Spatial differences in cultural beliefs and fertility in the Netherlands

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    Since the "Princeton European Fertility Project" a central question has been how culture has influenced the historical fertility transition. To answer this question, previous historical-demographic research has looked in particular at differences in fertility between denominations. However, the role of specific cultural beliefs and practices has hardly been explored. On the basis of a unique folklore questionnaire from the Meertens Institute from 1941, I map semi-religious practices and beliefs about childbirth in more than a thousand Dutch rural municipalities and investigate the connection with fertility. The results show that in the 1940s in almost a quarter of all municipalities women were isolated for a period after childbirth. The practice of "first church attendance" took place among Catholics in 68% and among Protestants in 31% of the municipalities. Belief in the bewitching of newborns was still alive in 8% of the surveyed communities. The municipalities where popular beliefs occurred were strongly clustered along the Bible Belt and in East North-Brabant. In the places where belief in bewitching and "first church attendance" occurred among Catholics, birth rates were significantly higher than in other rural municipalities, even after controlling for the religious composition of the population. The semi-religious beliefs studied appear to be more common in isolated, close-knit communities characterized by steadfastness and a fatalistic attitude to life. The values and norms in these "communication communities" are transmitted intergenerationally and result in specific spatial patterns of social and demographic behavior that have a great historical continuity. The spread of the most important flashpoints during the Covid-19 pandemic (East Brabant and the Bible Belt) is also an example of this. This essay therefore argues for the integration of cultural beliefs, and their spatial anchoring, into demographic and health research and policy.
    Translated title of the contributionSpatial differences in cultural beliefs and fertility in the Netherlands
    Original languageDutch
    Title of host publicationSpitten in de economische, sociale en regionale geschiedenis
    Subtitle of host publicationEssays opgedragen aan prof. dr. Maarten Duijvendak bij zijn emeritaat
    EditorsElles Bulder, Marijn Molema, Vincent Tassenaar
    Place of PublicationHilversum
    PublisherUitgeverij Verloren
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Print)9789087049737
    Publication statusPublished - 25-Nov-2021


    • fertility
    • spatial differences
    • the Netherlands
    • reproductive health
    • cultural beliefs

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