Demographic Transition Theory: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Demographic
  • 1:26 Stages of the DT Theory
  • 4:34 Responses to DT Theory
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the relationship between population and industrial growth through the demographic transition theory and discover common trends around the world. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Look at our world. It looks like a mess, doesn't it? People are bustling from place to place, moving, integrating, socializing, trading, fighting, changing. It's chaos. But, only if you don't know what to look for. In any system of chaos, there are always underlying patterns that give meaning to all the madness. So how do we find them? One way is through demographics, the statistical analysis of a human population. Demographic studies record birth rates, death rates, relocations, occupations, health patterns, and a number of other things. From this data, you can observe trends over time, patterns in the chaos.

Well, in 1929, a demographer by the name of Warren Thompson noticed a pattern in birth and death rates over the previous 200 years. He found that there was a correlation between these rates and the amount that a society relied on industrial technology. This gave rise to the demographic transition theory, which predicts trends in birth and death rates in countries based on their level of industrial development. In other words, countries that developed more industrial technology tend to fit different patterns than countries with less, or newer, industrial technology. See? Patterns in the chaos.

Stages of the DT Theory

According to the demographic transition theory, human societies are categorized into one of four stages of industrial development. Let's start with stage one, pre-industrial society. This is a society with no industrial technology or development. In general, both birth rates and death rates are high, but stable, so the overall population does not change very dramatically. From the beginning of human history up until the first Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, this was the basic pattern for all human societies.

Stage two is a country that is beginning its industrial development. The new changes in technology mean that agriculture is more productive and healthcare is more effective, so there is more food and less disease. The result is a sharp decrease in death rates. Even though birth rates stay the same, the fact that there are fewer deaths means that population increases very quickly. As of right now, countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Laos, amongst others, match this trend.

As societies become more and more industrialized, they enter stage three of the demographic transition theory. By stage three, death rates are still low, but birth rates begin to decline as well. So, why are people in stage three having fewer kids? For one, fewer children are dying, so parents can stop having children earlier. Also, more industrial technology means that societal values tend to shift away from rural and agricultural lives to urban, industrial ones. In other words, people move to the city and buy food, rather than growing it themselves. Other factors include a higher number of educated, professional women, increased costs of childcare as a result of child labor laws and mandatory education, and increased social pressure to essentially spoil the children you have. Also, birth control is usually first readily available in stage three, although this is a pretty recent change. So, that's a lot of social change, and as a result, the population growth of stage two tends to level out in stage three.

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