Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Hans-Peter Kohler


The demographic phenomenon of “low fertility” has received considerable attention over the last three decades within academic, political, and public spheres. While a large body of research has led to a deeper understanding of the underlying social and economic dimensions of low fertility, current theoretical and empirical approaches fail to explain puzzles pertaining to within and across population heterogeneity in fertility rates. This dissertation is comprised of three papers that investigate the social, economic, and demographic causes and consequences of low fertility. Chapter 1 sets forth a new theoretical approach to examining the interrelations between low fertility, socioeconomic development, and gender equity among developed countries. The main findings of this chapter are that 1) the pace and onset of socioeconomic development explain a significant proportion of the variation in fertility among developed countries, 2) low fertility may facilitate changes in gender norms through a “gender-equity dividend”, and 3) contrary to Second Demographic Transition theory, low fertility may be a transitory phase of the demographic transition. Whereas the Chapter 1 looks cross-nationally at gender and fertility dynamics, Chapter 2 takes a micro-level approach by exploring the relationship between fertility and gender norms in the United States. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY 79), I find that both men and women with progressive views on gender equity have lower fertility than their traditional counterparts, though these results were stronger, more consistent, and more significant across models for women. In Chapter 3 I argue that the rising costs of childrearing through “shadow education” have become a key fertility-reducing force across high, medium, and low-income countries. To investigate this hypothesis, I use data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and find evidence of a “quality-quantity tradeoff” both within and across populations due to costly shadow education. Collectively, the findings of this dissertation signal that the causes and consequences of low fertility are multifaceted and evolving across time and space.