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

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Date received:16 Sep 2016
Date published:22 Aug 2017
Word count:8200
Keywords:fertility, historical demography, household, Italy, socioeconomic status


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

Rosella Rettaroli - Università di Bologna (UNIBO), Italy [Email]
Alessandra Samoggia - Università di Bologna (UNIBO), Italy [Email]
Francesco Scalone - Università di Bologna (UNIBO), Italy [Email]

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