Mar 1, 1983
Population and Development Review
Smiths reply to an article by Birdsall on fertility and economic change in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe refutes many of Birdsalls arguments. Smiths original argument was misunderstood. Birdsall appears to apply a theory of fertility change based on an economic interpretation of perceived costs and advantages of children in the household. This approach is not novel. It derives from a theory of fertility transition concerned with the changing relative costs of children in the process of industrialization. Birdsall can only validate empirically the phase of late industrialization and fertility by characterizing the whole nineteenth century as a period in which fertility continuously fell. This is done by Birdsall in a highly questionable fashion. Birdsall also seems too willing to accept the link between growing rural/protoindustrial activity and increasingly youthful female marriage age. These relationships are not straightforward and the evidence is too limited to provide a firm basis for generalization. It is doubtful whether the marital fertility evidence can withstand David Levines interpretation. Levine may also have overstated the case of fertility control. Birdsall states that the increasing significance of time-intensive and earnings-reducing children that develops with rising real wages would be expected to reveal a decline in marital fertility. The evidence for investigating this thesis is not very adequate according to Smith. There is too great a preoccupation with the prohibition on child labor as evidenced in the Factory Acts. This can produce an insensitivity to the great variety of experiences concerning child employment patterns.