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Family Limitation and the Fertility Transition: Evidence from the Age Patterns of Fertility in Europe and Asia

Publication Abstract

Knodel, John E. 1977. "Family Limitation and the Fertility Transition: Evidence from the Age Patterns of Fertility in Europe and Asia." Population Studies, 31(2): 219-49.

The recent decline in fertility in a number of Asian countries and the data being generated from statistical systems and surveys to document fertility levels and changes in Asia provide an opportunity for comparison with the historical fertility experience in European and other Western countries. A number of studies have drawn attention to the contrast in age-specific fertility between these two groups of countries resulting from important differences in nuptiality levels and trends characterizing the fertility transition in each. There have been few attempts, however, to compare systematically the age pattern of marital fertility levels and decline in more than a small number of these countries. The present study focuses on marital fertility and deals with two questions: (I) How closely do the age patterns of marital fertility in both pre-industrial Europe and modern Asia conform to the age pattern of natural fertility ? (2) How similar are the age patterns of the fertility transition experienced in Europe in the past to the age pattern of fertility decline now under way in a number of Asian populations? The answers have important implications for our understanding of the fertility transition. In brief, they suggest that modern family limitation (i.e. parity-specific fertility control) was largely absent prior to a secular decline in marital fertility in both Europe and Asia. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that once the practice of family limitation starts to spread among the broader strata of the population, it seems almost inevitably to increase until it is a widespread behavioral pattern. In this respect, the modern fertility transition appears to result from the spread of innovative behavior and cannot be viewed simply as an adjustment to new socio-economic circumstances based on previously established behavioural mechanisms.


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