Did Improvements in Household Technology Cause the Baby Boom? Evidence from Electrification, Appliance Diffusion, and the Amish

61 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2009 Last revised: 26 Aug 2012

See all articles by Martha J. Bailey

Martha J. Bailey

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics

William J. Collins

Vanderbilt University - College of Arts and Science - Department of Economics; The Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: January 2009

Abstract

More than a half century after its peak, the baby boom's causes remain a puzzle. A new argument posits that rapid advancements in household technology from 1940 to 1960 account for this large increase in fertility. We present new empirical evidence that is inconsistent with this claim. Rapid advances in household technology began long before 1940 while fertility declined; differences and changes in appliance ownership and electrification in U.S. counties are negatively correlated with fertility rates from 1940 to 1960; and the correlation between children ever born (measured at ages 41 to 60) and access to electrical service in early adulthood is negative for the relevant cohorts of women. Moreover, the Amish, a group strictly limiting the use of modern household technologies, experienced a sizable and coincident baby boom. A final section reconciles this evidence with economic theory by allowing households to have utility over home-produced commodities that are substitutes for the number of children.

Suggested Citation

Bailey, Martha Jane and Collins, William J., Did Improvements in Household Technology Cause the Baby Boom? Evidence from Electrification, Appliance Diffusion, and the Amish (January 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w14641. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1327263

Martha Jane Bailey

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics ( email )

611 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220
United States

William J. Collins (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - College of Arts and Science - Department of Economics ( email )

Box 1819 Station B
Nashville, TN 37235
United States
615-322-3428 (Phone)

The Brookings Institution

1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036-2188
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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