Volume 37 - Article 15 | Pages 455–492  

Does socioeconomic status matter? The fertility transition in a northern Italian village (marriage cohorts 1900‒1940)

By Rosella Rettaroli, Alessandra Samoggia, Francesco Scalone


Background: The paper explores the mechanisms of the European fertility transition in northern Italy by social group.

Objective: Our objective is to understand when and in which sectors of a rural society the reduction of family size began. We focus on Emilia-Romagna, a region that in the 1990s had the lowest fertility level in Italy. The core purpose of this paper is the analysis of socioeconomic status (SES) fertility differentials, especially between rural sharecroppers and landless rural workers, as well as other non-agricultural groups.

Methods: Our analysis focuses on the reproductive histories of marriage cohorts in the years 1900‒1940. We perform a micro-level statistical analysis of legitimate births of parity 1+.

Results: In this period fertility decline has just begun, and shows a strong decline in the post-WWI marriage cohorts. Although nonagricultural groups lead the downward trend in family size, the role of socioeconomic status means that the path of sharecropper households is atypical.

Conclusions: The fertility transition proceeds by means of spacing and stopping, testifying to a new attitude towards birth control, which agricultural and nonagricultural social groups adopted in different ways. Usually, the decline in fertility progresses from nonagricultural to rural classes. In the rural world the path is inverted, going from the lower to the upper groups.

Contribution: The paper contributes to the debate on the links between socioeconomic status and fertility transition in Italy. It shows that the link between household economy and control of fertility is specific to SES groups, which can follow atypical paths, compared to the known reference model. The use of microdemographic data provides evidence for the hypothesis that the fertility transition can be shaped by the specific social and economic characteristics of population subgroups.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Variations in male height during the epidemiological transition in Italy: A cointegration approach
Volume 48 - Article 7

Neonatal mortality, cold weather, and socioeconomic status in two northern Italian rural parishes, 1820–1900
Volume 39 - Article 18

Social class and net fertility before, during, and after the demographic transition: A micro-level analysis of Sweden 1880-1970
Volume 30 - Article 15

Similarities and differences between two cohorts of young adults in Italy: Results of a CATI survey on transition to adulthood
Volume 15 - Article 5

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

Ultra-Orthodox fertility and marriage in the United States: Evidence from the American Community Survey
Volume 49 - Article 29    | Keywords: age at first marriage, American Community Survey (ACS), fertility, Judaism, marriage, religion, total fertility rate (TFR), Ultra-Orthodox Judaism

Advanced or postponed motherhood? Migrants’ and natives’ gap between ideal and actual age at first birth in Spain
Volume 49 - Article 22    | Keywords: actual age at first birth, age at arrival, fertility, ideal age at first birth, international migration, motherhood, Spain

Describing the Dutch Social Networks and Fertility Study and how to process it
Volume 49 - Article 19    | Keywords: fertility, Netherlands, personal networks, social influence

Partial fertility recuperation in Spain two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
Volume 49 - Article 17    | Keywords: COVID-19, fertility, recuperation, Spain

The quality of fertility data in the web-based Generations and Gender Survey
Volume 49 - Article 3    | Keywords: accuracy, data quality, fertility, Generations and Gender Survey (GGS)