From Indianapolis to the World: Fertility Surveys in the Twentieth Century

Emily Merchant, University of Michigan

Throughout the twentieth century, demographers sought to understand how people make decisions about family size, in particular why they might limit their families and what methods they might use to do so. Between the two world wars, demographers began designing studies intended to elicit information about fertility and contraceptive practice, first of white couples in Indianapolis and, within twenty years, of couples in developing countries. This paper traces the history of four fertility surveys, two in the U.S. – the Indianapolis Study of the 1940s and the Growth of American Families study of the 1950s – and two international – the collection of 1960s surveys known as Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices and the World Fertility Survey of the 1970s. It analyzes those surveys within the multiple and overlapping contexts of the history of demography, the history of survey research, the American eugenics movement, the global population crisis, and twentieth-century geopolitics.

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Presented in Poster Session 1