Journal Article

Social interaction and fluctuations in birth rates

Kohler, H.-P.
Population Studies, 54:2, 223–237 (2000)


Fluctuations in birth rates in developed countries have been considerably less regular than many explanatory theories suggests. This paper argues that social interaction, i.e., the phenomenon that individuals' fertility decisions depend on the fertility behavior of other population members, is relevant even in developed countries, where increased individualism has been associated with changing demographic behavior. The paper shows that social interaction can emerge in both market and non-market situations, ranging from the evolution of social norms and values to imperfections in the labor market. A formal model for investigating the static and dynamic consequences of social interaction is developed, and its aggregate implications are tested using a Markov switching regression model applied to net reproduction rates since 1930. The findings show that social interaction can lead to fluctuations in birth rates that are swift and difficult to foresee, and that these fluctuations are likely to be asymmetric: spells of low fertility have a considerably higher persistence than spells of high fertility. The paper suggests that high birth rates are likely to ensue spells of low fertility. But transitions from low to high fertility occur at a substantially lower rate than transitions in the opposite direction. (POPULATION STUDIES)
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