The role of the intermediate variables of fertility is largely unexplored at the micro-level in Italy. This paper investigates the effects of female education and socioeconomic determinants on fertility decline in ten Italian populations, analyzing the marriage cohorts from the late nineteenth century to 1951. Data are drawn from the special fertility survey carried out within the general Italian census of 1961, which records information on the reproductive history of ever married women living in each of the ten populations. The pace of fertility decline was quite diversified, not only along the classic North-South divide, but also within individual regions. The most important socioeconomic force driving a drop in fertility was women’s education, which proved to be more important than family economic status in shaping fertility levels. Fertility decline spread from highly-educated women to those who left after primary school, and only later to non-educated women. The reduction in fertility differentials depending on the level to which a woman is educated seems consistent with the innovation-diffusion hypothesis of fertility decline.
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