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Family size and intergenerational social mobility during the fertility transition: Evidence of resource dilution from the city of Antwerp in nineteenth century Belgium

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Author(s): Jan Van Bavel | Sarah Moreels | Bart Van de Putte | Koen Matthijs

Journal: Demographic Research
ISSN 1435-9871

Volume: 24;
Start page: 14;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: Belgium | demographic transition | fertility | nineteenth century | parental investment | quantity-quality trade-off | resource dilution | social mobility

ABSTRACT
It has been argued in sociology, economics, and evolutionary anthropology that family size limitation enhances the intergenerational upward mobility chances in modernized societies. If parents have a large flock, family resources get diluted and intergenerational mobility is bound to head downwards. Yet, the empirical record supporting this resource dilution hypothesis is limited. This article investigates the empirical association between family size limitation and intergenerational mobility in an urban, late nineteenth century population in Western Europe. It uses life course data from the Belgian city of Antwerp between 1846 and 1920. Findings are consistent with the resource dilution hypothesis: after controlling for confounding factors, people with many children were more likely to end up in the lower classes. Yet, family size limitation was effective as a defensive rather than an offensive strategy: it prevented the next generation from going down rather than helping them to climb up the social ladder. Also, family size appears to have been particularly relevant for the middle classes. Implications for demographic transition theory are discussed.
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