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Thread: Lower fertility in Europe started in France before industrialization

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.

    Lower fertility in Europe started in France before industrialization



    See:
    https://www.nber.org/papers/w25957

    I find this very interesting. Why? Why did the French suddenly decide they wanted fewer children? Why did other countries follow that "fashion"? What methods did they use? I doubt it was always just abstinence. Did they discover that most women are fertile only roughly in the middle of their cycle?

    See:
    https://www.nber.org/papers/w25957

    "We investigate the determinants of the fertility decline in Europe from 1830 to 1970 using a newly constructed dataset of linguistic distances between European regions. We find that the fertility decline resulted from a gradual diffusion of new fertility behavior from French-speaking regions to the rest of Europe. We observe that societies with higher education, lower infant mortality, higher urbanization, and higher population density had lower levels of fertility during the 19th and early 20th century. However, the fertility decline took place earlier and was initially larger in communities that were culturally closer to the French, while the fertility transition spread only later to societies that were more distant from the cultural frontier. This is consistent with a process of social influence, whereby societies that were linguistically and culturally closer to the French faced lower barriers to the adoption of new social norms and attitudes towards fertility control."




    Last edited by Angela; 19-06-19 at 23:29.


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    The French discovered smoking, drinking coffee, eating cheese & drinking wine and arguing about politics. It took up all of their day. They had no time left for procreation ;)!

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    This low fertility during the 1800s is why France lost its main European power status by the 1870s-1910s.

    And low fertility between 1918 and 1939, after huge losses in WW1, made them reluctant to fight in WW2.

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Tomenable View Post
    This low fertility during the 1800s is why France lost its main European power status by the 1870s-1910s.

    And low fertility between 1918 and 1939, after huge losses in WW1, made them reluctant to fight in WW2.
    More probable was tgat france was suoplying french canada in that period with boat loads of young women....before this exercise, there where 8 men per 1 women there
    Fathers mtdna T2b17
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigsnake49 View Post
    The French discovered smoking, drinking coffee, eating cheese & drinking wine and arguing about politics. It took up all of their day. They had no time left for procreation ;)!
    they stopped smoking

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by bigsnake49 View Post
    The French discovered smoking, drinking coffee, eating cheese & drinking wine and arguing about politics. It took up all of their day. They had no time left for procreation ;)!
    We've been eating cheese and drinking wine for hundreds of years! How else would we have come up with 1 type of cheese for every day of the year? It's a myth BTW: we have way more cheeses than 365 => it's actually closer to 1500. Besides, eating cheese, smoking and drinking red wine (very occasionally in my case, though) can be so much more fulfilling in every way than procreating
    More seriously, maybe women were just fed up with men and had other things to do.

    Extract from Graham Robb's book The Discovery of France:


    To judge by the reactions of contemporary travellers, the biggest surprise would be the preponderance of women in the fields. Until the mid-to-late nineteenth century, almost everywhere in France, apart from the Provencal coast (but not the hinterland), the North East and a narrow region from Poitou to Burgundy, at least half the people working in the open air were women. In many parts, women appeared to do the lion’s share of the work.

    This simple fact was soon erased from histories of France by writers who either never saw the countryside or thought it futile to make distinctions between the potatoes in a sack.

    From the Loire valley to the Alps and Corsica, women ploughed, sowed, reaped, winnowed, threshed, gleaned and gathered firewood, tended the animals, baked bread, fed it to the men and children, kept house … and gave birth to more hungry mouths. …

    All along the Atlantic coast, women were seen ploughing the fields, slaughtering animals and sawing wood while the men stretched out on piles of heather in the sun. In the Auvergne, in order to clear the snow, milk the cows, feed the pig, fetch the water, make the cheese, peel and boil the chestnuts and spin the cloth, women rose earlier and went to bed later than men.

    Some tasks, like fetch the water, were considered exclusively female. Very little was considered exclusively male. At Granville on the Cotentin peninsula, women fished, repaired boats and worked as stevedores and carpenters; In the Alps, they were yoked to asses and hitched to ploughs, and sometimes lent to other farmers. Before the snow had melted, they could be seen scattering black earth on the thaw, and lugging baskets of soil up to fields so steep that the animals sometimes toppled over in a strong wind.

    The report on Southern Normandy cruelly suggested that women were treated as beasts of burden because hard work had robbed them of their beauty: a sun-baked, arthritic creature was hardly an ornament and might as well be put to work. In parts like the Southern Auvergne, where society was patriarchal, women seemed to belong to a different caste. Tribal justice has left little trace in official records, but anecdotical evidence suggests that a woman born in the Velay, the Vivarais or the Gévaudan was more likely than women elsewhere to be beaten and raped with impunity, and more likely to be sold into marital slavery for the sake of consolidating farmland.

    Further north, women’s status was reflected in address – the husband called his animals, chilren and wife “tu”, while she addressed him formally as “vous”. In many parts, while guns were fired and church bells tolled for the birth of a baby boy, the appearance of a girl was considered an embarrassing non-event.

    Hundreds of misogynistic proverbs from all parts of France seemed to confirm the impression that this was a barbaric society of sarcastic, sponging bullies:

    Oats to goats and wine to women is wasted wealth. (Vosges)

    Marry your daughter far away and keep your dung heap close to home. (Vexin, Normandy)

    A dead wife, a living horse, a wealthy man. (Brittany)

    A man has but two good days in his life: The day of his wedding and the day he buries his wife. (Provence, Languedoc, Gascony, Basque country)

    No female equivalent of those misogynistic sayings have survived. However, given the fact that nearly all of them were recorded by men, this is hardly surprising. And there are other proverbs that imply a certain unease at female solidarity : “At the well, the mill, the oven and the wash-house, women leave nothing unsaid”; “When a woman comes back from the stream (where the laundry is done), she could eat her man alive”.

    Any of those women in the fields might have explained that none of this exactly matched the truth. The women worked because the men were in the high summer pastures, or out at sea, or on a seven-month tour of France, selling trinkets from a wicker basket. When the men returned to the harbour or the mountains, the women were naturally in charge. They organized the farms, repaired the buildings, negotiated with landowners and officials and strucked deals with traders. Often, the women were the first to migrate to the city or the plain, and the first to create an industrial economy by selling their wares to travelling marchants. Many of them had no particular reason to wait for the men’s return. Women in France are still automatically associated, in magazines, advertisements and casual conversation, with husbands and children. Yet nineteenth century censuses show that over a third of all women were single, and that 12 per cent of women over fifty had never married.
    The casual use of “les hommes” to refer to the whole population is blatantly inappropriate. It is no exaggeration to say that the predominantly rural economy of France was supported and to a large extent run by women. This might explain why, despite earning half a man’s wages for the same work, women in France were often thought to have too much power and why the anti-feminist reforms of Napoleon and the Restoration government were so draconian. The Code Civil of 1804 denied married women the right to control their own property. The Code Pénal of 1811 effectively made a wife’s adultary an excuse for murder.

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    Does that distribution not follow the implimentation of the metric system?

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    In a word: Napoleon

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    @Tardis Blue,

    Hence, as my nonna said: when my children were born, I only asked one question: is it a boy or a girl? If it was a girl, I cried.

    Don't misunderstand me: our peasant farm men worked like mules, winding up bent and broken. However, you're right. The women worked just as hard, and at things that today are not considered "women's work". On top of all that they had to bear child after child, nurse them, and on and on.

    It was only the oldest woman who stayed indoors to cook and do the wash and help mind the little ones, although the older children took care of the younger a lot of the time. In my mother's family it was my great-grandmother. All the other women, grandmother, aunts, even my mother for a while when she was young, were out in the fields and with the animals doing the same work as the men. That included when they were pregnant, at least until the last month or so, and then it was back outside to work, with the baby strapped in a sling for nursing. They even had a sort of wooden board to which the baby was strapped which they could hang in a nearby tree.

    Yes, the men worked just as hard, also working into the night mending tools, etc., but at least they didn't have to bear the children, give birth to them, and nurse them as well.

    Even if you started out with a strong sex drive, I would think a life like this would dry it up.

    The question for me is, why France, and why then.

    I can tell you this drive toward fewer children had spread to northern Italy already by the 1920s. When I grew old enough to understand the whispers of the older people, I learned that my paternal grandfather was looked down upon for his "selfishness" (even by the men) in giving my grandmother 11 children. Everyone else had three or four even then. I never had the nerve to ask in what "way" he was selfish.

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Angela View Post
    See:
    https://www.nber.org/papers/w25957

    I find this very interesting. Why? Why did the French suddenly decide they wanted fewer children? Why did other countries follow that "fashion"? What methods did they use? I doubt it was always just abstinence. Did they discover that most women are fertile only roughly in the middle of their cycle?

    See:
    https://www.nber.org/papers/w25957

    "We investigate the determinants of the fertility decline in Europe from 1830 to 1970 using a newly constructed dataset of linguistic distances between European regions. We find that the fertility decline resulted from a gradual diffusion of new fertility behavior from French-speaking regions to the rest of Europe. We observe that societies with higher education, lower infant mortality, higher urbanization, and higher population density had lower levels of fertility during the 19th and early 20th century. However, the fertility decline took place earlier and was initially larger in communities that were culturally closer to the French, while the fertility transition spread only later to societies that were more distant from the cultural frontier. This is consistent with a process of social influence, whereby societies that were linguistically and culturally closer to the French faced lower barriers to the adoption of new social norms and attitudes towards fertility control."




    I think around that time( of Napoleon) there were a number of medical advances which resulted in a larger number of surviving babies. That resulted in a population explosion, and people realized that 10 babies were no longer needed to have 3 surviving. Other countries were soon to follow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tutkun Arnaut View Post
    I think around that time( of Napoleon) there were a number of medical advances which resulted in a larger number of surviving babies. That resulted in a population explosion, and people realized that 10 babies were no longer needed to have 3 surviving. Other countries were soon to follow.
    You might be on to something there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Angela View Post
    @Tardis Blue,
    Hence, as my nonna said: when my children were born, I only asked one question: is it a boy or a girl? If it was a girl, I cried.
    Don't misunderstand me: our peasant farm men worked like mules, winding up bent and broken. However, you're right. The women worked just as hard, and at things that today are not considered "women's work". On top of all that they had to bear child after child, nurse them, and on and on.
    It was only the oldest woman who stayed indoors to cook and do the wash and help mind the little ones, although the older children took care of the younger a lot of the time. In my mother's family it was my great-grandmother. All the other women, grandmother, aunts, even my mother for a while when she was young, were out in the fields and with the animals doing the same work as the men. That included when they were pregnant, at least until the last month or so, and then it was back outside to work, with the baby strapped in a sling for nursing. They even had a sort of wooden board to which the baby was strapped which they could hang in a nearby tree.
    Yes, the men worked just as hard, also working into the night mending tools, etc., but at least they didn't have to bear the children, give birth to them, and nurse them as well.
    Even if you started out with a strong sex drive, I would think a life like this would dry it up.
    The question for me is, why France, and why then.
    I can tell you this drive toward fewer children had spread to northern Italy already by the 1920s. When I grew old enough to understand the whispers of the older people, I learned that my paternal grandfather was looked down upon for his "selfishness" (even by the men) in giving my grandmother 11 children. Everyone else had three or four even then. I never had the nerve to ask in what "way" he was selfish.
    You wrote the very words I was just about to write.

    Indeed the men worked like mules. At hay-making time, they would start scything the grass just before daybreak, ie around 5 am - the most back-breaking activity I have ever tried. No wonder the women did the milking. The men were in the fields, and milking the cows was a comparatively light task. Around 8 am, a child or a woman would be sent to the meadows with "the soup" for the men, a light broth with some wine in it and thin slices of bread. There was a short break. The men would then scythe until around 10 am, when the dew lifted and the mowing became almost impossible. By then they would probably be exhausted. They worked in teams, one behind the other, to ensure the younger men (often teenagers) would have no choice but to keep pace with the tougher ones. Then the women would join them in the fields to undo the nice regular rows the scythes had left behind - a way to get the hay to dessicate faster. In the afternoons, they would take home the hay they had mown two or three days earlier. They would load the carts with pitchforks, regardless of the oppressive heat. The work day ended long after sunset.

    The same went at harvest time. Then there would be the plowing, then the potatoes to reap - no machines, it was done plant after plant with handtools. In the winter there would be the logging to do. Women took no part in that. There were few days off, and no holidays.

    All this doesn't explain why the number of babies dropped abruptly in the mid-1800s. A fact corroborated by my own family history: eight children in the 1790s. Eight children in the 1820s. Then the next three generations with only two children each.

    The workload can hardly be an explanation, because my guess is that it was just as heavy in the previous centuries. I also very much doubt that my peasant ancestors had any notion of birth control.

    What we have to bear in mind is the fact that the Industrial Revolution was a terrible period for city workers (cf Dickens and Zola), but it was a blessing for the farmers. When the railways were built, the prices of food rocketed. People from the cities came to the farms to buy whatever there was for sale - meat, eggs, milk, grains, vegetables, anything and everything. The second half of the 19C was a period of unprecedented prosperity in the country. Since the Revolution, most farmers were no longer shareholders fleeced by local lords. They made money for themselves. My hunch is that parents didn't want their estates to literally go to pieces, when bequeathed to the next generation. They just limited the number of heirs, probably through abstinence. Just a guess, but, knowing my own people, I think it makes sense.

    @TardisBlue : in my own family, women would stand around and serve the men while they were having their meals. They would not sit at the family table with them. They would also do most of the chores cited in your post. BUT they were by no means slaves. They were very strong-headed women who definitely had their say in the decision-making and family affairs. If the testimonies of their sons-in-law are anything to go by, some of them were tyrants of their own kind. In my family, the spouses would address each other with "tu" (the informal form of address), while the children said "vous" to their parents. My own dad said "vous" to my grandfather, who died in 1968.

    So there was indeed a sense of gender hierarchy, but it was probably a far cry from what is described above.
    It is therefore worth while to search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge; and examine by what measures, in things whereof we have no certain knowledge, we ought to regulate our assent and moderate our persuasion. (John Locke)

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    As with any situation, in any country, there were decent men, and not so decent men. Some men did indeed beat their wives, and no one could prevent them. It was their right. Those old sayings represent the culture. That's not to say it was always like that in every family. I've often told the story that my Neapolitan grandmother in law told me she made it clear to her husband to be that she would fulfill all her obligations: clean the house, have good food on the table, bear and rear his children. If, however, he ever laid a hand on her in anger, he had better not go to sleep, because he'd never wake up. So, there were some strong women, married to decent men, for whom this wasn't an issue. The very fact she felt she had to say it, however, is proof it existed and was indeed common.

    As for the farm work, perhaps it varied from place to place, depending on whether they owned their own land or were mezzadri or tenant farmers, whether there were enough sons for the land they had to tend, how prosperous they were, etc.. In our area the poorer women did indeed scythe with the men, and help with the cutting down and gathering of wood, and carried bricks, as well as helping with the planting and harvesting. I've heard it not only from great aunts but from my mother and father, and a few wonderful photographers created a priceless collection of photos of a life which was vanishing, and good riddance too.










    Your explanation sounds good except that the authors insist it started in France before industrialization, so I'm still puzzled by the timing.

    To be indelicate for a moment, I do think "coitus interruptus" was known even to the ancients, but obviously not used very much. Perhaps they got some inkling around the early 1800s that women were more fertile during the middle of the cycle?

    Or perhaps you were on the right track, and farm goods didn't bring as much money as they used to, and so you needed fewer children to tend the land?

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    People worked very hard at the time (as detailed above), so having many children helped. There was also high infancy morality and no guarantee of a healthy child to begin with.
    One reason for the lower fertility rate could be a lower male to female ratio. The exporting of men to colonies or to the sea, while the men who stayed having regional work that required months of separation, could have been one of the reasons. Fewer opportunities = fewer children.

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    It's an interesting subject.

    A commonly given explanation is that a change in the succession laws at the beginning of the XIXth century caused the drop in natality. The new succession laws forced the parents's heritage to be equally divided among the children whereas in the past the parents's heritage could be entirely given to one child. Thus the small landowners-farmers that comprised most of the French population decided to make the fewest children possible so as to prevent the plot of land of their forefathers to be lost by the future generation.

    Another explanation is the one involving the triumph of liberalism and individualism following the French Revolution. France was quickly dechristianized and people might have had a mindset closer to our own than to that of their grandparents. French politicians were well aware of this natality problem and tried to increase it especially because they knew that France and Germany would soon be at war again. But it didn't work and in 1939 Germany had 80 million inhabitants and France only 41 million whereas in 1800 both countries had about the same population. Liberalism does no good to a nation.

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