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Fertility and Female Spirituality Among Gloucestershire Baptists, 1800-1837: a Quantitative, Local Study


This paper examines quantitatively the comparative importance of female age-at-first marriage and age-at-conversion (adult baptism) among a sample of married female members of the Shortwood Baptist Church, located in Gloucestershire’s Nailsworth valley c. 1800-1837. English historical demographic studies usually decline to treat Protestant nonconformity separately from the Anglican laity; nor do they treat cultural phenomenon like religious affect as a variable in analyzing reproductive behavior, but rather emphasize socio-economic effects. The paper here is based on recent findings from my forthcoming family reconstitution monograph and based on a sample of 100 Baptist families, the profiles of which I have pieced together from an array of fragmentary sources. The data include the standard demographic indices but additionally contain data on the timing of religious conversion, the effects of which may be measured quantitatively through multiple regression analyses. Here female age-at-marriage and female age-at-conversion serve as explanatory variables in two structural equation models based on the technique of path analysis; these will seek to explain variation in such dependent variables as number of off-spring and age-at-last birth. Broadly, female age at marriage explains the number of off-spring, confirming the traditional importance of this variable found in the demographic literature. But age at conversion was found to have had a stronger impact on age-at-last birth. Frequently these last births occurred later than normal and increased family size on the margin; the regression coefficients suggest strongly that age-at-conversion, the moment of highest spiritual emotion, explains their occurrence. The conclusions tend to affirm that cultural factors were important in reproductive decisions, especially those associated with religion, as well as the broad perception found in the literature on popular religion that in this respect female spirituality was especially decisive.

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