Revolutionary Transition: Inheritance Change and Fertility Decline

Gay Victor, Toulouse School of Economics
Gobbi Paula, Université libre de Bruxelles (ECARES)
Goñi Marc, University of Bergen

France's demographic transition occurred a century ahead of any other country. We test Le Play's (1884) hypothesis that the French Revolution, and it's laws on inheritance, contributed to France's low fertility rates. In 1793, a series of reforms abolished local inheritance practices, imposing equal division of assets among all children, including women. We develop a theoretical framework that predicts a decline in fertility following these reforms because of indivisibility constraints in parents' assets and a delay in marriage ages of women included in the inheritance. We test these hypotheses with a newly created map of pre-Revolution local inheritance practices and demographic data from the Henry database. Our difference-in-differences estimates are based on comparing cohorts of fertile age and cohorts too old to be fertile in 1793 between municipalities where the reforms altered and did not alter the existing inheritance practices. We find that the 1793 inheritance reforms reduced completed fertility by half a child and increased childlessness and women's age at marriage, accelerating France's early fertility transition.

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 Presented in Session 71. Marriage, Fertility and Divorce during the First and Second Demographic Transition; Insights from Europe