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Economic Theory for the Environment

Essays in Honour of Karl-Göran Mäler

Edited by Bengt Kriström, Partha Dasgupta and Karl-Gustaf Löfgren

Karl-Göran Mäler’s work has been a mainstay of the frontiers of environmental economics for more than three decades. This outstanding book, in his honour, assembles some of the best minds in the economics profession to confront and resolve many of the problems affecting the husbandry of our national environments.
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Chapter 7: A Model of Fertility Transition

Partha Dasgupta


Partha Dasgupta 1 INTRODUCTION In order to understand fertility behaviour, economic demographers have presumed that parents regard children as both ends and means. Children are ends in all cultures: we are genetically endowed to want and to value them. Viewing them as ends ranges from the desire to have offspring because they are playful and enjoyable, to a desire to obey the dictates of tradition and religion. One such injunction emanates from the cult of the ancestor, which, taking religion to be the act of reproducing the lineage, requires women to have many children. And there are many more such injunctions in various cultures. But children can also be a means to economic betterment. In the extreme, they can be a means to survival. Children offer two such means. First, in the absence of capital markets and social security, children can be a source of private security in old age. There is evidence that in poor countries children do offer such security.1 It leads to a preference for male offspring if males inherit the bulk of their parents’ property and are expected to look after them in their old age. Second, in agriculture-based economies children are valuable in household production. Evidence of this also is extensive.2 Caldwell (1981, 1982) put forward the interesting hypothesis that the intergenerational transfer of resources is from children to their parents in societies experiencing high fertility and high mortality rates, but that it is from parents to their children when fertility and mortality rates are...

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