This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Stories of the End of the Demographic Transition Are Probably Premature

Chris Wilson, a highly accomplished demographer at the University of St. Andrews, has just published a paper in Demographic Research that probably unintentionally follows up on another paper published in that open source journal, which I discussed almost exactly a month ago, that a two-child norm is not necessarily the end-game of the demographic transition. But, the focus of Wilson's "reflective essay" is the idea that the demographic transition is ending, and then what? My answer, which you know if you've read my book, is that you could only think such a thought if you believed that the demographic transition is only about births and deaths--and even then we aren't really very close to the end of the transition--sub-Saharan Africa is a HUGE item on the future agenda, as the recent revisions of the UN population projections make clear.

It seems very unlikely historically that populations ever routinely had a steady state (a demographic regime) of births and deaths. Variability, especially in deaths, almost certainly characterized the world from time immemorial until the late 19th century. Fertility control, to the extent that it existed, was mainly "family control," which included a large dose of "intentional" mortality, including especially infanticide (and probably abortion, as well), not to mention maternal mortality, which took young women out of the picture before they could have large families. That really only began to change in earnest in the twentieth century. And variability is almost certainly what we face in the future because the age transition, the migration transition, the urban transition, and the family and household transition--all of the suites associated with the demographic transition, as I discuss in detail in Chapter 3--are in flux, and will likely be for the foreseeable future.

One of the things that I did appreciate about Wilson's paper was his point that the driver of the demographic transition is mortality, not fertility, per se (which just reacts to changes in mortality). In the first six editions of my text, I discussed fertility before mortality, but from the seventh edition (which came out in 1999--the twentieth anniversary of the first edition), I started discussing mortality first. While this idea was the underlying theme of Kingsley Davis's seminal 1963 article on the demographic change and response, I need to acknowledge Ted Groat, of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who first convinced me that mortality really needs to be the lead story in demography. He was dead right about that.

1 comment:

  1. Prof Weeks - he was "dead right about that"? Hahaha! Here's a thought for your demographic transition. Could the USA be edging towards higher mortality rates - as our access to better quality health care becomes diminished? It's probably not a rapi trend, but interestign to think about.

    About Sub-Saharan Africa - yes that location is the epicenter for a number of problems that will grow increasingly more serious in the coming decades. I suspect, but have not checked carefully, that some parts of south Asia may also have similar problems. If these problems become large in scope, I suspect that most of the rest of the world will want to "cut these countries loose" to face their own consequences. But I'm not at all sure that we live in a world where a particular continent can be just "cut loose" in a sink-or-swim philosophy.
    DrP, Los Angeles