Centre for Economic Demography

Lund University School of Economics and Management

The Demographic Transition: significant results since 2006

Researchers at the CED have been working on determinants of mortality decline in the transition, in particular the importance of socioeconomic status, early-life conditions (see Research Area Pathways to Health and Well-being), and short-term economic fluctuations. The several updates of the SEDD has enabled us to cast light on the historical development of social differences in adult mortality (Bengtsson & Dribe 2011). In the rather homogenous area that is covered by SEDD, no sign of differentiated adult mortality appears until in the 1950s and 1960s. Exploring similar newly developed databases, we have also been able to show that this result is not unique for the area, but also found elsewhere (Bengtsson & van Poppel 2011).

Our research on the impact of short-term economic fluctuations has shown there to be a high degree of vulnerability which can be interpreted as an immediate indicator of (low) standard of living. During the mortality transition this vulnerability diminished but not until the second half of the 19th century. During the agricultural revolution in the first half of the century the vulnerability of landless labourers instead increased. In a recent publication we could also demonstrate an insurance effect of living in manorial areas, although it was only effective in the short-term (Dribe, Olsson & Svensson 2011).

In a series of papers the question of whether fertility was also deliberately controlled before the fertility transition has been tested using detailed modelling of the fertility response to economic stress. In both southern Sweden and in Germany, part of the fertility response was so quick that it can only have resulted from deliberate postponement of childbirth in anticipation of economic difficulties (Bengtsson & Dribe 2006; Dribe & Scalone 2010). These results contradict the previous orthodoxy that fertility before the transition was uncontrolled and outside the realm of rational decision-making.

Looking at the fertility decline in Swedish counties, it was clear that a gradual diffusion of parity-specific control was important in this process (Dribe 2009). The fertility of the oldest age groups declined fastest, even though the decline started in all age groups over 25 at about the same time. This development was connected to broader socioeconomic and demographic processes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as the mortality decline, urbanization, industrialization, and expansion of education.

Intergenerational social mobility was quite frequent in rural preindustrial society. Downward mobility was more prevalent than upward, and also increased over time. Social attainment and mobility were determined by a combination of inherited factors and individual agency (Dribe & Svensson 2008). Social origin was of major importance, as was the social origin of the spouse, which points to the crucial role played by partner selection in determining individual social outcomes (Dribe & Lundh 2009a, 2010). Social heterogamy was particularly important, but age heterogamy and geographic exogamy were also clearly related to both socioeconomic attainment and mobility (Dribe & Lundh 2009b). In a recent study we were able to link the seasonality in marriage to structural changes in the economy, showing the usefulness of demographic indicators to analyse profound economic and societal change for which we lack direct data (Dribe & Van de Putte 2011).

Related to this, we have also looked at transfers of land and especially how this was done within family and kin-networks. Both among freeholding farmers and manorial tenants, transfers within the family were of great importance. On manorial land, the landowner sometimes interfered but mainly in response to mismanagement of farms, while in other cases transfer of tenancies was often done within the family just as on free land (Dribe, Olsson & Svensson 2011). Over time, as the value of the land became more apparent with the emergence of a land market, more transfers were made outside the family, which had an impact on the patterns of social attainment.



Bengtsson T, Dribe M. (2011) "The late emergence of socioeconomic mortality differentials: A micro-level study of adult mortality in southern Sweden 1815-1968." Explorations in Economic History, Special Issue on Socioeconomic Inequalities in Death, 48(3), 389-400.

Bengtsson T, van Poppel F. (eds.) (2011) Explorations in Economic History, Special Issue on Socioeconomic Inequalities in Death, 48(3).

Dribe M, Olsson M, Svensson P. (2011) "Was the Manorial System an Efficient Insurance Institution? Economic Stress and Demographic Response in Sweden, 1749–1859." Accepted for publication European Review of Economic History.

Dribe M, Van de Putte B. (2011) "Marriege Seasonality and the Industrious Revolution: Southern Sweden 1690-1895." Economic History Review, Published on-line August 19, 2011.

Dribe M, Lundh C. (2010) "Marriage Choices and Social Reproduction. The Interrelationship Between Partner Selection and Intergenerational Socioeconomic Mobility in 19th Century Sweden." Demographic Research,22, 347-382.

Dribe M, Scalone F. (2010) "Detecting Deliberate Fertility Control in Pre-Transitional Populations : Evidence from six German Villages, 1766-1863." European Journal of Population, 26, 411-434.

Dribe M. (2009) "Demand and supply factors in the fertility transition: A Country Level analysis of Age-Specific Marital Fertility in Sweden 1880-1930." European Review of Economic History, 13, 65-94.

Dribe M, Lundh C. (2009a) "Status Homogamy in the Preindustrial Marriage Market. Partner Selection According to Age, Social Origin, and Place of Birth in Nineteenth Century Rural Sweden." Journal of Family History, 34, 387-406.

Dribe M, Lundh C. (2009b) "Partner Choice and Intergenerational Occupational Mobility: The Case of Nineteenth Century Rural Sweden." Continuity and Change, 24, 487-512.

Dribe M, Svensson, P. (2008) "Social Mobility In Nineteenth Century Rural Sweden - A micro level Analysis." Scandinavian Economic History Review, 56, 122-141.

Bengtsson T, Dribe M. (2006) "Deliberate Control in a Natural Fertility Population: Southern Sweden 1766-1865". Demography, 43(4), 727-746.