This study uses sets of historical family reconstitutions from all of Quebec and from four villages of the Haut-Jura, France—first marriages of 2226 and 994 women, respectively—to investigate the physiological and social factors affecting age of mother at last birth before and during fertility transition. Age remained high throughout the period covered in Quebec, under ‘natural’ conditions, but showed a steady decline in the French material which extends to late 19th century generations practising family limitation.
Age at marriage had no influence in Quebec; in France, however, women with the most surviving children at age 35 continued childbearing the latest. There was no link between biological ability to achieve a live birth, or in health status or aging rhythm, and age at last birth. Behaviour of mothers and daughters showed no relation. The variability in age at last birth thus appears to be random under natural conditions; with the onset of controls, social differences seem to influence not only the end of childbearing, but all aspects of behaviour governing final family size and child survival.