Marriage, Fertility, and Child Mortality before the Demographic Transition: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century Egypt

Mohamed Saleh, Toulouse School of Economics
Claire Galez-Davis, Toulouse School of Economics

The demographic transition is probably the most significant development in demographic history. Despite its centrality, there is a dearth of micro-econometric evidence on the determinants of marriage, fertility, and child mortality before the demographic transition. Of central importance here are the relative roles of income and cultural norms (e.g., religious affiliation) in driving marriage, fertility, and child mortality. This article addresses this question in nineteenth-century Egypt, one of the largest countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which is largely understudied in the literature. Egypt was an autonomous Ottoman province during this period with four major religious groups: Muslims (92%), Copts (6%), non-Coptic Christians (Levantines, Armenians, Ottoman Greeks) (1%), and Jews, both Karaite and Rabbinic (1%). Following a long medieval tradition, non-Muslims had better educational and occupational outcomes than Muslims. Non-Coptic Christians were the richest group (the highest share of white-collar workers), followed by Jews, Coptic Christians, and Muslims. We employ a novel and unique data source: Egypt's 1848 and 1868 population census samples, which were digitized by Saleh (2013) and which predate Egypt's demographic transition by more than a century. We address three research questions. First, were there differences in marriage, fertility and child survival across religious groups in nineteenth-century Egypt? Second, were there demographic differences across occupational groups (proxy for income)? Third, are the inter-religion demographic differences, if any, attributable to their socioeconomic differences or do they rather stem from cultural differences in marriage, fertility, and child care? References: Saleh, M. (2013). A pre-colonial population brought to light: Digitization of the nineteenth century Egyptian censuses. Historical Methods, 46(1), 5-18.

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 Presented in Session 147. Marriage Patterns around the World