The Impact of Freedom on Fertility Transition: Revisiting the Theoretical Framework

Martha M. Campbell, University of California, Berkeley
Nuriye Nalan Sahin-Hodoglugil, University of California, Berkeley
Malcolm Potts, University of California, Berkeley

This paper suggests that the number and height of the barriers that separate people from the fertility regulation technologies and information they need to limit family size provides a plausible and comprehensive explanation for the timing of fertility decline to (or beyond) replacement level. Drawing on demographers’ wide ranging research, our systematic review of the many types of barriers, and of examples of past fertility decline without exogenous change, provides compelling evidence that the amount of freedom that women have to decide whether and when to have a child provides a more satisfactory explanation for the timing of fertility decline than all major theoretical explanations offered over the past six decades. We suggest a latent demand for having control over one’s own reproduction is present among women in all societies and all centuries, activated when women see the costs (defined broadly) of family planning use are lower than the benefits.

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Presented in Session 13: The Onset of Fertility Decline in Africa