The Child Quality-Quantity Tradeoff, England, 1770-1880: Is a Fundamental Component of the Economic Theory of Growth Missing?

Gregory Clark, University of California, Davis
Neil Cummins, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

A child quantity/quality tradeoff has been a central to economic theorizing about modern growth. Yet the evidence for this tradeoff is surprisingly limited. Measuring the tradeoff in the modern era is difficult because family size is chosen endogenously, and family size is negative association with unmeasured aspects of family “quality.” England 1770-1880 offers an opportunity to measure this tradeoff in the first modern economy. In this period there was still a positive association between family sizes and family “quality”. And completed family size was largely randomly determined, varying in our sample from 1 to 19. We find no effect of family size on educational attainment or longevity. Wealth at death relative to amounts inherited there is again uninfluenced by size. The switch in England in the Industrial Revolution to faster growth rates thus seems to owe nothing to declining family size.

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Presented in Session 214: Fertility and Family Formation in Europe, 1750 to the Present