The following points highlight the four main stages of demographic transition. 

1. As per the theory of demographic transition, a country is subjected to both high birth and death rates at the first stage of an agrarian economy. The birth rates are very high due to universal and early marriages, widespread prevalence of illiteracy, traditional social beliefs and customs, absence of knowledge about family planning techniques, attitudes towards children for supplementing family income etc.

Thus at this stage, birth rates are high out of economic necessity. In this connection, Coale and Hoover observed, “Children contribute at an early age and are the traditional source of security in the old age of parents. The prevalent high death rates, especially in infancy, imply that such security can be attained only when many children are born”

At this stage, the death rates are also high due to insufficient diets and absence of adequate medical and sanitation facilities. In this economy, the rate of growth of population is not high as high birth rate is compensated by high death rate.


2. With the gradual attainment of economic development, the living condition of people started to improve due to better and regular diet, better medical and sanitation facilities leading to fall in the death rate.

Regular food supply, improved law and order situations, medical innovations and advancement, development of antibiotics, vaccines and introduction of immunization programmes have led to substantial reduction in the incidence of disease and death. But at this stage, the birth rate continues to remain very high in-spite of substantial fall in death rates leading to accelerated growth of population.

3. With the gradual attainment of economic development, the economy of the country started to experience a change in its structure from a purely agrarian to an industrialised one. During this stage people become conscious about the size of the family and also on limiting the size of the family. There will be exodus of population from rural to urban areas in search of food and job.

In order to avoid the threat of large family, people started to raise the age of marriage by postponing marriage as well as to limit reproduction. With the growing industrialisation of the economy, the adoption of small family norm become very much popular among the people of higher sections of society and then it started to percolate among the lower sections of society.


Moreover, with growing urbanisation of the country, the adoption of small family norm is becoming very much popular. “One of the features of economic development is typically increasing urbanization, and children are usually more of a burden and less of an asset in an urban setting than in a rural.” Thus at this stage, the country will experience the fall in the birth rate, low death rate and consequently a fall in the rate of growth of population.

4. The fourth stage of demographic transition is characterised by a low birth rate and a low death rate of population, leading to a stationary population. It is, therefore, known as the stage of stationary population where both the birth rate and death rate remain at a low level leading to a very little growth in population.

Due to the attainment of economic development, standard of living of the people reaches the high level during this fourth stage. During this stage, a significant change in social outlook of the people has taken place under the impact of urbanization, industrialisation and high rate of literacy. Thus at this stage, population becomes stationary at a low rate.

For example, the rate of growth of population in various countries stood at 0.1 per cent in Germany, 0.2 per cent in UK and Italy, 0.4 per cent in Japan, 0.7 per cent in USA and 0.0 per cent in Romania and Ireland. These four stages of demographic transition can be explained suitably with the help of Fig. 6.1.

Stages of Demographic Transition

Fig. 6.1 reveals that there is low rate of growth of population in Stage I as it is characterised by high birth rate and death rate. The Stage II is again subjected to high and stationary birth rate and sharply declining death rate leading to a very rapid increase in the size of population.

Again the Stage III is subjected to a falling birth rate and low and stationary death rate leading to a rapidly rising population. Finally, the Stage IV is characterised by a low birth rate and a low death rate leading to a stationary population at a very low level.

Thus, in this way, a country can transform its characteristics of low per capita income, high birth and death rates into a low birth and death rates, higher per capita income etc. while passing through these three stages of demographic transition.

Coale and Hoover, the pro-pounders of the theory of Demographic Transition observed, “The agrarian low-income economy is characterised by high birth and death rates—the birth rates relatively stable, and the death rates fluctuating in response to varying fortunes. Then as the economy changes its form to a more inter­dependent and specialised market oriented economy, the average death rate declines. It continues to decline under the impact of better organisation and improving medical knowledge and care. Somewhat later the birth rate begins to fall. The two rates follow a more or less parallel downward course with decline in birth rate lagging behind. Finally, as further reductions in the death rate become harder to attain, the birth rate again approaches equality with death rate and a more gradual rate of growth is re-established, with, however, low risks of mortality and small family as the typical pattern. Mortality rates are now positively stable from year to year and birth rates, responsive to voluntary decisions rather than to deeply embedded customs, may fluctuate from year to year.”

From these four stages of demographic transition we can see that when an economy moves from the first stage to the second stage, the economy will have to face an imbalance as a result of falling death rate and relatively stable birth rate.

The experience shows that to control death rate is quite easier than to control birth rate as the measure to control death rate are mostly exogenous in nature. But to reduce the birth rate, some endogenous factors such as changes in customs, social attitudes, beliefs and dogmas about marriage and also about size of the family etc. are playing important role. But such changes are very difficult to occur and time consuming. Thus in this second stage, with the consequent fall in the death rate, the birth rate tend to fall after a considerable time-lag, leading to a population explosion at this stage.

This theory is known as demographic transition because it will require a period of transition in order to adjust with the imbalance resulted from a fall in death rate and a more or less stable birth rate. With the changes in the outlook of the society, the birth and death rates gradually reduce to a lower ebb and also become balanced resulting in fall in the rate of growth of population. India is now in the second stage of demographic transition where it has been able to reduce the death rate considerably but is facing a tardy fall in its birth rate.