The Cultural Origins of the Demographic Transition in France

Across départements, I estimate a strong and robust positive association between the presence of refractory clergy and the timing of the transition using census data available from 1831 to 1961. The regions that secularized experienced a decline in fertility more than a century earlier than those that did not—no other variable has an impact nearly as important. The difference between Provence, a stronghold of secularization, and Brittany, a bastion of Catholicism, is as large as the difference between France and England.

Additionally, I study the heterogeneous effects of the refractory clergy and find that cultural and economic factors played complementary roles. The correlation between secularization and the decline in fertility is larger in more densely populated places, suggesting that the relaxation of moral and social constraints allowed individuals to reach their desired level of fertility— which was lower in more developed regions.

Guillaume Blanc

September 5, 2023