Agency in Fertility Decisions in Western Europe During the Demographic Transition: A Comparative Perspective
Analysis of the fertility histories of women born between 1850 and 1900, as given in the Utah Population Database (UPDB), reveals the effect of the number, as well as the sex composition, of previous children on birth-stopping and birth-spacing decisions. Specifically, agricultural and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) households—two sub-populations that might have placed different values on male and female children for economic, social, and/or cultural reasons—showed a distinct preference for male children, as expressed by birth stopping after the birth of a male child and shorter birth intervals in higher-parity births when most previous children were female. Remarkably, women in both the early "natural fertility" and the later contraceptive eras used spacing behavior to achieve a desired sex mix. Although the LDS population had relatively high fertility rates, it had the same preferences for male children as the non-LDS population did. Farmers, who presumably had a need for family labor, were more interested in the quantity than in the sex mix of their children.