Academic journal article Demographic Research

Social Class and Net Fertility before, during, and after the Demographic Transition: A Micro-Level Analysis of Sweden 1880-1970

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Social Class and Net Fertility before, during, and after the Demographic Transition: A Micro-Level Analysis of Sweden 1880-1970

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

The decline of fertility in the demographic transition has been a major theme in historical demography for some time. Much of the literature focusing on the demographic aspects of the decline has sought to chart the process without actually explaining it. Other studies have offered explanations for the decline mainly at the macro level, identifying either innovation or adjustment processes as the main causal agents. Scholars have shown less interest in examining disaggregated patterns using micro-level analyses.

One of the main issues that arises in discussions of the fertility decline is the extent to which fertility levels differ according to socioeconomic status, and how these differences evolved over the fertility transition. Most demographers appear to agree that having higher social status was associated with having higher fertility prior to the transition, but that this situation reversed during the transition, or even before it occurred (Livi-Bacci 1986; Skirbekk 2008). While it is therefore often assumed that higher social groups were forerunners in the decline (Haines 1992; Livi-Bacci 1986), the question of whether the change happened because new incentives were affecting the elite groups first (adjustment), or if it came about as a result of a diffusion of new ideas first adopted in these high-status groups (innovation), remains unresolved (see Haines 1992).

As some of the differences in fertility levels between socioeconomic groups may have also been related to spatial differences in socioeconomic structure, rather than to social status as such (Garrett et al. 2001); it is essential that researchers control for the spatial aspect when analyzing socioeconomic stratification and fertility in national populations (see also Szreter 1996).

The aim of this article is to study the socioeconomic differentials in fertility before, during, and after the transition. We use data from the Swedish censuses of 1880, 1890, 1900, 1960, and 1970. As these data cover the entire population (about five to seven million individuals in each census), we can investigate the socioeconomic pattern in considerable detail, while controlling for spatial heterogeneity.

The main advantage of using census data is that, because of the broad coverage provided by the census, we are able study fertility differentials by socioeconomic status across space, without having to deal with the problems associated with using a small sample size. The data also offer quite detailed information on occupation, which allows us to classify individuals using standard class schemes. The main disadvantage of using historical census data (1880, 1890, 1900) is that they do not contain information on births by the age of the woman. Thus, when computing conventional fertility rates, we have to rely on indirect measures, such as child-woman ratios. However, previous analysis has shown that these measures are quite accurate in depicting socioeconomic fertility differentials, even in a context of moderately high mortality (Scalone and Dribe 2012). The data are also lacking in other variables that might have helped to explain possible class differences. Hence, the main focus of our analysis will be on how class differences evolved over time, but our discussion of the possible explanations for these differences will be more tentative.

In the first part of the paper, we provide some background information on the fertility transition in Sweden, and summarize the main analytical framework for studying socioeconomic differences in reproductive behavior. We then describe the census data, provide some indirect estimates of fertility by socioeconomic status, and present the main empirical analysis.

2. Background

When we first look at the development of fertility in Sweden over a longer time span (see Figure 1), it is clear that the long-term level of fertility was quite stable until the last quarter of the 19th century: i. …

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