The aim of this study is to investigate whether diffusion contributed to the geography and the speed of the fertility transition. To this end, we assembled a new and unique dataset from historical sources in Belgium containing yearly information on fertility at the municipality level and a range of structural and cultural indicators over 47 years (1887–1934). We use this dataset in diffusion models based on multilevel event‐history analysis. We find that diffusion between neighboring places influenced the geography of the fertility transition only in its early stages; and diffusion accelerated the speed at which municipalities initiated fertility decline at the onset of the transition. We argue that, in the early stages of the transition, the bulk of people's interactions was confined to their own communities and neighboring places and, as such, new ideas, attitudes, and information about fertility would spread among adjacent areas. Later on, since the turn of the twentieth century, the way people interacted in space was transformed by the growing urbanization, the development of transportation infrastructure and labor migration. In this new context, opportunities for social learning were less constrained by space.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.