Ready, Willing and Able: Bottlenecks to the Onset of Fertility Decline in the United States

J. David Hacker, University of Minnesota

This paper relies on new aggregate and individual-level census data to describe long-term trends and differentials in U.S. fertility and to evaluate correlates of marital fertility shortly its sustained decline in the mid nineteenth century. Because the decline varied dramatically by region--with some regions lagging the onset of marital fertility decline in other regions by three decades or more--the focus is on identifying bottleneck conditions that may have determined its onset, pace, and spatial differentials . Discussion follows Ansley Coale’s “ready, willing, and able” preconditions for sustained fertility decline: (1) couples must perceive smaller families as economically advantageous; (2) the practice of marital fertility control must be socially and ethically acceptable; and (3) the means to control fertility must be known and available. Proxies are constructed for parental readiness, willingness and ability. The paper concludes that couples' lack of willingness was a critical impediment to the onset of fertility decline.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Poster Session 2: Fertility Intentions and Behavior