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The Persistence of High Fertility in the American South on the Eve of the Baby Boom

Stewart E. Tolnay and Patricia J. Glynn
Demography
Vol. 31, No. 4 (Nov., 1994), pp. 615-631
Published by: Springer on behalf of the Population Association of America
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2061795
Page Count: 17
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The Persistence of High Fertility in the American South on the Eve of the Baby Boom
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Abstract

Pockets of high fertility persisted in some areas of the American South through the Great Depression. Most other areas of the country adopted modern fertility patterns considerably earlier in the century; these "laggard" areas are clear exceptions to the national demographic revolution in family building. In this paper we attempt to identify the factors that account for the persistently high fertility in some southern regions. We use country-level data for 1940 to assess the utility of three theoretical models of fertility: structural, diffusion-innovation, and health. Differences by race are also considered, in view of the distinctly different histories of whites and African-Americans in the south. Our findings suggest that unicausal explanations for the persistence of high fertility are too simplistic; all three theoretical perspectives receive empirical support. Considerable similarity is observed in the findings for blacks and for whites. Yet important differences also emerge, especially the more powerful effects of structural variables on white fertility. We conclude that the evidence indicates the need for "diversity" in the study of demographic behavior. Not only should we examine a variety of causal mechanisms for demographic phenomena; we also should consider the varying utility of those mechanisms across different social groups.

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