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



Historically, the French Canadian population of Quebec, Canada, is known for its high fertility, which lasted well into the 20th century, and for its late fertility transition. Within Quebec, regions such as Saguenay are known for having experienced an even more delayed fertility transition.


In Quebec, as elsewhere, various factors modulated the transition, and differential behaviors and timing can be observed across socioeconomic groups. These factors are studied here in the context of the Saguenay region, where particularly rich data are available. The region was mostly rural at first, but industrialization and urbanization occurring since the beginning of the 20th century allow us to study socioeconomic reproductive differentials before and during the transition.


To do so, we rely on the BALSAC database, which contains all church and civil records from the onset of colonization around 1840 up to 1971. In addition to the usual descriptive statistics, we use Cox models to analyze the probability of having a first birth and higher order births among four socioeconomic groups defined with HISCLASS coding.


The results demonstrate the late timing of the transition and a clear progression from the non-manual and skilled workers, who show the first signs of declining fertility during the 1930s, to the farmers, who do the same only at the end of the 1950s. As a result, socioeconomic fertility differentials widened during the transition period.


Even in a context where the transition was significantly delayed compared to most other regions studied in this issue, some socioeconomic differentials were observed prior to the transition, and they widened during the transition due to the differential progression of contraceptive practices among couples.

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. …

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