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Natural Fertility in Pre-Industrial Germany

Publication Abstract

Knodel, John E. 1978. "Natural Fertility in Pre-Industrial Germany." Population Studies, 32(3): 481-510.

Evidence from the analysis of reconstituted family histories of couples married before 1850 based on ten village genealogies suggests that family limitation was largely absent in pre-industrial German village populations. By and large, marital fertility schedules of this pre-industrial period conform to the age pattern of natural fertility. Women bore their last child at relatively high ages and apparently were not influenced by previous experience with infant and child mortality. These findings seem to hold over a substantial period and across villages in very different areas of Germany. A positive association between age at marriage and marital fertility at a given age was evident, but in most cases all or a substantial proportion of this relationship could be attributed to several plausible mechanisms other than deliberate attempts to limit family size. In addition, the age at last birth appeared to be unrelated to age at marriage. The results cast doubt on assertions that birth control was widely practised in the pre-industrial period. If any birth control had been practised within marriage in pre-industrial German villages, it was apparently not parity-dependent and thus differed fundamentally from the form of control involved in the modern fertility transition. This suggests that modern, parity-dependent family limitation represented innovative behaviour and casts doubt on interpretations of the fertility transition as purely as adjustment process based on long-standing behavioural mechanisms.


Fertility, Children, Marriage, Age, Genealogy, Husbands, Fertility rates, Spouses, Infants, Stillbirth

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