Explaining the Demographic Transition Model


Here are the characteristics associated with each stage of the classic four-stage DTM. In parentheses, the approximate dates of the onset of each stage are shown as they occurred in Europe, but there was much variation even across that region, so these dates are approximate.


Stage 1: Both birth and death rates are high and population grows slowly, if at all (Europe between pre-history and about 1650).

Stage 2: Birthrates remain high, but death rates fall sharply as a result of improved nutrition, medicine, health care, and sanitation.  Population begins to grow rapidly (began in Europe slowly after 1650, then more rapidly after the Industrial Revolution spread in the early 19th century).

Stage 3: Birthrates begin to drop rapidly, death rates continue to drop, but more slowly.  Economic and social gains, combined with lower infant mortality, reduce the desire for large families (in Europe, birthrates in some nations began to fall in the 19th century and spread across the region by the early 20th century).

Stage 4: Both birth and death rates are in balance, but at a much lower rate; population growth is minimal if at all (Europe since the 1970s).


The theory of demographic transition assumes that a country will move from a pre-industrial (agricultural) economic base to an urban, industrial one, with a corresponding decrease in family size and population growth.  The slowing of population growth theoretically results from better standards of living, improvements in health care, education (especially for women), sanitation, and other public services. Although this four-stage pattern has been repeated in other places besides Europe, there are local variations, sometimes significant, as the trajectory of development is everywhere different and by no means inexorable. For example, many of today's least-developed countries still retain the high birth rates characteristic of Stage 2. Also, parts of Europe, Russia and Japan may be entering a new, fifth stage, where birth rates are below death rates, and the population ages and begins to decline.


Pause and Reflect 2: 

Before continuing, think about the following questions and discuss them with your classmates:

1. The demographic transition theory assumes that birth and death rates begin to fall as nations develop their economies. Do you think economic development is enough to stabilize a country's population? Why or why not?

2. What has the demographic experience been in your country? Does it fit the demographic transition model? Why or why not?


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