MPIDR Working Paper

Spatial and social distance in the fertility transition: Sweden 1880-1900

Kl├╝sener, S., Dribe, M., Scalone, F.

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2016-009, 39 pages (August 2016).
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Keywords: Sweden, fertility decline, geography, social classes, spatial analysis


Most existing studies on the fertility transition focus either on macro-level trends or on micro-level patterns with limited geographic scope. Much less attention has been given to the interplay between individual characteristics and contextual conditions, including geographic location. This paper contributes to closing this research gap. We investigate the relevance of geography and socioeconomic status (SES) for understanding fertility variation in the initial phase of the fertility decline in Sweden. Spatially-sensitive multi-level analyses are applied to study fertility trends by SES and parish, using full-count individual-level census data for 1880, 1890, and 1900. Our results show that the elite not only constituted the vanguard group in the fertility decline, but that the shift in fertility behavior occurred quickly among this social class in virtually all parts of Sweden. Other social classes experienced the decline with some delay in both central and peripheral areas, and their patterns of decline were more clustered in and around the early centers of the decline compared to the pattern of the elite. Long-distance migrants, who were disproportionately represented among the elite and who initially had higher fertility, were among the pioneers in the process. This suggests that factors such as social connectedness through space and local social embeddedness were important in determining the early adoption of changes in fertility behavior. Our results confirm the view that social status and social class boundaries were of considerable relevance in structuring the fertility transition. The importance of space for understanding variation in the fertility decline seems to be negatively correlated with social status, with the pattern of decline among the elite showing the lowest degree of spatial variation.