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Population and the Environment: Analytical Demography and Applied Population Ethics/Household decisions and their consequences - fundamentals of the demographic transition

From Complex Time

October 15, 2018
11:45 am - 12:30 pm


Mary Shenk (Pennsylvania State Univ.)


In this lecture/discussion we will define and discuss four primary causal models for the demographic transition and especially the remarkable changes in fertility that have accompanied it, aiming to understand how the transition to industrialization and associated changes in economic systems, technology, culture, and the marriage market have motivated people around the world to reduce their fertility. We will discuss research comparing causal models, examining both the contrasts and synergies between them. We will also briefly discuss the remaining gaps in our knowledge of the demographic transition and fertility decision-making.    

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Post-meeting Reflection

Mary Shenk (Pennsylvania State Univ.) Link to the source page

This has been a very productive meeting for me. At first I thought "I don't do environmental work, so what do I have to contribute to this course?" But I was interested in the topic so I decided to participate, and it turns out that there are many interesting intersections between my work and that of other participants who are more directly focused on the environment. I have also found an environmental perspective embedded in my own work that I have been able to make more explicit as part of my presentation for this workshop. In terms of professional outcomes, I have already developed one new potential collaboration relevant to human population and demographic transitions in the past and an idea for a future workshop.

Reference Material

Colleran & Mace 2015 gives an excellent example from rural Poland which examines the relative effect of individual and group level variables on fertility outcomes.

Gurven & Kaplan 2007 discuss longevity among hunter-gatherers, giving us a framework for understanding what human demography may have looked like in our evolutionary past.

Kohler, Behrman & Watkins 2001 shows the effects of different social network structure on contraceptive knowledge and contraceptive use, showing how some may promote social learning while some inhibit it.

Lam 2011 gives important context for concerns about overpopulation in the past, and how many of these concerns were not realized though some were.

Nolin & Ziker 2016 examines a very rapid fertility decline--more of a fertility crash--in Siberia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, emphasizing how abrupt change or high levels of uncertainty may in some cases predict to low fertility. This is also a very elegant statistical model.

Page et al. 2016 gives an empirical test in the modern world of the mechanism by which the Neolithic Demographic Transition may have occurred thousands of years ago.

Shenk et al. 2013 gives a brief review of different causal models of the demographic transition and a comparison among them using model selection methods on detailed data.

Shenk, Kaplan & Hooper 2016 models the effects of status competition and inequality on fertility decisions. Results suggest that the dynamics of social competition may increase the scope of fertility decline compared to economic motivations alone.

Title Author name Source name Year Citation count From Scopus. Refreshed every 5 days. Page views Related file
How the World Survived the Population Bomb: Lessons From 50 Years of Extraordinary Demographic History David Lam Demography 2011 58 9
Social network- and community-level influences on contraceptive use: Evidence from rural poland Heidi Colleran, Ruth Mace Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2015 23 2
Status competition, inequality, and fertility: Implications for the demographic transition Mary K. Shenk, Hillard S. Kaplan, Paul L. Hooper Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2016 14 4
A model comparison approach shows stronger support for economic models of fertility decline 0 6
The Density of Social Networks and Fertility Decisions: Evidence From South Nyanza District, Kenya 0 3
Reproductive trade-offs in extant hunter-gatherers suggest adaptive mechanism for the Neolithic expansion 0 3
Longevity Among Hunter- Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination 0 9
Reproductive Responses to Economic Uncertainty 0 3