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Social Interactions and Contemporary Fertility Transitions

John Bongaarts and Susan Cotts Watkins
Population and Development Review
Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 639-682
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/2137804
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2137804
Page Count: 44
Subjects: Population Studies
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Social Interactions and Contemporary Fertility Transitions
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Abstract

An analysis of fertility transitions in 69 developing countries since 1960 finds that the relationship between development and pretransitional fertility, the timing of the onset of transitions, and the pace of fertility decline after transition onset deviate substantially from what would be the case if fertility and development, as measured by the Human Development Index, were closely linked. A few noteworthy empirical regularities were identified, including a shifting threshold of development necessary for the onset of transition. This implies that, once a few countries in a region enter the transition, other countries follow sooner than expected. Also, the pace of fertility decline is not related to the pace of development, as might be expected, but rather to the level of development when the transition began. To explain these findings, the authors propose a key role for social interaction. Social interaction, they suggest, operates at three levels of aggregation. Personal networks connect individuals; national channels of social interaction such as migration and language connect social and territorial communities within a country; and global channels such as trade and international organizations connect nations within the global society. Through these channels, actors at all three levels exchange and evaluate information and ideas, and exert and receive social influence, thus affecting reproductive behavior. Development is important in understanding the timing and pace of fertility change, but social interaction is likely to have an independent influence on fertility. Given current levels of development and the proliferation of channels of social interaction, it is likely that few countries will fail to experience a fertility transition over the coming three decades.