The Toll of Tariffs: Protectionism, Education and Fertility in Late 19th Century France

50 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2018

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Date Written: August 1, 2018


Vincent Bignon and Cecilia García-Peñalosa examine a novel negative impact of trade tariffs and the costs they induce by documenting how protectionism reversed the long-term improvements in education and the fertility transition that were well under way in late 19th-century France. The Méline tariff, a tariff on cereals introduced in 1892, was a major protectionist shock that shifted relative prices in favor of agriculture and away from industry. In a context in which the latter was more intensive in skills than agriculture, the tariff reduced the relative return to education, which in turn affected parents’ decisions about the quantity and quality of children. They use regional differences in the importance of cereal production in the local economy to estimate the impact of the tariff. Their findings indicate that the tariff reduced enrollment in primary education and increased birthrates and fertility. The magnitude of these effects was substantial. In regions with average shares of employment in cereal production, the tariff offset the (downward) trend in birthrates for 13 years; in those with the highest cereal employment shares, there was a delay of up to 22 years.

Keywords: Education, fertility, protectionism, unified growth theory, France

JEL Classification: J13, N33, O15

Suggested Citation

Bignon, Vincent and Garcia-Peñalosa, Cecilia, The Toll of Tariffs: Protectionism, Education and Fertility in Late 19th Century France (August 1, 2018). Banque de France Working Paper No. 690, Available at SSRN: or

Vincent Bignon (Contact Author)

Banque de France ( email )

DGEI 49-1430
31 rue Croix des Petits Champs
Paris, 75001
+33142924330 (Phone)

Cecilia Garcia-Peñalosa

Aix-Marseille University ( email )

3 Avenue Robert Schuman
3 Avenue Robert Schuman,
Aix-en-Provence, 13628

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