Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Colonial origins and fertility: can the market overcome history?

Canning, David and Mabeu, Marie Christelle and Pongou, Roland (2020): Colonial origins and fertility: can the market overcome history?

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This paper shows that differences in fertility behavior between African countries can be traced back to colonial institutions. Exploiting the arbitrary division of ancestral ethnic homelands and the resulting discontinuity in institutions across the British-French colonial borders, we find that women in formerly British areas are more likely to delay marriage and initiation of sexual intercourse, and that they have fewer children. However, these effects disappear in areas with exogenously high market access, where we also find the opportunity cost of childbearing to be high regardless of the colonizer’s identity. In areas with low market access, the fertility effect of British colonization remarkably mirrors its impact on various measures of local economic development and household welfare. Examining causal mechanisms, we argue that the fertility effect of colonial origins can be directly linked to differences in colonial reproductive laws, and indirectly to the effects of colonial institutions on women’s human capital and economic empowerment, and on child quality. Our analysis is the first to uncover novel findings on the heterogeneous nature of the colonial origins of comparative economic development. These findings imply that appropriately designed economic incentives can overcome the bonds of historical determinism.

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