A synthetic biosocial model of fertility transition: Testing the relative contribution of embodied capital theory, changing cultural norms, and women's labor force participation



This article presents a biosocial model of fertility decline, which integrates ecological-economic and informational-cultural hypotheses of fertility transition in a unified theoretical framework. The model is then applied to empirical data collected among 500 women from San Borja, Bolivia, a population undergoing fertility transition. Using a combination of event history analysis, multiple regression, and structural equation modeling, we examine the pathways by which education responds to birth cohort, parental education and network ties, and how age at first birth and total fertility, in turn, respond to birth cohort, social network ties, education, expectations about parental investment, work, and contraceptive use. We find that in addition to secular trends in education, respondent's education is associated with the education of parents, the investment she received from them, and the education of older siblings. Total fertility has dropped over time, partly in response to increased education; moreover, the behavior of other women in a woman's social network predicts both initiation of reproduction and total fertility, while expected parental investment in offspring negatively predicts total fertility. Involvement in paid work that is incompatible with childcare is associated with a later age of first reproduction, but not subsequent fertility. Contraceptive use partially mediates the effect of education and birth cohort on total fertility, but is not a mediator of the effect of social network or expected parental investment on total fertility. Overall, the empirical results provide support for a biosocial model of fertility decline, particularly the embodied capital and cultural pathways. Am J Phys Anthropol 154:322–333, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.