Do fertility transitions influence infant mortality declines? Evidence from early modern Germany

Fernihough, Alan; McGovern, Mark
October 2014
Journal of Population Economics;Oct2014, Vol. 27 Issue 4, p1145
Academic Journal
The timing and sequencing of fertility transitions and early-life mortality declines in historical Western societies indicate that reductions in sibship (number of siblings) may have contributed to improvements in infant health. Surprisingly, however, this demographic relationship has received little attention in empirical research. We outline the difficulties associated with establishing the effect of sibship on infant mortality and discuss the inherent bias associated with conventional empirical approaches. We offer a solution that permits an empirical test of this relationship while accounting for reverse causality and potential omitted variable bias. Our approach is illustrated by evaluating the causal impact of family size on infant mortality using genealogical data from 13 German parishes spanning the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Overall, our findings do not support the hypothesis that declining fertility led to increased infant survival probabilities in historical populations.


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