Munich Personal RePEc Archive

The United States Fertility Decline: Lessons from Slavery and Slave Emancipation

Wanamaker, Marianne (2009): The United States Fertility Decline: Lessons from Slavery and Slave Emancipation.

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Abstract

Economic theories of fertility decline often center on the rising net price of children. But empirical tests of such theories are hampered both by the inability to adequately measure this price and by endogeneity bias. I develop a model of household production in the 19th century United States with own children and slave labor as inputs and use the model to show how the price of own children would have changed with changes in the household’s slaveholdings. I propose that slave children born to mothers owned by Southern households imparted plausibly exogenous shocks to the net price of the slaveowning household’s own children. Using a panel dataset of white Southern households between 1850 and 1870, I measure the fertility response of families to this changing price and show a strong, negative correlation between the predicted price of children and household fertility rates. To further corroborate these results, I measure the fertility response of households to another shock to the price of their own children: slave emancipation. Again, I find a strong, negative correlation between predicted prices and fertility rates. The results are consistent with theories of the demographic transition centered on the rising price of children.

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