Autumn 2014

13 October

Shelley Clark 

McGill University

Unexpected Trends in Divorce and Widowhood in Sub-Saharan Africa:  Are Unions Becoming More Stable?

To date there are no systematic estimates of union dissolution in sub-Saharan Africa, preventing comparisons among countries and accurate assessments of trends over time. Using simple measures, we estimate divorce and widowhood by age and union duration across 33 African countries. Union dissolution is common. In the majority of countries at least one-third of first unions end within 20 years. Most unions are ended by divorce rather than widowhood.  Indeed, in 22 countries divorce is more than three times as likely as widowhood. In 7 countries for which we have data over the last 20 years, we also estimate trends in divorce and widowhood. Contrary to common assumptions that “Westernization” will usher in higher divorce rates, we find no evidence of rising levels of divorce. Instead, consistent with Goode’s (1963) prediction, we find that in 2 countries with initially high levels of divorce, it has steadily declined.


20 October

Paula Gobbi 

Paris School of Economics

Development policies when accounting for extensive margin of fertility

There are two main types of childlessness: involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary childlessness can be either innate or acquired, the latter arising under poor living conditions. Looking at the data without theory, even from surveys, does not allow to measure the importance of the various types of childlessness in a given country. We provide a structural model of fertility, marriage and childlessness whose deep parameters are identified using census data from 37 developing countries. We use the model to measure the part of childlessness that is involuntary. We highlight that endogenous marriage and childlessness lead to mitigate the effects of health improvements and family planning policies, while the effectiveness of promoting gender equality in lowering fertility rates is generally amplified.


27 October

Maria Testa 

Vienna Institute of Demography and Vienna University of Economics and Business

The effect of couple disagreement about child-timing intentions: a parity-specific approach

Most of the international studies on fertility are based on a female perspective. A major difficulty in couple-level research is the need for high-quality data that includes information on both partners. Using couple data from a longitudinal study conducted in Italy ( 2003-2007), a country with persistently low fertility levels, we examined the effect of partners’ discrepant fertility intentions on childbearing behaviour. The data revealed that the effect of couple disagreement is not signed, i.e., does not depend on which of the partners intend to have a(nother) child, and is parity-specific. At parities zero and one, the disagreement produced an intermediate childbearing outcome; while at parity two, a symmetric double veto power model was observed. Gender equality in reproductive decision-making is not driven by partners’ equal bargaining power, gender equal division of housework and childcare tasks or partners’ equal access to economic resources. The findings suggest that the predictive power of short-term fertility intentions strongly improves if both partners’ views are considered in fertility models, and thus support the adoption of couple analysis in fertility research.


10 November

Stuart Basten 

University of Oxford

Prospects for change in China's family planning policies

As one of the world’s two population ‘billionaires’, the future of China’s population is truly of global significance. In the context of a very low fertility rate and a rapidly ageing population, it might appear that the country’s famous (or notorious) family planning restrictions are somewhat anachronistic. Here, we explore the process of reform seen over the past three decades and, most recently, in late 2013. We suggest that the popular notion that the family planning restrictions are acting as a pressure valve suppressing a pent-up demand for childbearing, particularly in rural China, is likely to be inaccurate. We also suggest that further reform of the restrictions will not solve either population ageing or, indeed, many of the other issues widely associated with the policies. We conclude that the prospects for further reform are wide-ranging, but likely to be beset by many challenges.


24 November

Ryan Masters 

University of Colorado Boulder

In this study I test developmental origins theory of chronic disease by examining the effect of in utero exposure to economic recessions on US adult mortality risk from circulatory diseases. Using data combined from the National Health Interview Survey Linked Mortality Files, 1986-2006, and quarter-years of US economic recessions between 1902 and 1956 (399,251 respondents and 37,388 deaths), I (1) test the effect of trimester-specific exposure to economic recessions on adult mortality risk from circulatory diseases, (2) explore the functional form of the effect, and (3) test for cohort-based variation in the effect. Findings suggest that third trimester in utero exposure to economic recessions increased risk of death from circulatory diseases for US men and women aged 50 through 85. No effects were found on the mortality risks from accidents or lung cancer. Functional form analyses indicate asymmetrical effects, whereby economic downturns in utero increase risk of death from circulatory disease, but strong economic growth in utero has no effect on mortality risk. Consistent with theories of cohort evolution, results further show the effects significantly weakened across birth cohorts. Taken together, the results are consistent with existing evidence and theory implicating developmental processes during sensitive periods early in life to be strongly associated with circulatory disease susceptibility in older adulthood. The results further highlight the importance of sociohistorical context in shaping this association, suggesting a strong role for sociologists to play in investigating physiological life course processes of disease outcomes.


9 December

John Padgett 

The University of Chicago

Open Elite? Social Mobility, Marriage, and Family in Florence, 1282-1494

The paper statistically analyzes quantitative data from numerous sources in order to assess changes in marriage patterns, family structure, and rates of social mobility during the period from 1282 to 1494. During this period, three systems of social stratification coexisted — wealth, political office, and age of family—but these contending status systems were not consistent in their rankings of families. Each status system was conservative in the sense that elite families at the top of that hierarchy married each other in order to stabilize their position. But because of inconsistency in rankings, contradiction within the elite opened up the Florentine marriage system to widespread upward social mobility by new men. In their own families, successful new men aggressively imitated their economically and politically declining status superiors. Sharp class divisions thereby blurred into continuous and negotiable status gradients. These open-elite patterns of social mobility, present throughout the early Florentine Renaissance, were most extreme during the Albizzi regime, immediately following the Ciompi Revolt.

15 December

Pamela Campa

University of Calgary

Politico-economic Regimes and Attitudes: Working Women under State-socialism

Several authors have recently shown that sex-role attitudes can at least partially explain female labor market outcomes. However, evidence on the causes of the evolution of such attitudes is limited. We investigate the extent to which individual attitudes about sex-roles are endogenous to politico-economic regimes, by exploiting the imposition of state socialism in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1940s. State-socialist governments encouraged women's paid employment outside the home. We cope with the lack of a long-time series of measures of attitudes by focusing on the inherited component of attitudes, in the spirit of Algan and Cahuc (2010). Specifically, we employ the inherited sex-role attitudes of offsprings of US immigrants observed in the General Social Surveys as a time-varying measure of inherited attitudes in their source country. This approach, combined with a Diff-in-Diff design, enables us to identify the relationship between the change in the politico-economic regime and the evolution of inherited sex-role attitudes. Attitudes toward the appropriateness of segregation of male and female roles inherited in Central and Eastern European countries during the state socialist period are shown to be significantly less traditional than those inherited in other European countries. Estimates using information on German residents from the German Socio Economic Panel, and exploiting the German separation, are consistent with this conclusion.

Last updated 05 February 2015 - 14:47:36