Changes in Family Size over the Generations in France (1850-1966)

By Sandra Brée, Madeleine Grieve

Through a longitudinal analysis of parities and parity progression ratios, this article charts the fertility of the cohorts of women born in France between 1850 and 1966. After reviewing the available sources and data (population censuses and family surveys), and the methods used for retrospective cohort analysis of fertility, the author proposes estimates of changing family sizes over more than a century. The simultaneous study of trends in family size and completed fertility enhances our understanding of fertility trends, and more specifically the impact of changes in each family size on overall fertility patterns. This refines the conclusions that can be drawn from an interpretation of averages (completed fertility) by showing that, for the same completed fertility, the parity distribution can be highly variable, and demonstrates that family size should always be taken into account when analysing fertility. This research also highlights the value of differentiating between the fertility of all women, of ever-married women and of never-married women, particularly when analysing childlessness and low fertility (one child).


  • fertility
  • cohorts
  • France
  • longitudinal analysis
  • retrospective analysis
  • historical demography
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