Correlations in fertility across generations: can low fertility persist?

Martin Kolk, Daniel Cownden, Magnus Enquist


Correlations in family size across generations could have a major influence on human population size in the future. Empirical studies have shown that the associations between the fertility of parents and the fertility of children are substantial and growing over time. Despite their potential long-term consequences, intergenerational fertility correlations have largely been ignored by researchers. We present a model of the fertility transition as a cultural process acting on new lifestyles associated with fertility. Differences in parental and social influences on the acquisition of these lifestyles result in intergenerational correlations in fertility. We show different scenarios for future population size based on models that disregard intergenerational correlations in fertility, models with fertility correlations and a single lifestyle, and models with fertility correlations and multiple lifestyles. We show that intergenerational fertility correlations will result in an increase in fertility over time. However, present low-fertility levels may persist if the rapid introduction of new cultural lifestyles continues into the future.

  • Received September 30, 2013.
  • Accepted January 6, 2014.
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