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Women’s education has emerged as a central predictor of fertility decline, but the multiple possible mechanisms by which education can affect fertility have not been subject to detailed comparative investigation across multiple sites. In this paper, we use structural equation modelling to examine potential pathways between education and fertility in three different geographic locations: Matlab, Bangladesh; San Borja, Bolivia; and rural Poland. Using a comparable set of variables we show that the pathways by which education affects fertility differ in important ways, yet also show key similarities. In particular, we find that across all three contexts, education affects age at first birth via women’s work, but this pathway only influences fertility in rural Poland. In Matlab and San Borja, education is associated with lower local childhood mortality which influences the number of births, but this pathway is not important in rural Poland. The similarities across sites suggest that common elements are important in how education drives demographic transitions cross-culturally, but the differences suggest that local ecologies also play an important role in the relationship between education and fertility decline.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, published by the Royal Society. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1098/ rstb.2015.0156

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