DP16069 The Toll of Tariffs: Protectionism, Education and Fertility in Late 19th Century France

Author(s): Vincent Bignon, Cecilia García-Peñalosa
Publication Date: April 2021
Keyword(s): Education, Fertility, France, protectionism
JEL(s): J13, N33, O15
Programme Areas: Economic History, Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16069

This paper examines a novel negative impact of trade tariffs and the costs they induce by documenting how protectionism reversed the long-term improvements in education and the fertility transition that were well under way in late 19th-century France. The Méline tariff, a tariff on cereals introduced in 1892, was a major protectionist shock that shifted relative prices in favor of agriculture and away from industry. In a context in which the latter was more intensive in skills than agriculture, the tariff reduced the relative return to education, which in turn affected parents' decisions about the quantity and quality of children. We use regional differences in the importance of cereal production in the local economy to estimate the impact of the tariff. Our findings indicate that the tariff reduced enrolment in primary education and increased birth rates and fertility. The magnitude of these effects was substantial, with the tariff offsetting the increasing trend in enrolment rates and the decreasing one in birth rates by a decade.