Gregory Clark & Neil Cummins (March 2015)
A child quantity/quality tradeoff has been a central to economic theorizing about modern growth. Yet the evidence for this tradeoff is surprisingly limited. Measuring the tradeoff in the modern era is difficult because family size is chosen endogenously, and family size is negatively associated with unmeasured aspects of family “quality.” England 1770-1880 offers an opportunity to measure this tradeoff in the first modern economy. In this period there was little association between family sizes and family “quality”, and if anything this association was positive. Also completed family size was largely randomly determined, varying in our sample from 1 to 18. We find no effect of family size on educational attainment, longevity, or child mortality. Child wealth at death declines with family size, but this effect disappears with grandchildren. The switch in England in the Industrial Revolution to faster growth rates thus seems to owe nothing to declining family size.