Dimensions of rational decision-making during the demographic transition; Aranjuez (Spain) revisited

Glenn Sandström, Umeå University
David Sven Reher, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Focusing on the issue of rational decision-making and human agency in historical contexts this paper investigates the influence of childhood mortality and the sex composition of the surviving offspring during the demographic transition in Spain. The main results show that parents adjusted their behavior in accordance with the number of surviving children and that child fatalities tended to stimulate further childbearing. Thus, parents seem to have actively regulated their fertility in order to achieve a minimum number of surviving children that would reach adulthood. Further, the results indicate that this active adjustment of fertility to compensate for child fatalities increased as the fertility transition progressed in the early twentieth century. As another indicator of agency in fertility decisions we use the sex composition of the surviving offspring. Also in this case, the results indicate that couples actively regulated their fertility to achieve a desired sex composition among the surviving children. Families that lacked surviving male offspring show a significant increase in the propensity for additional childbearing as compared to couples having a mixed or only boys sibset. Thus it seems, as the desire to have surviving boys was more important than having girls though the ideal sibset combination was one of each sex and that couples actively regulated their fertility to achieve this goal.

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Presented in Session 114: Demographic transition from micro-perspective, 18-20th century