What do we know about the 20th century baby boom in Europe and North America?

Jan Van Bavel, David Reher

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


The baby boom that occurred in the middle of the twentieth century in many European countries as well as in the US and Canada continues to weigh heavily on the populations of these countries. Yet, we know surprisingly little about its historical causes. At the time when it occurred, nobody was expecting or predicting it. Today, most text books routinely ascribe the revival of fertility to the air of optimism and economic growth in the wake of the low fertility trough of the Great Depression. Yet, the recovery of fertility started already before as well as during the Second World War in most countries. In this paper, we first use time series to investigate when and where exactly the recovery of fertility took off in developed countries and how this can, or cannot, be related to economic recovery and pro-natal policy measures. And why wasn't there much of a baby boom in some countries? We review the scholarly literature that tries to explain the baby boom and evaluate the empirical basis for the theoretical claims. To what extent can the baby boom be seen as a reaction to the low interwar fertility - and all the evils associated with it? What do we know from earlier research about the social groups that pioneered it? Are the trendsetters of higher fertility to be found in the same social groups as the trendsetters of the low fertility of earlier and later periods?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPaper presented at the 35th annual meeting of the Social Science History Association
Subtitle of host publicationPower and Politics
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2010
Event35th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association - Chicago, United States
Duration: 18 Nov 201021 Nov 2010


Conference35th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association
CountryUnited States
OtherPower and Politics


  • fertility
  • baby boom
  • reproduction
  • historical demography


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