The Economic History Review

Ready to stop: socioeconomic status and the fertility transition in Stockholm, 1878–1926

Volume 69 Issue 2
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Published online: January 11, 2016DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12275

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The western fertility decline is arguably the most significant demographic change to have occurred in the past 200 years, yet its causes and processes are still shrouded in ambiguity due to a lack of individual-level longitudinal data. A growing body of research has helped improve our understanding of the decline’s causes by examining the development of socioeconomic differences in fertility using historical micro-data, but these have largely only considered rural areas where fertility was generally slower to decline. This article contributes to the literature by utilizing individual-level data from the Roteman Database for Stockholm, Sweden between 1878 and 1926 to examine the association of socioeconomic status and fertility and the adoption of stopping behaviour during the city’s transition. Using piecewise constant hazard models and logistic regression, we find that a clear class pattern arises in which the elite were early practitioners of fertility control, followed by the working classes. As the transition unfolded, socioeconomic differences in stopping behaviour disappeared and overall fertility differentials were also minimized, both of them being consistent with patterns observed in rural populations. The implications of these findings for major explanations of the decline are discussed in the concluding section.