Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 79–101 | Cite as

Fertility, female labor force participation, and the demographic dividend

  • David E. BloomEmail author
  • David Canning
  • Günther Fink
  • Jocelyn E. Finlay
Open Access


We estimate the effect of fertility on female labor force participation in a panel of countries using abortion legislation as an instrument for fertility. We find that removing legal restrictions on abortion significantly reduces fertility and estimate that, on average, a birth reduces a woman’s labor supply by almost 2 years during her reproductive life. Our results imply that behavioral change, in the form of increased female labor supply, contributes significantly to economic growth during the demographic transition when fertility declines.


Fertility Labor supply Demographic dividend 

JEL Classification

J13 J22 O15 


  1. Anarfi J. (2003) The role of local herbs in the recent fertility decline in Ghana: Contraceptives or abortifacients?. In: Magone J.M., Basu A.M. (eds) The sociocultural and political aspects of abortion: Global perspectives. Greenwood Publishing Group, WestportGoogle Scholar
  2. Angrist J., Evans W. (1998) Children and their parents’ labor supply: Evidence from exogenous variation in family size. The American Economic Review 88(3): 450–477Google Scholar
  3. Angrist, J. D., & Evans, W. N. (1996). Schooling and labor market consequences of the 1970 state abortion reforms. NBER Working Paper W5406.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey M.J. (2006) More power to the pill: The impact of contraceptive freedom on women’s lifecycle labor supply. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 121(1): 289–320Google Scholar
  5. Barro R.J., Lee J.W. (2001) International data on education attainment: Updates and implications. Oxford Economic Papers 53(3): 541–563. doi: 10.1093/oep/53.3.541 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Becker G., Tomes N. (1976) Child endowments and the quantity and quality of children. The Journal of Political Economy 84(4): 143–162. doi: 10.1086/260536 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Becker G.S. (1965) A theory of the allocation of time. The Economic Journal 75: 493–517. doi: 10.2307/2228949 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker G.S., Glaeser E.L., Murphy K.M. (1999) Population and economic growth. The American Economic Review 89(2): 145–149Google Scholar
  9. Besley T., Case A. (2000) Unnatural experiments? Estimating the incidence of endogenous policies. The Economic Journal 110(467): 672–694. doi: 10.1111/1468-0297.00578 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bloom D.E., Canning D. (2003) Contraception and the Celtic Tiger. The Economic and Social Review 34(3): 229–247Google Scholar
  11. Bloom, D. E., Canning, D., Fink, G., & Finlay, J. E. (2007). Fertility, female labor force participation, and the demographic dividend. NBER Working Paper, 13583.Google Scholar
  12. Bloom D.E., Canning D., Graham B. (2003) Longevity and life cycle savings. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics 105(3): 319–338. doi: 10.1111/1467-9442.t01-1-00001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bloom D.E., Canning D., Malaney P. (2000) Demographic change and economic growth in Asia. Population and Development Review 26: 257–290Google Scholar
  14. Bloom D.E., Canning D., Mansfield R., Moore M. (2007) Demographic change, social security systems, and savings. Journal of Monetary Economics 54(1): 92–114. doi: 10.1016/j.jmoneco.2006.12.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bloom, D. E., Canning, D., & Sevilla, J. (2003). The demographic dividend: A new perspective on the economic consequences of population change. Population Matters Monograph MR-1274, RAND, Santa Monica.Google Scholar
  16. Bloom D.E., Freeman R.B. (1986) The effects of rapid population growth on labor supply and employment in developing countries. Population and Development Review 12(3): 381–414. doi: 10.2307/1973216 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bloom D.E., Williamson J.G. (1998) Demographic transitions and economic miracles in emerging Asia. The World Bank Economic Review 12(3): 419–455Google Scholar
  18. Bongaarts J. (1978) A framework for analyzing the proximate determinants of fertility. Population and Development Review 4(1): 105–132. doi: 10.2307/1972149 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Brander J.A., Dowrick S. (1994) The role of fertility and population in economic growth. Journal of Population Economics 7(1): 1–25. doi: 10.1007/BF00160435 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Browning M. (1992) Children and household economic behavior. Journal of Economic Literature 30(3): 1434–1475Google Scholar
  21. Canning D. (1988) Increasing returns to scale in industry and the role of agriculture in growth. Oxford Economic Papers 40(3): 463–476Google Scholar
  22. Engelhardt H., Prskawetz A. (2004) On the changing correlation between fertility and female employment over space and time. European Journal of Population 20(1): 35–62. doi: 10.1023/B:EUJP.0000014543.95571.3b CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Galor O. (2005) The demographic transition and the emergence of sustained economic growth. Journal of the European Economic Association 3(2–3): 494–504. doi: 10.1162/jeea.2005.3.2-3.494 Google Scholar
  24. Galor O., Weil D.N. (1996) The gender gap, fertility, and growth. The American Economic Review 86(3): 374–387Google Scholar
  25. Galor O., Weil D.N. (1999) From Malthusian stagnation to modern growth. The American Economic Review 89(2): 150–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Galor O., Weil D.N. (2000) Population, technology, and growth: From Malthusian stagnation to the demographic transition and beyond. The American Economic Review 90(4): 806–828Google Scholar
  27. Goldin C. (1995) The U-shaped female labor force function in economic development and economic history. In: Schultz T.P. (eds) Investment in women’s human capital and economic development. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp 61–90Google Scholar
  28. Greenhouse L. (2005) Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s supreme court journey. Times Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Henshaw S.K., Singh S., Haas T. (1999) The incidence of abortion worldwide international. Family Planning Perspectives 25: S30–S38. doi: 10.2307/2991869 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Heston, A., Summers, R., & Aten, B. (2006). Penn world table version 6.2. Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  31. Imbens G., Angrist J. (1994) Identification and estimation of local average treatment effects. Econometrica 62(2): 467–476. doi: 10.2307/2951620 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. International Labor Organization. (1997). Economically active population, 1950–2010. Geneva: ILO.Google Scholar
  33. International Labour Organization. (2007). ILO database on labour statistics. International Labour Organization Bureau of Statistics.Google Scholar
  34. Kelley A.C., Schmidt R.M. (1995) Aggregate population and economic growth correlations: The role of the components of demographic change. Demography 32(4): 543–555. doi: 10.2307/2061674 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kelly W.R., Cutright P. (1983) Determinants of national family planning effort. Population Research and Policy Review 2(2): 111–130. doi: 10.1007/BF00141248 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Klerman J.A. (1999) U.S. abortion policy and fertility. The American Economic Review 89(2): 261–264Google Scholar
  37. Levine P.B., Staiger D., Kane T.J., Zimmerman D.J. (1999) Roe v Wade and American fertility. American Journal of Public Health 89(2): 199–203. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.89.2.199 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mammen K., Paxson C. (2000) Women’s work and economic development. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 14(4): 141–164Google Scholar
  39. Medoff M.H., Dennis C., Bishin B.G. (1995) Bimodal issues, the median voter model, Legislator’s ideology, and abortion. Atlantic Economic Journal 23(4): 293–303. doi: 10.1007/BF02298765 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Murray M.P. (2006) Econometrics: A modern introduction. Addison-Wesley, BostonGoogle Scholar
  41. Peel J., Potts M., Diggory P. (1977) Abortion. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Romer C.D., Romer D.H. (1989) Does monetary policy matter? A new test in the spirit of Friedman and Schwartz. NBER Macroeconomics Annual 4: 121–170. doi: 10.2307/3584969 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Romer C.D., Romer D.H. (1994) Monetary policy matters. Journal of Monetary Economics 34(1): 75–88. doi: 10.1016/0304-3932(94)01150-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rosenzweig M.R., Schultz T.P. (1985) The demand for and supply of births: Fertility and its life cycle consequences. The American Economic Review 75(5): 992–1015Google Scholar
  45. Rosenzweig M.R., Wolpin K.I. (1980) Testing the quantity-quality fertility model: The use of twins as a natural experiment. Econometrica 48(1): 227–240. doi: 10.2307/1912026 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ross J., Stover J. (2001) The family planning program effort index: 1999 cycle. International Family Planning Perspectives 27(3): 119–129. doi: 10.2307/2673833 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Singh, S., & Wulf, D. (1996, December). An overview of clandestine abortion in Latin America. Guttmacher Institute Issues in Brief.Google Scholar
  48. Smith J.P., Ward M.P. (1985) Time-series growth in the female labor force. Journal of Labor Economics 3(1): 59–90. doi: 10.1086/298076 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stock J.H., Yogo M. (2005) Testing for weak instruments in linear IV regression. In: Andrews D.W.K., Stock J.H. (eds) Identification and inference for econometric models: Essays in honor of Thomas Rothenberg. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  50. United Nations. (2002). Abortion policies: A global review. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Accessed 2007, from
  51. United Nations. (2007). World population prospects: The 2006 revision. United Nations.Google Scholar
  52. World Bank. (2006). World Bank development indicators CD-ROM.Google Scholar
  53. Young A. (1995) The tyranny of numbers: Confronting the statistical realities of the East Asian growth experience. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 110(3): 641–680. doi: 10.2307/2946695 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David E. Bloom
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Canning
    • 1
  • Günther Fink
    • 1
  • Jocelyn E. Finlay
    • 1
  1. 1.Program on the Global Demography of AgingHarvard School of Public Health, Harvard UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations