The relationship between economic development and the timing and pace of fertility decline

John Bryant, Mahidol University

There is a consensus among many demographers that ‘socio-economic’, ‘structural’, or ‘demand’ theories of fertility decline are not consistent with the evidence from cross-country development indicators. This paper examines three alleged predictive failures, and raises doubts about all of them. The paper argues that fertility declines in countries with very low levels of development can, in at least some cases, be plausibly explained by socio-economic theories. It argues that, despite some spectacular outliers, statistical models based on socio-economic theories fit the data moderately well. Finally, it argues that, contrary to previous findings, the relationship between fertility and development has been stable over time. These arguments suggest that socio-economic explanations of fertility decline may have been under-valued.

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Presented in Session 41: Fertility decline: onset and stagnation