Fertility in Belgium declined early and remained low compared with that in other European countries. For this reason, and because of the nation's heterogeneity, study of its demographic transition illuminates the relationship between fertility behavior and socioeconomic development. Professor Lesthaeghe first describes the Belgian experience in a way that permits direct comparison with that of other European nations. He then tests the several explanatory hypotheses for the European fertility decline against his data.
Belgium's heterogeneity in the nineteenth-century and in the first half of the twentieth was economic, social, and cultural. Some areas of the country underwent industrialization as early as 1800-1830, while others shifted away from agriculture and artisanal modes of production only between 1880 and 1910. Between 1890 and 1900, regional fertility levels differed drastically, as did regional infant mortality rates and life expectancies at birth. In addition, wide variation occurred in the process of secularization, linguistic characteristics, demographic trends, and other cultural indicators. By describing and analyzing these data in relation to Belgium's fertility decline, Professor Lesthaeghe makes a major contribution to the theory of the demographic transition that occurred throughout Europe.
Originally published in 1978.
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