The Fertility Transition Revisited: A Cohort Perspective


  • Tomas Frejka Independent Researcher



Fertility transition pathways, International comparative analysis, Cohort fertility, Fertility transition causes


This paper deals with the fertility transition, one of the two essential components of the demographic transition. The analysis demonstrates that by applying the cohort perspective new insights are obtained about how the fertility transition unfolded. Within the overall framework of the fertility transition there were four distinct pathways of fertility trends. Combining these findings with those of other scholars shows that the demographic transition has not yet led to an equilibrium of relatively stable low mortality and stable low fertility.

The four fertility transition pathways are the following: (1) The Western fertility transition pathway characterized by major cohort total fertility rate (CTFR) fluctuations; (2) the South European fertility transition pathway characterized by an almost uninterrupted CTFR decline; (3) the Central and East European fertility transition pathway characterized by stable CTFRs in the 1920s to 1950s cohorts and a decline in the 1960s and 1970s cohorts; (4) the East and South-East Asia fertility transition pathway characterized by a late start in the mid-20th century with rapidly declining CTFRs.

The exploration of societal conditions shaping fertility trends in the 19th and 20th centuries confirms Notestein’s conclusions that the causes are a complex combination of “technological, social, economic, and political developments” as well as cultural and ideational effects, and that it is “impossible to be precise about the various causal factors”. At times the primary factors were economic, as in the Great Depression of the 1930s and the 1960s post-war prosperity in Western countries. However, these economic factors also had many political, cultural, social, policy and other important facets. In Central and Eastern Europe the primary factors during the era of state socialism were the political system and social policies. The patriarchal nature of societies was the prime factor shaping fertility trends in Southern Europe and in East and South-East Asia.



How to Cite

Frejka, T. 2017. The Fertility Transition Revisited: A Cohort Perspective. Comparative Population Studies. 42, (Aug. 2017). DOI:



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