Detecting Deliberate Fertility Control in Pre‐transitional Populations: Evidence from six German villages, 1766–1863

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article deals with the possible existence of deliberate fertility control before the fertility transition. The timing of the fertility response to economic stress, as measured by fluctuations in grain prices, is used as a measure of deliberate, but non-parity specific, control. Birth histories from six German villages (1766–1863), including information on occupation of the husband, are used together with community-wide grain price series in a micro-level event-history analysis. The results show a negative fertility response to grain prices both in the year immediately following the price change, and with a 1-year lag. The response was also highly different between socioeconomic groups, with the most pronounced effects among the unskilled laborers. Moreover, the response in this group was very rapid, already present 3–6 months after the price change. As all involuntary fertility responses to economic hardship (e.g., malnutrition, spousal separation, and spontaneous abortion) come with a considerable time lag, the existence of such a rapid response among the lower social groups suggests that individual agency (deliberate control) was an important aspect of reproductive behavior also before the fertility transition.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • Deliberate fertility control, Natural fertility, Economic stress, Cox proportional hazards model, Historical demography
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-434
JournalEuropean Journal of Population
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch