The Jewish Anticipation of Fertility Control in Nineteenth-Century Europe: A Reassessment

Renzo Derosas, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia

This paper reconsiders the question of the Jewish anticipation of fertility decline in nineteenth-century Europe. The most popular explanations refer to the “characteristics” approach: the Jews retained higher SES, better education, larger income and lower infant mortality than their Gentile neighbors. Such an approach appears unsatisfactory in several respects: it does not explain why Jewish fertility was lower than that of other groups with similar conditions, nor the different timing of fertility decline among Jewish communities. It also understates the existence of large intra-Jewish fertility differentials. I suggest that the “minority-group status” provides a better explanatory framework. Using residence as a proxy for assimilation, I show that in nineteenth-century Venice the fertility of assimilated Jews was much lower, and that of segregated Jews much higher, than their Catholic counterparts. I also show that the timing of fertility decline among European Jews closely followed the different pace of their emancipation.

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Presented in Session 80: Racial and Ethnic Differentials in Nineteenth Century Demographic Behavior