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The Cultural Diffusion of the Fertility Transition: Internal Migrations in Nineteenth Century France

Final Report Summary - TCDOFT (The Cultural Diffusion of the Fertility Transition: Internal Migrations in Nineteenth Century France)

France is usually viewed as an anomaly by studies (e.g. Galor and Weil, 2000, Galor, 2012) which consider that the decline in fertility is a key element in the transition from “Malthusian” to modern economic growth. This is because French birth rates began to decline in the late 18th century, and the differences in the fertility rates between the French regions disappeared in the course of the 19th century to reach a uniformly low level across the country before WWI. Studies on the demographic transition in France (Weir, 1994, Murphy, 2015), however, suggest that domestic economic changes were not substantial and rapid enough to explain, on their own, the demographic transition.
It is however possible that increased social interactions, which spread information and cultural norms, may have contributed to the convergence in fertility rates (Murphy, 2015). In this respect, it is worth noting that the French did not migrate to the New World during the 19th century but moved within France. There was a near doubling in the number of internal migrants who could have contributed to the creation of networks which reduced bilateral transaction costs and stimulated the diffusion of economic and cultural information.
This research investigates whether the progressive regional convergence of fertility rates in France during the second half of the 19th century was fostered by the rise in internal migration which conveyed economic and cultural information. For this purpose, it focuses on the specific patterns of internal migration between 1861 and 1911 between the French departments, i.e. the administrative divisions of the French territory which were established in 1790.
The study compute a bilateral matrix of inter-regional migrations that relies on the Survey of the 3000 Families, which provides information on the place of birth and death of all the individuals whose last name starts by the three letters "T", "R" and "A" (Dupâquier, 2004). This dataset is combined with the data on departmental fertility computed by Bonneuil (1997) so that the migrants’ contribution to the demographic transition is assessed by constructing, for each department, the fertility norms of immigrants and emigrants as weighted averages of the fertility rates in the migrants' origin and destination department, in line with the approach of Spilimbergo (2009). The identification strategy is then motivated by the progressive development of the railroad network: it relies on exogenous variations in the bilateral costs between the French departments that entailed a time-varying decrease in travel costs and had a positive effect on migration. There is indeed substantial anecdotal evidence that the railroad network was developed independently from fertility patterns and migration choices (Caron, 1997).
The results show that fertility declined more in areas that (i) had more emigration and (ii) whose migrants migrated towards low-fertility regions, especially Paris. These results are robust to accounting for the potential confounding effects of factors such as declining child mortality, increased life expectancy, rising education levels, industrialization and religiosity. The interpretation is that emigrants who moved from high- to low-fertility areas transmitted cultural and economic information about fertility norms and the cost of raising children in the regions where they had settled to the inhabitants of the regions where they came from. This information might have been then taken into account by actual and would-be emigrants, thus explaining why we find that departments with a larger share of emigrants experienced a larger drop in fertility. This interpretation is supported by the counterfactual analysis which shows that emigration to Paris, which accounted for 26.33% of the total number of French internal emigrants between 1861 and 1911, explains half of the national decline in fertility, in line with the economic, political and cultural importance of Paris within France. Finally, it is notable that child mortality is the only socio-economic variable which has a significant, albeit quantitatively limited, effect on the fertility decline while our robustness checks establish that other potential factors of information diffusion and cultural change, such as newspapers, the age at marriage or the number of children born out of wedlock, do not weaken the impact of migration on the decline in fertility.
All in all, the study provides a different perspective from research which links economic development to fertility decline because almost no study has so far tackled the effects of migration on the transmission of fertility norms between the destination and source countries. However, the cultural integration of migrants within the host countries is a relevant issue, not only in academic debates but also for decision-making policy. This is why an historical perspective on migration and the cultural transmission on fertility norms in 19th century France, at a time when a national identity in France was slowly developed, matters. Its implications are obviously far-reaching: they concern issues such as educational investments for children of immigrants as well as brain drain migration and illegal migration.
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