Colonial Origins and Fertility: Can the Market Overcome History?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

12:30 pm -2.00pm

Monroe Hall, Seminar Room 321

2115 G St NW, Washington, DC 20052

Can market incentives overcome the long-term impact of historical institutions? We address this question by focusing on the role of colonial reproductive laws in shaping fertility behavior in Africa. Exploiting the arbitrary division of ancestral ethnic homelands and the resulting discontinuity in institutions across the British-French colonial borders, we find that women in former British areas are more likely to delay sexual debut and marriage, and that they have fewer children. However, these effects disappear in areas with exogenously high market access, where the opportunity cost of childbearing appears to be high irrespective of colonizer identity. They are only present in areas with low market access, where economic opportunities are scarcer. This heterogeneous impact of colonial origins remarkably extends to various measures of local economic development and household welfare. Examining causal mechanisms, we find that the fertility effect of colonial origins is directly linked to colonial reproductive laws and their impact on the use of modern methods of birth control. We rule out the impact of British colonization on income and women’s human capital as the primary channels through which its fertility effect operates. By uncovering novel findings on the heterogeneous nature of the colonial origins of comparative fertility behavior and economic development, our analysis implies that appropriately designed economic incentives can overcome the bonds of historical determinism.

Paper: “Colonial Origins and Fertility: Can the Market Overcome History?” by Roland Pongou (University of Ottawa)

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