Academic journal article Demographic Research

Socioeconomic Fertility Differentials in a Late Transition Setting: A Micro-Level Analysis of the Saguenay Region in Quebec

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Socioeconomic Fertility Differentials in a Late Transition Setting: A Micro-Level Analysis of the Saguenay Region in Quebec

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The study of socioeconomic stratification and fertility before, during and after the transition has raised various issues that are discussed in the vast literature about the relationship between socioeconomic factors and fertility behavior. Three of these issues are of particular interest to us: first, the role of socioeconomic explanations in understanding the fertility transition; second, the existence of socioeconomic stratification before the transition; and, third, the evolution of socioeconomic differentials during the fertility transition. The Saguenay region being studied was on the verge of reaching its "after the transition" phase in 1971, which means we cannot consider this last phase with the data used in this paper.

After many decades of competing theories placing emphasis on economic or cultural explanations for the fertility transition in Western societies, in which the works of Thompson (1929), Notestein (1945), Coale (1973), Easterlin (1978), Caldwell (1982), Coale and Watkins (1986), Lesthaeghe and Wilson (1982), and Lesthaeghe and Surkyn (1988) occupy a prominent place, one can say that some consensus has been reached about the importance of both types of explanation and about the specificity of their combined effect in various contexts. Some even argued that socioeconomic factors underpinned the fertility transition, while cultural determinants largely conditioned its pace in various contexts (for example, Lesthaeghe and Wilson 1982). Despite the unique features of the fertility (and demographic) transition in each society, it is also acknowledged that using comparative approaches can further enhance our understanding of crucial aspects of the fertility transition, and this certainly includes the need for a careful examination of the role of socioeconomic factors in various settings.

The question of whether a socioeconomic stratification of fertility behavior existed prior to the transition has been fueled recently by the very detailed work undertaken by Tsuya et al. (2010) in various parts of Europe (Sweden, Belgium, Italy) and Asia (Japan, China) using sophisticated techniques applied to detailed micro-level data. Interestingly, these studies demonstrate the existence of socioeconomic fertility differentials and differentiated mechanisms allowing for adjustments to exceptional economic conditions even before the transition. These results have great relevance for questions about socioeconomic differentials prior to the transition that can be asked in other contexts using similar techniques, which is one of the goals of this special issue.

The third issue raised concerns the socioeconomic differentials in reproductive behavior during and after the transition period, which is directly linked to the differential experience of the fertility transition by various socioeconomic groups. This issue has been widely studied in various national or regional settings, although not always with micro-level data allowing for the direct observation of individual experiences of declining fertility; these studies usually demonstrate that the fertility transition was socioeconomically differentiated. A few other studies have also directly addressed this specific issue (see, for example, Westoff 1954; Wrong 1958): according to these, socioeconomic differentials tended to widen during the transition, as the upper classes were often at the forefront of the transition, and to narrow afterwards, when the "norm" favoring two children became more generalized.

What do we know about these issues in the context of the Canadian and Quebec experience of the fertility transition? The fertility transition literature in Canada emphasizes the significant differences between English-speaking provinces, especially Ontario, and the largely French Catholic population of Quebec, a province known for its high fertility levels and its delayed fertility transition (Charles 1948; Henripin 1968; McInnis 2000; Beaujot 2000; Gauvreau, Gervais, and Gossage 2007). …

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