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Vidi project

The Power of the Family
Family Influences on Long-Term Fertility Decline in Europe, 1850-2010

Principal Investigator
Prof. Dr. Hilde Bras
Department of Social Sciences
Wageningen University



Over the last 160 years, a remarkable decline of fertility has taken place in European societies. With rapid population aging, current below-replacement fertility looms as the key social issue of the twenty-first century.

Intriguingly, substantial regional disparities in fertility levels and reproductive change have been prevalent and remain existent. Previous explanations emphasizing economic development and cultural change have not been able to clarify these differences. Building further on recent approaches that stress the social relations and interactions that connect individuals to one another, the proposed program zooms in on the place where decisions on procreation are primarily taken: the institution of the family. Family relations are known to differ strongly across regions as a result of different family systems. In different family systems, family affects fertility in highly distinctive ways. By combining previous economic and cultural explanations with theories on family influences and the cultural variation therein, the program aims at opening up new vistas for understanding long-term population change.

The key objectives of the program are:

  1. How do family relations and practices influence reproductive behavior?
  2. How do family influences on reproductive behavior differ across family systems?
  3. How has the strength and relative importance of family influences on reproductive behavior changed over the last 160 years across different family systems, independent from and in interaction with other determinants of reproductive change?

The research questions are answered through comparative qualitative and quantitative macro- and micro-level analyses conducted by a team of three PhD students and the principal investigator. The program results in detailed knowledge on the various roles that family played in shaping fertility behavior in regions and groups with longstanding diverging cultural conceptions of family and kin, knowledge that will also be of interest to policy makers designing courses of action to intervene in processes of population ageing and population decline.