Activity 1: Explaning Population Change

Throughout much of history human populations have been characterized by relative stability—high birth rates and high death rates fluctuating around a low growth equilibrium. Dramatic changes followed first the Agricultural Revolution some 8,000 years ago, and later the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, when improvements in food supply and changes in health and hygiene triggered unprecedented population growth. In the 1930s and 1940s, demographers proposed a model to explain the demographic changes observed in Western Europe between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. This model—the Demographic Transition Model—suggests a shift from high fertility/high mortality to low fertility/low mortality, with an intermediate period of rapid growth during which declining fertility rates lag behind declining mortality rates. This classic model is based on the experience of Western Europe, in particular England and Wales.

Materials Needed

  • Reading: Population Handbook, 5th edition (PDF: 463KB)
    Reading: Transitions in World Population, p. 6 and pp. 7-11 (PDF: 320KB)
  • PowerPoint or overhead transparency of The Classic Stages of Demographic Transition (PPT: 53KB)
  • Handout 1. "Data for Graphing" (provided below or Excel: 22KB)
  • Graphing paper or graphing software (MS Excel)
  • PowerPoint or overhead transparency of "Demographic Transition in Sweden and Mexico" or the data (found in Handout 1) for making this graph (PPT: 65KB)

Instructions

What is "Demographic Transition"?

Before beginning this activity, assign the readings as homework.

  1. Explain the classic stages of demographic transition using the PowerPoint slide or overhead transparency listed above.
  2. Have students construct a graph of birth and death rates in England using either graph paper or graphing software (MS Excel).
    Year
    CBR
    CDR
    Population
    1750
    40
    40
    6
    1800
    34
    20
    9
    1850
    34
    22
    18
    1900
    28
    16
    32
    1950
    16
    12
    44
    2000
    11
    10
    60
    • Compare the graph of England's transition to the classic model.
    • What similarities and differences can be observed?
    • Discuss social and economic factors that account for the changes in population patterns over the past two centuries. [Encourage students to draw on their knowledge of world history to enrich this discussion.]
    1. Show a graph of demographic transition in Sweden and Mexico using the PowerPoint or overhead transparency listed above. [See alternative strategy below]
      • Compare the transitions in these two countries to the classic model.
      • Why are the demographic experiences of these two countries so different?
      • Why did Mexico 's late start toward transition result in such dramatic growth?
      • Is Mexico typical of countries currently undergoing transition?
      • Does this mean that the classic model is no longer relevant?

      Alternative Strategy: Instructions

      Supply the following data and have the students construct the graph for analysis.

      Sweden
      Mexico
      Year
      CBR
      CDR
      CBR
      CDR
      1750
      36
      27
      ---
      ---
      1760
      36
      25
      ---
      ---
      1770
      33
      26
      ---
      ---
      1780
      36
      22
      ---
      ---
      1790
      31
      31
      ---
      ---
      1800
      29
      31
      ---
      ---
      1810
      33
      32
      ---
      ---
      1820
      33
      25
      ---
      ---
      1830
      33
      24
      ---
      ---
      1840
      31
      20
      ---
      ---
      1850
      32
      20
      ---
      ---
      1860
      35
      18
      ---
      ---
      1870
      29
      20
      ---
      ---
      1880
      29
      18
      ---
      ---
      1890
      28
      17
      ---
      ---
      1900
      27
      17
      47
      33
      1910
      25
      14
      43
      47
      1920
      24
      13
      45
      28
      1930
      15
      12
      45
      26
      1940
      15
      11
      45
      22
      1950
      17
      10
      45
      17
      1960
      14
      10
      45
      12
      1970
      14
      10
      43
      10
      1980
      12
      11
      32
      6
      1990
      14
      11
      27
      5
      2000
      10
      11
      22
      5