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Demographic transitions in Europe and the world


  • Frans J. Willekens

    (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany)


The demographic transition is a universal phenomenon. All regions of the world experience a change from high levels of mortality and fertility to low levels. The onset and pace of the demographic transition vary between regions and countries because of differences in timing of events and conditions that trigger the transition. As a consequence, we observe diverging trends in population growth and ageing around the world. The paper shows that transitions in mortality, fertility and migration have several features in common. Demographic transitions are intertwined with science and technology, the economy, cultural change and social and political processes. The interaction between these processes take place at the level of the individual, not at the population level. The human desire for a long and fulfilling life is the main driver of demographic change. Science and technology provide instruments to control demographic processes but the use of these instruments is conditioned by economic and cultural change. Individuals are more likely to act if they are aware that they can influence the outcome of their action, the outcome is beneficial and they have the instruments to exercise control. The pace of a transition depends on (a) diffusion processes that govern the transmission of values, preferences, norms and practices and (b) inertia in a population due to its composition. Keywords: Demographic transition, path dependence, diffusion, agency, demographic dividends

Suggested Citation

  • Frans J. Willekens, 2014. "Demographic transitions in Europe and the world," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2014-004, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:dem:wpaper:wp-2014-004
    DOI: 10.4054/MPIDR-WP-2014-004

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mikko Myrskyla & Hans-Peter Kohler & Francesco C. Billari, 2011. "High development and fertility: fertility at older reproductive ages and gender equality explain the positive link," Working Papers 049, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
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    5. John Bongaarts, 2010. "The causes of educational differences in fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa," Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, Vienna Institute of Demography (VID) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, vol. 8(1), pages 31-50.
    6. Dirk J. Van De Kaa, 2010. "Universal history and population change," Demográfia English Edition, Hungarian Demographic Research Institute, vol. 53(5), pages 5-20.
    7. R. Lesthaeghe & K. Neels, 2002. "From the First to the Second Demographic Transition: An Interpretation of the Spatial Continuity of Demographic Innovation in France, Belgium and Switzerland," European Journal of Population, Springer;European Association for Population Studies, vol. 18(4), pages 325-360, December.
    8. Lans Bovenberg & Casper van Ewijk, 2012. "The Future of Multi-Pillar Pension Systems," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 10(4), pages 16-20, December.
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    2. Alba Ayala & Carmen Rodríguez-Blázquez & Amaia Calderón-Larrañaga & Giorgi Beridze & Laetitia Teixeira & Lia Araújo & Fermina Rojo-Pérez & Gloria Fernández-Mayoralas & Vicente Rodríguez-Rodríguez & Ví, 2021. "Influence of Active and Healthy Ageing on Quality of Life Changes: Insights from the Comparison of Three European Countries," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(8), pages 1-13, April.

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    More about this item


    demographic transition;

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General

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