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Engineering LibreTexts

3.4: The Demographic Transition Model

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  • The demographic transition model shows the changes in the patterns of birth rates and death rates that typically occur as a country moves through the process of industrialization or development. The demographic transition model was built based on patterns observed in European counties as they were going through industrialization. This model can be applied to other countries, but not all countries or regions fit the model exactly. And the pace or rate at which a country moves through the demographic transition varies among countries.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The demographic transition model shows how birth rates and death rates change over time as a country becomes more developed. The demographic transition model is typically divided into four stages. The green line represents death rates and the dashed red line represents birth rates .

    In the demographic transition model, a country begins in Stage 1, the preindustrial stage. In Stage 1 (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)), both birth rates and death rates are high. The high death rates are because of disease and potential food scarcity. A country in Stage 1 of the demographic transition model does not have good health care; there may not be any hospitals or doctors. Children are not vaccinated against common diseases and therefore many children die at a young age. Infant and childhood mortality rates (death rates) are very high. A society in Stage 1 is likely based upon agriculture and most people grow their own food. Therefore, droughts or flood can lead to widespread food shortages and death from famine. All of these factors contribute to the high death rate in Stage 1. Partly to compensate for the high death rates, birth rates are also high. High birth rates mean that families are large and each couple, on average, has many children. When death rates are high, having many children means that at least one or two will live to adulthood. In Stage 1, children are an important part of the family workforce and are expected to work growing food and taking care of the family.

    As you are examining the stages of the demographic transition model, remember that:

    Population Growth Rate = Birth Rate – Death Rate

    In Stage 1, birth rates are high, but death rates are high as well. Therefore, population growth rate is low or close to zero (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

    As a country develops, medical advances are made such as access to antibiotics and vaccines. Sanitation improvements, such as proper waste and sewage disposal, and water treatment for clean drinking water also progress. Food production also increases. Together these changes lead to falling death rates which marks the beginning of Stage 2 (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Death rates continue to fall throughout Stage 2 as conditions improve. This means that people are living longer and childhood morality drops. However, birth rates are still high in Stage 2. There is a time lag between the improving conditions and any subsequent changes in family size, so women are still having many children and now more of these children are living into adulthood. In Stage 2, the birth rate is higher than the death rate, so population growth rate is high. This means that population size increases greatly during Stage 2 of the demographic transition model (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

    A falling birth rate marks the beginning of Stage 3 in the demographic transition model. As a country continues to industrialize, many women join the workforce. Additionally, raising children becomes more expensive and children no longer work on the family farm or make large economic contributions to the family. Individuals may have access to birth control and choose to have fewer children. This leads to a drop in birth rates and smaller family sizes. Death rates also continue to drop during Stage 3 as medicine, sanitation and food security continue to improve. Even though both birth rates and death rates are falling throughout Stage 3, birth rates are higher than death rates. This means that population growth rate is high and that population size continues to increase in Stage 3 of the demographic transition model (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

    Birth rate and death rates drop to low, stable, approximately equal levels in Stage 4. Death rates are low because of medical advances, good sanitation, clean drinking water and food security. Birth rates are low because of access to birth control and many women delay having their first child until they have worked. Childhood mortality is low, life expectancy is high, and family size is approximately two children per couple. With low birth rates and low death rates, population growth rate is approximately zero in Stage 4 (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

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    Figure 3.4, with the changes in population size (y-axes on the far right) shown by the black line. Population size is low and stable in Stage 1, increases rapidly in Stage 2 and 3 because birth rates are higher than death rates, and then is high and stable again in Stage 4.