Historical Social Research

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Ron Lesthaeghe, The “Second Demographic Transition”: A Conceptual Map for the Understanding of Late Modern Demographic Developments in Fertility and Family Formation [Abstract]

This article presents a narrative of the unfolding of the Second Demographic Transition (SDT) since the theory was first formulated in 1986. The first part recapitulates the foundations of the theory, and documents the spread of the SDT to the point that it now covers most European populations. Also for Europe, it focuses on the relationship between the SDT and the growing heterogeneity in period fertility levels. It is shown that the current positive relationship between SDT and TFR levels is not a violation of the SDT theory, but the outcome of a “split correlation” with different sub-narratives concerning the onset of fertility postponement and the degree of subsequent recuperation in two parts of Europe. The second part of the article addresses the issue of whether the SDT has spread or is currently spreading in industrialized Asian countries. Evidence gathered for Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan is presented. That evidence pertains to both the macro-level (national trends in postponement of marriage and parenthood, rise of cohabitation) and the micro-level (connections between individual values orientations and postponement of parenthood). Strong similarities are found with SDT patterns in Southern Europe, except for the fact that parenthood is still very rare among Asian cohabiting partners.