Discussion paper

DP18607 Revolutionary Transition: Inheritance Change and Fertility Decline

We test Le Play's (1875) hypothesis that the French Revolution contributed to France’s early fertility decline. In 1793, a series of inheritance reforms abolished local inheritance practices, imposing equal partition of assets among all children. We develop a theoretical framework that predicts a decline in fertility following these reforms because of indivisibility constraints in parents' assets. We test this hypothesis by combining a newly created map of pre-Revolution local inheritance practices together with demographic data from the Henry database and from crowdsourced geneaologies in Geni.com. We provide difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity estimates based on comparing cohorts of fertile age and cohorts too old to be fertile in 1793 between municipalities where the reforms altered and did not alter existing inheritance practices. We find that the 1793 inheritance reforms reduced completed fertility by half to one child, closed the pre-reform fertility gap between different inheritance regions, and sharply accelerated France’s early fertility transition.


Gay, V, P Gobbi and M Goñi (2023), ‘DP18607 Revolutionary Transition: Inheritance Change and Fertility Decline‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 18607. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp18607