The Post-War Baby Boom Did Not Make Up for the Pre-War Baby Bust: Evidence from Lifecycle Fertility

Date & Time Oct 18 2021 12:00 PM - 1:15 PM
Esmee Zwiers
Audience Restricted to Princeton University

This paper explores the effects of the Second World War (WWII) and the Great Depression on lifecycle fertility in the Netherlands. I document an immediate and unprecedented baby boom after the end of WWII that followed the baby bust of the 1930s. It is unclear whether these events just shifted the timing of fertility or changed women’s completed fertility. I combine administrative data on births with historical data and show that women experienced the crisis and war at different ages and differentially across locations. This variation in the timing and spacing of these events across maternal birth cohorts is exploited in order to estimate counterfactual distributions of births using a bunching methodology. I show that the Great Depression had a larger effect on lifecycle fertility than WWII. Further, the rise in fertility after the liberation did not make up for the “missing” births that did not take place because of the war and the Great Depression. These “missed” births can be explained by higher childlessness and lower completed fertility for women exposed to the depression in prime fertile ages. These findings shed new light on the importance of economic factors in influencing fertility decisions.