Subreplacement fertility in the West before the babyboom (1900-1940)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


Between the First and the Second World War, fertility was below the replacement level in many western countries. Yet, in the debate about the nature of contemporary below-replacement fertility, references to this period are practically absent. At the time, in contrast, the fact of sub-replacement fertility provoked considerable debate, not just in the popular media but also among scholars. For example, Robert Kuczynski calculated net reproduction rates for a number of countries, who were subsequently commented on by the English sociologist Alexander Carr-Saunders. In France, Adolphe Landry published La revolution démographique, a work that also commented on the problem of very small families. In Sweden, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal were discussing the population crisis. Demographers and other scholars from many different western countries were disagreeing on many things at the time, but most agreed on one thing: the population of Europe would surely decline greatly in the near future. Today, scholars tend to interprete below-replacement fertility during the interwar period as anomalous and as a symptom of crisis. This paper aims at putting the below-replacement fertility of the interwar period into the contemporary perspective. In a nutshel, interwar demographers saw the below-replacement fertility of their times as a structural consequence of such ongoing societal evolutions like secularization, individualization, and the rationalization of life. The idea of the demographic transition, as a shift from one population equilibrium to the next, was absent in their writings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPaper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2007
Event32nd Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association - Chicago, United States
Duration: 15 Nov 200718 Nov 2007


Conference32nd Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • fertility
  • replacement level
  • interwar period
  • Europe
  • America


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