Women's education has emerged as a central predictor of fertility decline, but the many ways that education affects fertility have not been subject to detailed comparative investigation. Taking an evolutionary biosocial approach, we use structural equation modelling to examine potential pathways between education and fertility including: infant/child mortality, women's participation in the labour market, husband's education, social network influences, and contraceptive use or knowledge across three very different contexts: Matlab, Bangladesh; San Borja, Bolivia; and rural Poland. Using a comparable set of variables, we show that the pathways by which education affects fertility differ in important ways, yet also show key similarities. For example, we find that across all three contexts, education is associated with delayed age at first birth via increasing women's labour-force participation, but this pathway only influences fertility in rural Poland. In Matlab and San Borja, education is associated with lower local childhood mortality, which influences fertility, but this pathway is not important in rural Poland. Similarities across sites suggest that there are common elements in how education drives demographic transitions cross-culturally, but the differences suggest that local socioecologies also play an important role in the relationship between education and fertility decline.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 371, n. 1692, April 2016