Fertility Shocks and Equilibrium Marriage-Rate Dynamics: Lessons from World War 1 in France

By John Knowles and Guillaume Vandenbroucke


Low sex ratios are often equated with unfavorable marriage prospects for women, but in France after World War 1, the marriage probability of single females rose 50%, despite a massive drop in the male/female ratio. We conjecture that the war-time birth-rate bust induced an abnormal postwar abundance of singles with relatively high marriage propensities. We compute the equilibrium response, in a life-cycle matching model, of marriage hazards to war-time fertility and male-mortality shocks. Our results implicate two powerful forces: an abnormal abundance of marriageable men, and increased gains from marriage due to post-war pro-natalism.

This paper addresses an interesting puzzle that lasted well beyond the immediate post-war years. What makes even more interesting is that one needs more than simple bean-counting, as too often in demographics, to offer a solution. To quantitatively match the increase in marriage rates, one has to factor in the added incentives from having children after war, first because the father is less likely to die, and second because there were explicit pro-natalist propaganda and fiscal nudges.


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