Population Research and Policy Review 19: 47–72, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Are there crisis-led fertility declines?
Evidence from central Cameroon
PARFAIT M. ELOUNDOU-ENYEGUE
, C. SHANNON STOKES
GRETCHEN T. CORNWELL
Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, California;
Department of Agricultural Economics and
Rural Sociology & Population Research Institute, The Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, Pennsylvania, USA
Abstract. Past demographic transitions have been observed with and without economic pro-
gress, but there is little empirical record of crisis-driven fertility transitions. In recent years,
several authors have argued that conditions for such transitions are met in African countries
under economic crisis and structural adjustment. Using retrospective family histories, this
study examines fertility responses to crisis in Cameroon, a country with a particularly abrupt
economic reversal. The thesis of a crisis-led decline is tested on the basis of ﬁve criteria
including timing of the decline, statistical and substantive signiﬁcance, rural-urban response
differentials and social salience. Findings are consistent with a crisis-led effect.
Keywords: Africa, Economic crisis, Fertility decline
The on-going economic crisis in sub-Saharan Africa presents demographers
with a theoretical conundrum. While classic demographic transition theory
linked declines in fertility to increased prosperity and heightened aspirations,
the severity of economic downturn in the region has raised the possibility
of a crisis-led fertility decline (NAS 1993; Lesthaeghe 1993). As a whole,
sub-Saharan countries experienced a 2.5 percent annual decline in real GNP
between 1980 and 1995 (World Bank 1997). Governments have typically
adjusted to this decline by cutting social spending, reducing public sec-
tor salaries, and downsizing the public sector labor force through hiring
freezes, layoffs, and early retirements (Duruﬂé 1988; World Bank 1994).
Perhaps inadvertently, these adjustment policies and the economic decline
itself have profoundly transformed the economics of childbearing in ways that
might affect fertility behavior: family incomes have dramatically declined,
the costs of educating children have risen, and remittances from children
have become more uncertain because of growing unemployment and lower
salaries. In a high fertility setting, how does fertility respond to such mac-