The Impact of the WWI Agricultural Boom and Bust on Female Opportunity Cost and Fertility
Using variation in crop prices induced by large swings in demand World War I, we examine the fertility response to increases in crop revenues during the period 1910-1930. Our estimates from samples utilizing both complete count decennial census microdata and newly collected county-level data from state health reports indicate that a doubling of the agricultural price index reduced fertility by around 8 percent both immediately and in the years following the boom. We further document that this effect was more pronounced in more agrarian areas and where the labor intensity of agriculture was more intense. Extensive robustness checks and analysis of potential mechanisms indicate that the decrease in fertility was driven by increased female opportunity costs which dominated any household income effects resulting from the price boom.
We would like to thank Rachel Johnson, Melissa Pregason, Marco Taylhardat, Justin Bailey, and Anthony Manucci for data entry assistance. We would also like to thank Carolyn Moehling, Melissa Thomasson, and Lauren Hoehn Velasco for making data available. We thank E. Jason Baron, Brian Beach, Briggs Depew, Ezra Goldstein, Alex Hollingsworth, Matt Jaremski, Taylor Jaworski, Shawn Kantor, and seminar participants at Florida State University and Vanderbilt for helpful feedback. Finally, any errors contained within are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.