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Demographic Transition Theory

Throughout most of history, birthrates and death rates have both been high, with very slow population growth. In most Western nations, advances in agriculture, science, medicine, and industry brought falling death rates beginning in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries; meanwhile, birthrates remained high and rates of population growth multiplied enormously. Before’ long, however, the desire for a higher standard of living led to reductions in the birthrate, so  that most Western nations are approaching a new equilibrium, with both birthrates and death rates quite low and little population growth [Atkinson, 1977, p. 12]. This is explained by the theory of demographic transition-the theory that industrial and commercial development first cuts the death rate but creates a desire for smaller families and eventually cuts the birthrate as shown in Figure 17-4.
Will this same transition come to non- Western nations? This is un certain. Brazil and Mexico are two of the most rapidly developing states in the world, but birthrates have remained high (40 and 36 respectively); at which rates, Brazil’s population’ would double in twenty years and Mexico’s in twenty-five [ Coale, 1978; Peterson, 1982]. One difficulty is.that, whereas in the Western nations, “death control” accompanied industrialization,
“death control” preceded ,the modernization, and industrialization of most
of the .developing nations by several decades.  gave them explosive population growth before. the conditions for birth control’: had developed. What is needed now is an approach that will reduce population growth so that economic development has a better chance . As Shirley Hartley expresses the idea: ;’The gap between the rich and the poor nations continues to increase, not because there are  o improvements in the less developed nations,but because they are watered down by population increase’ I [Hartley, 1973, p. 202J. Thus, the theory of demographic transition has yet to be demonstrated in non-Western nations [Weinstein, 1980].

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