A longitudinal, micro-level study of the effect of socioeconomic transformations on fertility mechanisms in the rural hinterland of Bologna between 1818 and 1900 (the beginning of the demographic transition) demonstrates that the premature death of a last-born child reduces the interval between two consecutive childbirths. Thus does it confirm the importance of breast-feeding in determining birth spacing. Women living in complex sharecropping households experienced a significantly higher risk of childbirth than did women in families headed by daily wage earners. In addition, the reproductive behavior of sharecroppers seemed to be substantially invariant to short-term fluctuations in prices, whereas the laborers' group experienced a negative price effect. Both descriptive and multivariate analyses indicate a slight and gradual decrease in fertility levels during the period in question.

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