The History of Fertility Transitions and the New Memeplex

The View from Hell

Sarah Perry, October 2014

Abstract

European cultures have historically prevented people from restricting family size within marriage. The European marriage pattern allowed for the control of fertility only through delaying and restricting nuptiality. A new pattern, allowing for controlled fertility within marriage, simultaneously originated in New England and France in the late eighteenth century. The new pattern traveled with a new set of values, including suffrage, democracy, equality, women’s rights, and social mobility. Its main mechanism of spread was education, the availability of which also incentivized the new fertility pattern’s adoption by providing a clear way for parents to compete for the future status of their children by having fewer children. The new pattern spread across Europe, North America, and Australia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, encountering temporary, partial resistance from some groups. Even Catholics and Mormons worldwide adopted controlled fertility by the early twentieth century or…

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