Auteurs : Catherine Guirkinger and Paola Villar


AbstractWe investigate the impacts of pro-birth policies implemented in the Congo during the colonial era on women who grew up in the colony. The Belgian state relied heavily on Catholic nuns to implement these policies (and not on Catholic male missionaries or Protestant missionaries). Using an urban demographic survey conducted in the 1970s, we recover the individual birth calendars of about 30,000 women born between 1900 and 1948. We rely on unique historical material to reconstruct temporal and geographic heterogeneity in exposure to different types of missions. In the spirit a difference in differences, we exploit this heterogeneity and find that Catholic nuns succeeded in stimulating fertility, while Protestant missionaries had a negative impact on fertility. We verify that endogenous mission locations and/or openings and selective migration are not driving the results. In terms of mechanisms, we argue that Catholic education for girls appears to have had a decisive impact on their fertility behavior. We find a strong correlation between the presence of Catholic housekeeping schools and the rise in fertility. This confirms historians’ analyses on the success of nuns in promoting an ideal of domesticity where women are confined to their roles of mothers and wives. Finally, using Demographic and Health Survey data, we find traces of the influence of colonial missions on fertility patterns today.



Colonial demographic policies, fertility, missions, Congo

Classification JEL

D31, D15, O15, O17, N35


Lien vers le Working Paper