28.1.2014 | Von:
Frank Swiaczny

First and Second Demographic Transition

Ein neugeborenes Mädchen liegt am 2. Januar 2007 im Auguste-Victoria-Klinikum in Berlin in ihrem Bett.A newborn child in a Berlin hospital. (© AP)

First Demographic Transition

In demographic research the first demographic transition refers to the transition from high to low mortality and birth rates. It typically begins with the decline in a previously high mortality. The causes for this decrease include higher standards of living and better hygiene in the population, as well as medical progress, whereby first the infant and child mortality are reduced. Since birth rates initially remain high, the population temporarily grows quickly, and its age distribution begins to shift such that the younger birth cohorts increase in size. After a while, however, the birth rate begins to decrease. This can be interpreted as an adaptation to children’s higher chances of survival as well as to changing ideals regarding one’s number of children due to the influence of societal modernization processes and changing economic conditions. Population growth thus wanes, and the population begins to age due to, inter alia, the increased life expectancy during the demographic transition. In many European countries the phase with the highest population growth rates took place during the industrialization and slowly declined until the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century. By now also most developing countries have reached a phase in which fertility rates have begun to sink; many of these countries have already gone beyond their phase of maximum population growth.

Second Demographic Transition

Chart 1: Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Selected European Countries from 1950/55 until 2010/15Chart 1: Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Selected European Countries from 1950/55 until 2010/15 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
The evident aging of the population was initially superimposed with a so-called "baby boom" which arose with the economic recovery after the Second World War. In Germany the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s was not only a "baby boom" phase, but also the phase of the German "economic wonder" with high growth rates and full employment. This period was referred to as the "Golden Age for Marriage", but it also marked the beginning of the second demographic transition. This refers to the sudden fall in the fertility level below that which is necessary to sustain a population in the long-term, which would be an average of 2.1 children per woman. Since the 1970s, this trend has taken place to varying degrees in all European countries. One reason for this was the improved societal position of women; with access to higher education and more employment opportunities, the number of children women wished to have sank. The higher availability of modern contraceptives has also enabled an effective control of fertility. By now many European countries have significantly fallen short of the threshold of 2.1 children per woman. Only a few countries currently demonstrate a recovery at or just below the replacement fertility rate (see Chart 1). As a result of continuing low fertility and the increasing life expectancy, European populations are showing a growing deficit in their natural population balance between births and deaths. If this birth deficit is not compensated with immigration, the population will shrink. In the last years the regions of immigration and of emigration have shown significant differences regarding such demographic effects.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Demographic Change and Migration in Europe".

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