The Demographic Transition: An example.

To assist you in further interpretation of the Demographic Transition and its implications for countries in the core, I made this brief excerpt from one of the many cultural geography text books. 

Cultural Dimensions: Sweden, An Early Example of Population Change

Sweden provides a good cast study for population change because of the length of its recorded history. Population statistics, available from 1749, reveal Sweden's change from stage one to stage four of the demographic transition.

The Early Period

Sweden in 1750 was typical of agricultural countries in Europe. The population was chiefly engaged in farming in a society characterized by a rigid, hierarchical class system. The income of the majority of the population was low, approximating that of less industrialized countries today. The wealthy elite had more material goods, but their health and life expectancy was little different than that of the masses. The average life expectancy for men was only 34.2 years, and that for women was 37.6. The population in 1750 totaled 1.7 million people, who suffered from repeated infectious diseases such as whooping cough, smallpox, measles, and related infections. The country was subject to periodic famine and the infant mortality was high. Birth rates exceeded forty per thousand, but death rates were equally high.

Sweden began the transition to stage two of the demographic transition in the period 1750-1850. The life expectancy for Swedish men had increased to over 39 and to over 43 for women by 1850. During the same period the population doubled to nearly 3.5 million.

The Population Explosion in Sweden: Examination of Culture History

Advances in medicine after 1850 (including vaccination against smallpox and antiseptic and hygienic conditions in hospitals) combined with improved sanitation and sewage systems to decrease the death rate precipitously. Increased life expectancy led to a population boom that aroused fears of overpopulation in Sweden because the rapid population growth placed tremendous pressure on the agrarian society, resulting in the emigration of 20 percent of the total population (mostly to the United States).

Attitudes toward population increase had changed by 1930, and birth rates declined, while average life expectancy improved. Life was still difficult for many, with unsanitary and crowded housing and inadequate hygienic conditions for the poor. Contrasts between the wealthy and the poor were reflected in birth and death rates and life expectancy. Infant mortality rates ranged from forty-nine per thousand births in low-income families to only fourteen per thousand in high-income families. Sweden introduced some forms of government social security programs between 1930 and 1940 including national health insurance, employer medical insurance, maternity welfare, housing allowances, nursery schools, children's health services, free school meals, and information on nutrition and health. The population of Sweden grew to 6.4 million by 1940.

The Present Population Situation in Sweden

Sweden's population increased from 6.4 million to 8.3 million between 1940 and 1985. The trends begun during the earlier part of the twentieth century led to decreasing growth rates, making immigration responsible for a significant proportion of the population increase from 1940 to 1985. Fertility rates continued to decline, with the average woman bearing only 2.22 children by 1955 and only 1.55 by 1985. Sweden will reach zero population growth if this average total fertility rate continues, and the number of Swedes may actually decline.

Concern for the slow growth of Sweden's population is reflected in a national survey in 1982. The results of this survey indicate that Swedish women have small families for the following reasons:

  1. More women are attending school longer and are therefore postponing childbearing.
  2. Highly educated women have fewer children.
  3. A larger percentage of women are in the labor force and have more education and higher status jobs.
  4. More unmarried couples are living together and are less likely to have children than married couples.
  5. Effective methods of contraception are being widely used.
  6. Working women have difficulty finding adequate day care centers.
  7. The burdens of housework, caring for the children, and cooking and shopping are being borne primarily by women whether they work or not.

The survey revealed that almost all women considered having children one of the meaningful things in life, but the problems presented by children in Sweden's industrial society indicate that family size will continue to decrease. Sweden's population grew at a rate of 0.01 percent between 1980 and 1985, and since 1985 it has actually declined. Life expectancy in Sweden is one of the highest in the world (75.8 years average), and infant mortality (seven per thousand) is also among the lowest.

Sweden's experience in moving from stage one to stage four of the demographic transition has been repeated in other industrial countries and is currently occurring in some less industrialized countries. Sweden is unique in having long-term population statistics, but the changes in its birth, death, and growth rates as the country moved from stage one to stage three of the demographic transition have been mirrored in other industrial countries. The experience of Sweden and other industrialized countries has prompted some observers to conclude that if a country industrializes, its population growth rate will also decline.

SOURCE: Cultural Geography by R.Jackson and L.Hudman, West Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN, 1990. p.145-6

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