Do fertility transitions influence infant mortality declines? Evidence from early modern Germany

Alan Fernihough, Mark E. McGovern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The timing and sequencing of fertility transitions and early-life mortality declines in historical Western societies indicate that reductions in sibship (number of siblings) may have contributed to improvements in infant health. Surprisingly, however, this demographic relationship has received little attention in empirical research. We outline the difficulties associated with establishing the effect of sibship on infant mortality and discuss the inherent bias associated with conventional empirical approaches. We offer a solution that permits an empirical test of this relationship while accounting for reverse causality and potential omitted variable bias. Our approach is illustrated by evaluating the causal impact of family size on infant mortality using genealogical data from 13 German parishes spanning the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Overall, our findings do not support the hypothesis that declining fertility led to increased infant survival probabilities in historical populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1145-1163
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Population Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Economics and Econometrics


  • Demographic transition
  • Early life conditions
  • Family size
  • Infant mortality

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