The transition of the reproductive life course in 19th century Europe. A sequential approach

Reto Schumacher, University of Geneva
Koen Matthijs, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Michel Oris, Université de Genève

Thanks to extensive research in population history and historical demography during the last 5 decades, we have got a good understanding of the first European fertility decline in the late 19th century. We know when and where the decline started, we know how fast it happened in the different regions, and we also know which behavioral determinants led to the decline in fertility. However, still little is known about the changes in the reproductive life course during the fertility transition. In this paper, we explore the transition of the reproductive life course during the first decline of fertility in Europe. We conceptualize the reproductive life course as the timing and the sequencing of events relating to reproduction, such as marriage and first and consecutive births. In a historical European population, the earliest stage of the reproductive life course typically relates to the phase between the beginning of the potentially reproductive age and entry into sexual union. It is followed by the interval between marriage and the first birth. The childbearing period is marked by the rhythm of successive births. The last stage of the reproductive life course is a period of potentially reproductive age during which no more births occur. In order to explore the diversity of life course transitions during the decline in fertility, we use historical datasets relating to a series of different European regions in the 19th century (Antwerp, Geneva, the Netherlands, Sweden and Wallonia). Applying descriptive and analytic techniques of sequence analysis, we also investigate individual variation. At each stage of the fertility transition, we identify subtypes of the reproductive life course and assess which social groups are parts of them. Doing so, we also address the de-standardization of the pre-transitional life course as well as the re-standardization process towards a post-transitional reproductive life course.

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Presented in Session 11: History