What is the influence of childhood exposure to cultural norms? The role of segregation and community composition in explaining migrant fertility

Ben Wilson, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Jouni Kuha, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

There are a range of theories predicting that differences between migrant and native fertility are explained by exposure to cultural norms. However, only a handful of studies explore this prediction directly. This study proposes a new approach, which focuses on community composition in childhood. It uses longitudinal census data and registered births in England and Wales to investigate the relationship between completed fertility and multiple measures of community culture, including residential segregation. It does this for both first generation migrants and the second generation, as compared with ancestral natives. The results provide strong evidence in support of childhood socialisation, namely that migrant fertility is closer to native fertility for migrants who grow up in areas with a more dominant native community culture. Furthermore, exposure to ancestral culture may explain some of the variation in completed fertility for second generation women from Pakistan and Bangladesh, the only second generation group to have significantly higher fertility than natives. This suggests one reason why the fertility of some South Asians in England and Wales may remain ‘culturally entrenched’. All of these findings are consistent for different measures of community composition. They are also easier to interpret than the results of previous research because exposure is measured before childbearing has commenced, therefore avoiding many issues relating to selection, simultaneity and conditioning on the future.

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Presented in Session 18: Fertility and social change