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Demography. 1997 Nov;34(4):443-54.

Explaining fertility transitions.

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  • 1Program on Population, Honolulu, HI 96848-1601, USA. MasonK@Hawaii.edu


In this essay, I suggest that the crisis in our understanding of fertility transitions is more apparent than real. Although most existing theories of fertility transition have been partially or wholly discredited, this reflects a tendency to assume that all fertility transitions share one or two causes, to ignore mortality decline as a precondition for fertility decline, to assume that pretransitional fertility is wholly governed by social constraints rather than by individual decision-making, and to test ideas on a decadal time scale. I end the essay by suggesting a perceptual, interactive approach to explaining fertility transitions that is closely allied to existing theories but focuses on conditions that lead couples to switch from postnatal to prenatal controls on family size.

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