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COMPARATIVE RESEARCH AND TESTING THEORY

If an idiographic theory accounts for some data in say, India, Japan, or England, then an obvious next step is to see how far the theory extends. Alice Schlegel and Herbert Barry (1986), for example, looked at the consequences of female contribution to subsistence. Their nomothetic theory predicts that women will be more respected in societies where they contribute a lot to subsistence than in societies where their contribution is low.

Whether their theory is supported depends crucially on how Schlegel and Barry operationalize the concept of respect. In societies where women contribute a lot to subsistence, say Schlegel and Barry, women will be spared some of the burden of pregnancy ''through the attempt to space children'' more evenly (Schlegel and Barry 1986:146). In such societies, women will be subjected to rape less often; they will have greater sexual freedom; they will be worth more in bride wealth; and they will have greater choice in selection of a spouse. Schlegel and Barry coded the 186 societies in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample for each of those indicators of respect—and their predictions were supported.

age number of children born to women during their reproductive years), or TFRs, in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 1.2—that’s 29% to 43% below the 2.1 TFR needed in those countries just to replace the current population. In the past 40 years, some previously high TFR countries, like Barbados, Mauritius, and Mexico, have been through a major demographic transition.

Explaining why women in Barbados are having fewer children is idiographic; predicting the conditions under which women in any underdeveloped country will start lowering their fertility rate is nomothetic. Handwerker’s theory (1989) is that women in low-wage jobs encourage their daughters to get more education. And when women get sufficiently educated, their participation in the labor market becomes more effective (they earn more), freeing them from dependency on men (sons and husbands). As this dependency diminishes, women lower their fertility.

Handwerker’s theory is nomothetic and materialist. It relies on material conditions forces to explain how preferences develop for fewer children and it does not rely on preferences (culture, ideas, values) to explain the level of a country’s TFR.

 
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