Marital fertility and wealth during the fertility transition: rural France, 1750–1850

Neil Cummins
Published Online:
10 Oct 2012
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 66 Issue 2

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It has been long established that the demographic transition began in eighteenth‐century France, yet there is no consensus on exactly why fertility declined. This analysis links fertility life histories to wealth at death data for four rural villages in France, 1750–1850. For the first time, the wealth–fertility relationship during the onset of the French fertility decline can be analysed. Where fertility is declining, wealth is a powerful predictor of smaller family size. This article argues that fertility decline in France was a result of changing levels of economic inequality, associated with the 1789 Revolution. In cross‐section, the data support this hypothesis: where fertility is declining, economic inequality is lower than where fertility is high.

© Economic History Society 2012

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