Reevaluating the Causes of the Baby Boom: Understanding the Effects of Electrification in the United States, 1925 to 1960

William J. Collins, Vanderbilt University and National Bureau of Economic Research

A half century after its peak, the ultimate causes of the baby boom remain a matter of debate among demographers and economists. In a highly influential article Greenwood, Seshadri, and Vandenbrouke (2005) argue that improvements in household production technologies effectively lowered the cost of raising children, which, in turn, caused to the baby boom. This paper provides a comprehensive empirical examination of this model. Using newly-compiled (1) county-level data on electrification, appliance ownership and family size and (2) annual, state-level data on the diffusion of electricity and completed childbearing, neither timeseries nor multivariate regression analysis reveals evidence of a positive impact of household appliances on childbearing decisions. Moreover, we document that the Amish experienced a rise in mid-century fertility, although they did not use electricity or modern appliances. Taken together, our results provide no support for the claim that appliance diffusion caused fertility to rise during the baby boom era.

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Presented in Session 83: Fertility, Reproductive Health And Economic Change