A Theory of Fertility: From High Plateau to Desestabilization

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Citation: Caldwell, John C. (1978) A Theory of Fertility: From High Plateau to Desestabilization. PDR (RSS)

Tagged: uw-madison (RSS), wisconsin (RSS), sociology (RSS), demography (RSS), prelim (RSS), qual (RSS), WisconsinDemographyPrelimAugust2009 (RSS)


The author argues that each mode of production has its own demographic laws. The idea is that demography is dependent on economic laws that are particular to each mode of production. He argues that there are only two stable fertility regimes: one of the traditional societies where fertility is as high as possible and the other is the one of modern societies where childbearing is low. In traditional societies, children provide a positive net flow of resources, services, and status-honor up the generational ladder to parents, especially to the patriarch. Besides, extended families are ways of providing old-age security in traditional societies. Therefore, there is always an incentive for additional children. On the other hand, in modern societies, there is a reversal of the wealth flow, and parents contribute time, money, services, and support downward to children with minimal expectations of any return. There are few incentives for fertility in modern societies. The nucleation of the family makes children (not parents) the net economic beneficiaries of family life therefore, there is a reversal of the intrafamilial wealth flow. The reasons for the destabilization of high-fertility regimes are variable: in developed countries, the emergence of capitalism proportionates an incentive to better education. The spread of education increased the children's cost and this generated disincentives for fertility. Therefore, the author argues that the decisive change in fertility in Western Europe was due to the rise in cost of children due to the increases in education and decreases in their labor inputs. Girls also increased their education, which favored changes in aspirations. Changes in aspirations were also influenced by the spread of market economy. Finally, in developing countries the "Westernization" (ideological change) favored via international communications and the mass media and the increase in schooling favored declines in fertility.