The Lost Stork? Interpretations and Experiences of Childlessness in 18th- and 19thcentury Belgium.

01 October 2015 → 18 April 2017
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • History
Project description

Childlessness affects human and economic development in several ways ranging from population dynamics and family structure to individual wellbeing. Despite its significance, historical research on the topic is still in its infancy and little is known about macro-level developments, micro-level pathways and coping strategies regarding childlessness in the past. Situated at the crossroads of historical demography and medical history, this project employs a wide array of sources, both quantitative and qualitative, to provide a comparative and historical setting for the discussion of childlessness. My study has two main objectives. First, I aim to trace and explain variation in childlessness through time, space and across socio-economic groups in 18th- and 19th-century Belgium, and by expansion Western Europe. My second goal is to study how childlessness was experienced and coped with on an individual level. This project will therefore not only enable a comprehensive and unique insight in historical childlessness, but will also provide a comparative perspective in our understanding of the present levels and determinants of childlessness and contribute to several international debates, concerning the historical ‘value’ of children, the determinants of 19th-century fertility decline and the social mechanisms behind reproductive behaviour in the past.