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Colonial origins and fertility: can the market overcome history?

David Canning, Marie Christelle Mabeu and Roland Pongou

MPRA Paper from University Library of Munich, Germany

Abstract: This paper shows that differences in fertility behavior between African countries can be traced back to colonial institutions. Exploiting the arbitrary division of ancestral ethnic homelands and the resulting discontinuity in institutions across the British-French colonial borders, we find that women in formerly British areas are more likely to delay marriage and initiation of sexual intercourse, and that they have fewer children. However, these effects disappear in areas with exogenously high market access, where we also find the opportunity cost of childbearing to be high regardless of the colonizer’s identity. In areas with low market access, the fertility effect of British colonization remarkably mirrors its impact on various measures of local economic development and household welfare. Examining causal mechanisms, we argue that the fertility effect of colonial origins can be directly linked to differences in colonial reproductive laws, and indirectly to the effects of colonial institutions on women’s human capital and economic empowerment, and on child quality. Our analysis is the first to uncover novel findings on the heterogeneous nature of the colonial origins of comparative economic development. These findings imply that appropriately designed economic incentives can overcome the bonds of historical determinism.

Keywords: Fertility; Colonial Origins; Colonial Reproductive Laws; Market Access; Economic Development; Human Capital; Historical Determinism; Africa (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I12 J13 J16 O1 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-02
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Related works:
Working Paper: Colonial Origins and Fertility: Can the Market Overcome History? (2022) Downloads
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