community-wide grain price series in a micro-level event-history analysis. The results show a negative fertility response to grain prices both in the year immediately following the price change, and with a 1-year lag. The response was also highly different between socioeconomic groups, with the most pronounced effects among the unskilled laborers. Moreover, the response in this group was very rapid, already present 3–6 months after the price change. As all involuntary fertility responses to economic hardship (e.g., malnutrition, spousal separation, and spontaneous abortion) come with a considerable time lag, the existence of such a rapid response among the lower social groups suggests that individual agency (deliberate control) was an important aspect of reproductive behavior also before the fertility transition.


Deliberate fertility control Natural fertility Historical demography Cox proportional hazards model Economic stress 

Mise en évidence d’un contrôle volontaire des naissances dans des populations pré-transitionnelles: Le cas de 6 villages allemands, 1766–1863


Cet article s’intéresse à l’existence possible d’un contrôle volontaire des naissances avant la transition de la fécondité. Le calendrier de l’évolution de la fécondité en fonction de la tension économique, mesurée par les fluctuations du prix des céréales, est utilisé comme mesure de contrôle volontaire des naissances, mais non lié à la parité. Des histoires génésiques comprenant la catégorie professionnelle du père, provenant de six villages allemands (1766-1863), sont utilisées en association avec des séries temporelles des prix des céréales au niveau communautaire pour effectuer une analyse biographique au niveau individuel. Les résultats indiquent une évolution négative de la fécondité en fonction du prix des céréales, à la fois dans l’année qui suit le changement de prix et l’année d’après. Cette évolution était très variable en fonction du groupe social, avec un effet maximal parmi les travailleurs non qualifiés. De plus, la réaction dans ce dernier groupe était très rapide, car déjà visible 3 à 6 mois après le changement de prix. Sachant que toutes les modifications involontaires de fécondité face aux difficultés économiques (par exemple à la malnutrition, aux ruptures conjugales, et aux avortements spontanés) ne se produisent qu’après un délai très long, l’existence d’une réaction si rapide parmi les groupes sociaux les plus défavorisés laisse penser que l’initiative individuelle (contrôle volontaire) était déjà, avant la transition de la fécondité, un aspect important du comportement reproducteur.


Contrôle délibéré des naissances Fécondité naturelle Démographie historique Modèle de Cox Pression économique 



Financial support from the Linnaeus Centre for Economic Demography, Lund University is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Economic DemographyLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Department of Economic HistoryLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of SassariSassariItaly

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