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J Interdiscip Hist. 1982;13(1):17-40.

Fertility transition in a New England commercial center: Nantucket, Massachusetts, 1680-1840.



This study examines the marriage and fertility behavior of the white population of nantucket from the beginning of white settlement in the late 17th century. Data are drawn from Nantucket's vital records: about 6000 marriages were recorded between 1680-1840 and mean number of children ever born was between, 8(1720-29) to 3.45(1830-39). The latter fluctuated prior to 1740, dropped during the 1740s and declined again in the 1780s. Age at marriage for women of complete families increased over the period from 19.3 in 1680-1709 to 25.3 from 1800-1809. The pattern of change parallels that of the decrease in mean number of children ever born. The most substantial increases in female age at 1st marriage occurred at the same times as the most substantial decreases in mean number of children. The patterns of 1st marriage for males is different prior to 1740. Nantucket men 1st married at an average age of about 24; between 1740-80 the age dropped 1 year and after 1780 it rose steadily until it reached 25.6. Although the decrease in marital fertility was not consistent in all decades and in all age groups, a decline is nonetheless evident after 1740. Decrease in complete family size that remains unexplained by the increase in female mean age at 1st marriage is accounted for by this decline in marital fertility. It is shown that the declines in fertility after 1740 resulted from the combined impact of rising age at 1st marriage for women and conscious age to limit family size. The 1st signs of conscious fertility control appear as early as the 1730s where an increase in variance range of family size occurs. Some factors affecting fertility control might have been population density, economics, and increased female labor force participation.

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