An Economic History of Fertility in the U.S.: 1826-1960

Larry E. Jones, Michele Tertilt

NBER Working Paper No. 12796
Issued in December 2006
NBER Program(s):Children, Development of the American Economy

In this paper, we use data from the US census to document the history of the relationship between fertility choice and key economic indicators at the individual level for women born between 1826 and 1960. We find that this data suggests several new facts that should be useful for researchers trying to model fertility. (1) The reduction in fertility known as the Demographic Transition (or the Fertility Transition) seems to be much sharper based on cohort fertility measures compared to usual measures like Total Fertility Rate; (2) The baby boom was not quite as large as is suggested by some previous work; (3) We find a strong negative relationship between income and fertility for all cohorts and estimate an overall income elasticity of about -0.38 for the period; (4) We also find systematic deviations from a time invariant, isoelastic, relationship between income and fertility. The most interesting of these is an increase in the income elasticity of demand for children for the 1876-1880 to 1906-1910 birth cohorts. This implies an increased spread in fertility by income which was followed by a dramatic compression.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12796

Published: Larry E. Jones, Michèle Tertilt “Chapter 5 An Economic History of Fertility in the United States: 1826–1960.” Volume 1 - Frontiers of Family Economics, ed Peter Rupert. (pp. 165 - 230)

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