The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By José Miguel Guzmán; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

19
A Century and a Quarter of Fertility Change in Argentina: 1869 to the Present

EDITH A. PANTELIDES


Introduction

This chapter will review the course of fertility change in Argentina over the past century and a quarter. Our slice of history begins in 1869, the date of the first national population census, but we shall include some indicators from earlier dates. The story ends towards the present, in the first half of the 1980s, the most recent period for which data are available.

During this century and a quarter, we witness the drop in the country's levels of fertility, interrupted only by two brief 'baby boom' periods In this chapter we will concentrate on analysing the early stages of the process of decline, up to the moment at which it is obvious that the fertility 'transition' has been completed. It is necessary to attempt to understand why fertility levels fell in Argentina so much earlier than in the rest of Latin America (except Uruguay). We believe that the available data do not allow us to definitively state what happened and why, but they do suggest plausible explanations. Of the two periods when fertility rose, the first (end of the 1940s) has not been studied and, once again, the data and resources available offer little hope that this may be done. The second period (the 1970s) is more accessible; there already exists one study that attempts to establish its characteristics ( Pantelides 1989), and whose conclusions will be summarized here.

The work of a demographer who wishes to study Argentine fertility is very similar to that of a detective. The first hurdle is the very existence of the data. Both in the past and at present the data from the vital statistics system are fragmentary and provide little information beyond the age of the mother (sometimes) and the sex of the new-born child. In even earlier years, in some provinces, there is much more detailed information, but it is discontinuous, both over time and as regards the collection criteria used and the variables considered (see Pantelides 1984b: appendix tables). Even in the recent past there are frequent changes with respect to the time unit, that is, the definition of the year to which the data refer (including or not part of the vital events occurring in earlier or later years). An additional complication arises out of the registration amnesties, which the provinces decreed at various times, and which produce 'artificial' increases in the number of births.

The censuses are an interesting alternative source, even though their irregular

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