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Community-level education accelerates the cultural evolution of fertility decline.

Colleran, H; Jasienska, G; Nenko, I; Galbarczyk, A; Mace, R; (2014) Community-level education accelerates the cultural evolution of fertility decline. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society , 281 (1779) , Article 20132732 . 10.1098/rspb.2013.2732. Green open access

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Abstract

Explaining why fertility declines as populations modernize is a profound theoretical challenge. It remains unclear whether the fundamental drivers are economic or cultural in nature. Cultural evolutionary theory suggests that community-level characteristics, for example average education, can alter how low-fertility preferences are transmitted and adopted. These assumptions have not been empirically tested. Here, we show that community-level education accelerates fertility decline in a way that is neither predicted by individual characteristics, nor by the level of economic modernization in a population. In 22 high-fertility communities in Poland, fertility converged on a smaller family size as average education in the community increased-indeed community-level education had a larger impact on fertility decline than did individual education. This convergence was not driven by educational levels being more homogeneous, but by less educated women having fewer children than expected, and more highly educated social networks, when living among more highly educated neighbours. The average level of education in a community may influence the social partners women interact with, both within and beyond their immediate social environments, altering the reproductive norms they are exposed to. Given a critical mass of highly educated women, less educated neighbours may adopt their reproductive behaviour, accelerating the pace of demographic transition. Individual characteristics alone cannot capture these dynamics and studies relying solely on them may systematically underestimate the importance of cultural transmission in driving fertility declines. Our results are inconsistent with a purely individualistic, rational-actor model of fertility decline and suggest that optimization of reproduction is partly driven by cultural dynamics beyond the individual.

Type: Article
Title: Community-level education accelerates the cultural evolution of fertility decline.
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2732
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.2732
Additional information: © 2014 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1451786
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