The trade-off between fertility and education: evidence from before the demographic transition

Sascha O. Becker, Francesco Cinnirella, Ludger Woessmann

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95 Citations (Scopus)


The trade-off between child quantity and quality is a crucial ingredient of unified growth models that explain the transition from Malthusian stagnation to modern growth. We present first evidence that such a trade-off indeed existed already in the nineteenth century, exploiting a unique census-based dataset of 334 Prussian counties in 1849. Furthermore, we find that causation between fertility and education runs both ways, based on separate instrumental-variable models that instrument fertility by sex ratios and education by landownership inequality and distance toWittenberg. Education in 1849 also predicts the fertility transition in 1880-1905.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-204
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Economic Growth
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Fertility transition
  • Nineteenth-century Prussia
  • Schooling
  • Unified growth theory

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