Pro-birth policies, missions and fertility: historical evidence from Congo
Speaker(s)Paola Villar (University of Paris LIRAES, France)
LocationErasmus University Rotterdam, Campus Woudestein, M1-07
Date and time
November 03, 2022
12:00 - 13:00
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We investigate the impacts of pro-birth policies implemented in the Congo during the colonial era on women who grew up in the colony. The Belgian state relied heavily on Catholic nuns to implement these policies (and not on Catholic male missionaries or Protestant missionaries). Using a demographic survey conducted in the 1970s in seven major cities, we recover the individual birth calendars of 30,000 women born between 1900 and 1948. We rely on unique historical material to reconstruct temporal and geographic heterogeneity in exposure to different type of missions. In the spirit a difference in difference, we exploit geographical variation in the timing of opening of new missionary posts of different types and find that Catholic nuns succeeded in stimulating fertility while Protestant missionaries have a negative impact on fertility. In terms of mechanisms, we argue that progress in general health or conversion to Catholicism are unlikely to explain, alone, the rise in fertility. In contrast, Catholic education for girls appear to have had a decisive impact on their fertility behavior: we find a strong correlation between the presence of Catholic housekeeping schools and the rise of fertility. This confirms historians’ analyses regarding the success of nuns in promoting an ideal of domesticity where women are confined to their role of mother and wife. Finally, using Demographic and Health Survey data, we find some trace of colonial mission’s influence on fertility patterns today.