Demographic Transition

Zeynep Tufekcioglu zeynept at
Sat Sep 28 17:41:13 MDT 1996

Nice to see there are still a few people on the list who are thinking, Lou.
As I understand it, your thesis is not merely that repressive mechanisms can
achieve results while they are in force, which I believe no one would deny,
but that they can change consciousness by sheer force and thus eventually
obviate the need for their own existence, thus moving society to a higher
level of development, with population as your example. What an odd thesis
for someone of your political background. But, seriously, no assessment can
be scientific until it tries very carefully to account for all the ways in
which it might be wrong factually, and all the possible alternative
explanations, some of which may just be superior. To that end, I have a few

1. What's happened to the birth rate in Poland?

2. Why haven't you mentioned China? Do you think that if the government's
population-restriction policy were lifted, the entire country wouldn't go
mad looking for fertility drugs that allow them to pop the little buggers
out five or six at a time?

3. What do you make of the fact that throughout the "undeveloped" world
fertility rates (number of children each woman has) have dropped
dramatically over the past twenty years, without any noticeable correlation
with development? This is true even in countries that have been overrun by
Islamic fundamentalism for the last several years. By the way, this fact has
led to a severe discrediting of the "demographic transition" idea, or at
least of its relevance post-1975 or so. It would seem that the main causes
of this fact might well also be the main causes of the drop in birth rates
in eastern Europe.

It's difficult to know what to make of your thesis until these and similar
questions are answered. On the related question of religion, sadly, state
repression seems to have made remarkably little long-term difference, except
perhaps for increasing fanaticism among a few.


>"Undeveloped countries have high birth and death rates.   Developed
>countries have low birth and death rates.   In between there is the
>demographic transition."    Paul Demeny's famous dictum embodies both the
>great strength and the weakness of demographic transition theory in the
>post--1989 era.
>Confronted with the precise specification of causal relationships in
>virtually all of the east European countries of heretofore "Actually
>Existing Socialism" [AES] ,   it generates propositions which are so rigid
>as to fail the first empirical test or else so elastic as to encompass
>everything while explaining nothing.
>Demographic transition theory emerged at the end of the second world war and
>was shaped both by the contemporary political agenda and the intellectual
>millieu prevailing in the social sciences.    Societies,  in
>structural--functionalist fashion,  were seen as equillibrium systems,
>whose interlocking normative codes served to maintain the healthy
>functioning of the whole.    Combined with this was a unilineal "stages"
>theory of social evolution predicated on a unitary process of structural
>"modernization" bringing cultural change in its wake.
>In this perspective,   Europe's preceding two centuries of demographic
>history represented a movement between two equilibria with an intervening
>"transitional" period of rapid growth.    Some time in the later eighteenth
>century,  first in England and later elsewhere,  structural
>modernization--the rise of an urban society,  and a market--based industrial
>economy with an expanding base of applied scientific knowledge--had
>triggered a sustained reduction in mortality.   Modernization eliminated the
>economic benefits of high fertility,   and mortality decline removed its
>functional necessity.
>Fertility decline was thus presented as a "normal" response to progressive
>social development rather than,  as often previously,  a pathological system
>of cultural--or even racial--decadence.   This naturally had implications
>elsewhere,  especially in the developing countries where the ideological
>conflict between Marxist-Leninist and liberal capitalist visions of
>modernization was most acute.   For the emerging neo-liberal model in the
>third world,  rapid population growth was both a source of political
>instability and an obstacle to economic growth,  a problem made more acute
>by unprecedentedly swift mortality decline.
>The collapse of the Leninist parties in Eastern Europe and the subsequent
>evolution of those societies into neo-liberal approximates (to one degree or
>another) has called into question the broad assumptions of demographic
>transition theory.    In the former Soviet Union,  for example,  the birth
>rate dropped a precipitous 17% between 1989 and 1994 (the last figures
>reliably available),  while the mortality rate actually rose 12% in the same
>period (life expectancy for Russian males has declined by 7.5 years since
>the mid-1980s,  while that of females has remained fairly stable).    In
>several of the former Soviet constituent republics,  such as Armenia and
>Kazakstan,  this trend is even more pronounced.
>In Bulgaria and Romania,  two of the most poorly developed nations of
>(formerly) AES,  the decline in birth rates has been dramatic (22% and 26%
>respectively),  with the increase in mortality rate hovers in each case
>around 20%.    Elsewhere,  the declining fertility rates have been less
>striking,  but the steady increase in the rate of mortality and in the
>lowering of life expectancy,   especially among males in heavy industrial
>areas,  have been most unexpected and worrying.
>A study of the changes occurring in the countries of formerly AES--seen as a
>unitary phenomenon as changes in population,  economy,  and society (as well
>as social mentalities),  reveal that these formerly distinct phenomenon do
>possess an underlying unity.    It suggests that,  far from economic
>development being the decisive factor in demographic change,  equal weight
>must be given to institutions--such as the Communist parties--whose
>omnipotent power over social and political life provided the impetus for the
>change in social attitudes--as well as its corollary of economic
>development--in fomenting transitions in demographic populations.
>As the authority of socialist political institutions--tied in of course to
>the ruling Communist and Workers parties-- waned (beginning in the early
>1980s),  the stage was set for a general decline in the demographic health
>of those societies.    It is an interesting feature of the political
>institutions of modern Leninism whose network of institutions and
>relationships often provided the decisive factor for demographic growth and
>At least,   that's how I see it.
>Louis Godena
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>End of marxism-digest V3 #466

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