With the spread of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, dramatic changes began to occur in the populations of industrializing countries. But do the changes that occurred in Western Europe and the United States have relevance for modern countries just entering the industrial age? Students should be able to evaluate and apply models to explain changes in global demographic patterns, and use their assessments to predict future needs.

Objectives

  • To understand the classic demographic transition (DT) model
  • To explain assumptions and limitations of the classic DT model
  • To construct graphs of contemporary demographic change
  • To explain contemporary demographic patterns in the context of the classic DT model

Content Standards
AP Human Geography*: Unit II—Population Unit
B. Population growth and decline over time and space
4. Regional variations of demographic transitions

Student Activities

  • Activity 1: Explaining Population Change
  • Activity 2: Global Population Patterns and Demographic Transitions
  • Activity 3: Can an Old Model Explain New Trends?

Lesson Resources

Transitions in World Population, p. 6 and pp. 7-11 (PDF: 320KB)

Population: A Lively Introduction, 4th edition (PDF: 260KB)
[Note: The page numbers provided refer to the pages of the publication, not the pdf file.]

Central Concepts: Demographic transition model; birth rate; death rate; natural increase

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)
  • 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

 

Activity 2: Global Population Patterns and Demographic Transitions

Materials Needed

  • World Population Data Sheet (PDF: 304KB)
  • Graphing paper or graphing software (MS Excel)

Instructions

Refer to the current World Population Data Sheet by the Population Reference Bureau to answer the following questions.

How Do Demographic Characteristics Vary Among World Regions?

  1. Calculate the percentage (to the nearest whole number) of the world’s population expected to be living in less developed countries in 2025 and in 2050.2025: _______________ 2050: _______________
  2. Rank the following regions according to the demographic characteristics, in the chart below. Rates can be found in the World Population Data Sheet: Africa, Asia, North America, Latin America, Europe.
    Rank
    Crude Birth Rate
    Crude Death Rate
    Rate of Natural Increase
    Region
    Rate
    Region
    Rate
    Region
    Rate
    Highest
    2nd Highest
    Middle
    2nd Lowest
    Lowest
  3. Find the country with the highest crude birth rate and fill in the name of the country and the rate in the chart below. If there is more than one country with the same rate, select any one of the countries. Do the same for the highest crude death rate and the lowest crude birth and death rates.
    Highest Lowest Hi-Low
    Country
    Rate
    Country
    Rate
    CBR
    CDR
  4. Subtract the lowest rate from the highest rate for both crude births and deaths and enter in the chart.
  5. Is the difference between more developed countries and less developed countries greater for the crude birth rate or the crude death rate? Why do you think this is?

Is There Correlation Between Demographic Indicators and Economic Well-Being?

Refer again to the current World Population Data Sheet to complete the chart below:

CBR
CDR
RNI
GNI PPP/capita*
Burkina Faso
Canada
China
Cyprus
France
Italy
Malaysia
New Zealand
United Arab Emirates
Zambia

*GNI PPP refers to gross national income converted to “international” dollars using a purchasing power parity conversion factor. International dollars indicate the amount of goods and services one could buy in the United States with a given amount of money.

  1. Use the data collected in the chart above to construct three simple scattergrams relating crude birth rate and GNI PPP/capita; crude death rate and GNI PPP/capita; and rate of natural increase and GNI PPP/capita. [Note: Graphs can be constructed either manually on graph paper or electronically using a software program such as MS Excel.]
  2. In general, what is the relationship between each indicator and GNI PPP/capita? Phrase your response in the form of three generalizations. [for example, “the higher the CBR, the…the GNI PPP/capita”]
  3. Identify countries that are outliers in each graph. How do you account for each country’s deviation from the general trend? [Note: This may require some research.]

Extension

Based on the data collected in the final chart above, speculate in which stage of the classic demographic transition model each of these countries would fall.

  1. Which characteristics are most helpful in making decisions?
  2. What additional information would be useful?
  3. Refer to the World Population Data Sheet to gather more information to support an informed decision.
  4. How does the model assist in categorizing countries? What are some limitations?

Introduction

The classic Demographic Transition Model is based on the experience of Western Europe, in particular England and Wales. Critics of the model argue that “demographic transition” is a European phenomenon and not necessarily relevant to the experience of other regions, especially those regions referred to as “less developed” or “developing.”

The underlying premise of the classic Demographic Transition Model is that all countries will eventually pass through all four stages of the transition, just as the countries of Europe did. Because the countries of Europe, as well as the United States, have achieved economic success and enjoy generally high standards of living, completion of the demographic transition has come to be associated with socioeconomic progress.

This raises several questions:

  • Can contemporary less developed countries hope to achieve either the demographic transition or the economic progress enjoyed by more developed countries that passed through the transition at a different time and under different circumstances?
  • Is the socioeconomic change experienced by industrialized countries a prerequisite or a consequence of demographic transition?

Part One: Does the Classic Demographic Transition Model Provide a Useful Framework for Evaluating Demographic Change in Contemporary Developing Countries?

Materials Needed

  • Reading: Transitions in World Population, p. 6 and pp. 7-11 (PDF: 320KB)
  • Handout 1. “Data Tables” (PDF: 11KB)
  • Graphing paper or graphing software such as MS Excel
  • Internet access for basic research

Instructions

Assign the reading above before conducting this activity.

  1. Review the classic Demographic Transition Model. Discuss some criticisms of its relevance to countries only now experiencing demographic change.
  2. Ask students if the classic model has a place in contemporary population analysis, and explain that they will test the model in this activity.
  3. Divide the class into four (or more—see note below) groups. Assign each group one of the countries for which data is provided in Handout 1.
  • Have students construct a graph showing the trends in birth and death rates and population growth.
  • Direct students to use an Internet search engine to locate additional information about population trends in the assigned country.

[Note: Data for additional countries can be found in the U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base]

Part Two: Is the Demographic Transition Model Useful as a Framework for Evaluating Demographic Change?

Materials Needed

  • PowerPoint or overhead transparency of “A Model” (PPT: 39KB)

Instructions

  1. When students have completed their graphs and research, have each group report back to the class.
  2. Take time to discuss the definition of “model.”
    model is …

    •  a representation of some phenomenon of the real world made in order to facilitate an understanding of its workings
    •  a simplified and generalized version of real events, from which the incidental detail has been removed

    Given this definition: does a model represent reality or is it a framework against which reality can be measured or evaluated?

  3. Now return to the original questions to discuss the classic Demographic Transition Model.
  • Is the Demographic Transition Model useful as a framework for evaluating demographic change in regions outside Europe and the United States?
  • Is it necessary that all countries share the experiences of Europe and the United States in order to pass through a demographic transition?
  • Is the socioeconomic change experienced by industrialized countries a prerequisite or a consequence of demographic transition?
  • Are there multiple ways to achieve a similar end?

This lesson plan is part of a teaching package, Making Population Real: New Lesson Plans and Classroom Activities.

* AP and the Advanced Placement Program are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board, which was not involved in the production of these lesson plans.