Date: 01/26/06 Name: So Jung Lim, Hyun Sik Kim



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Week 2: Overview- General Trends, Paradigms, Theories

Theories and explanations

Date: 01/26/06

Name: So Jung Lim, Hyun Sik Kim

A. Theoretical frameworks in family demography
1. Demographic Transition Theory
1.1. A society moves from a high-mortality, high-fertility regime through a transitional phase to a low-mortality, low-fertility regime. In the early transition period, mortality declines first so there is a large population growth. Later, fertility also declines and a society arrives at a post-transition phase in which mortality and fertility reach low levels.
1.2. Second Demographic transition
1.2.1. A theory to explain some ‘unexpected’ demographic behaviors related to fertility, family and marriage since the middle of the 20th century. Van de Kaa (1987, 1994*) and Lesthaeghe (1995) argues that Western countries including the United States and European countries are experiencing a second demographic transition.
1.2.2. Three phases: (Lesthaeghe)

(1) first phase: 1960s and 1970s. An accelerated upswing in divorce, fertility decline, and delayed marriage

(2) second phase: The spread of premarital cohabitation and an increase in nonmarital births

(3) last phase: A plateau in divorce rates, more postmarital cohabitation replacing remarriage, some recuperation in fertility, especially at later ages, and an end to the decline in teen fertility.


1.2.3. Causes

(1) Lesthaeghe

a. Ideational change, in particular the increasing individual autonomy (more adult focused compared to the first transition)

b. Female emancipation or gender equality.

c. Advanced consumerism and an increased market orientation
(2) Van de Kaa (1994)

a. Changes in social & demographic behavior was due to changes in values: In detail, by the growth of the values of individual, cultural changes, democracy, and interrelation of structural, cultural, and technological change.

b. Explains the factors creating demographic trends in post-transitional countries with the three basic dimensions of social system- structure, culture, technology- and the three societal units – secondary groups, primary groups, and individuals.

2. The life-course perspective


(1) A framework for thinking about family change in the lives of individuals rather than a theory

(2) Family demographers focus more on transitions than on stages, interested in studying family behaviors by focusing on the number, timing and sequencing of important family-related transitions that occur during individuals’ lives. The concepts of trajectory and transition are central in contemporary study of the life course. (Glen Elder, 1985)

* the trajectory concept: as we age, we all make pathways and individual pathways take different directions.

(3) Life-course perspective offers a more probabilistic conceptual frame; individuals can take varying pathways, with different consequences attending their different choices.


3. Economic Theories of the Family
3.1. Linkage to theoretical streams within economics: (Willis 1987)

a. life-cycle theories of consumption

b. theories of human capital development and labor supply

c. work on household production and time allocation


3.2. Explanations using the economic approach
(1) Gary Becker (1974, 1981*)

a. Introduced the notion of a marriage market, concepts such as “gains to marriage” and specialized division of labor in the household.

b. Economic factor, specifically increasing women’s labor force participation is the major cause of changes in the family - Raised the relative cost of children and increased the likelihood of divorce and reducing fertility.

c. Other factors: contraceptive revolution, women’s movement, growth of the welfare state(social security for the elderly, expansion of the public program, such as education), ideational change (individualism, etc)


(2) Easterlin (1973) : Fertility swings

a. Fertility swings result from changes in preferences for children caused by changing income aspirations and labor market conditions of birth cohorts.


(3) Oppenheimer (1998) : The economic theory of labor market search:

a. Explanation for the delayed marriage - More investment in schooling and poor prospects for labor market entrants extended the period between reaching adulthood and entering a first marriage.


3.3. Contributions and weakness
(1) Contributions:

a. Very influential concepts and frame works: cost-benefit analysis, opportunity costs, expenditure patterns and labor supply, etc.

(2) weakness

a. Notion that family members act as a maximizing a single, shared utility function – Family members might have divergent preferences (adapting the concept of an altruistic head)


* Van de Kaa, D.J. 1994. “The second demographic transition revisited: theories and expectations,” in G. Beets et al. (eds), Population and Family in the Low Countries 1993: Late Fertility and Other Current Issues, NIDI CGBS Publications No. 30, pp. 81-26
* Becker, Gary. 1981. A Treatise on the Family. Harvard University Press. Chapt. 11, “The evolution of the family,” pp. 342-361

B. Theories and explanations in articles

Larry L. Bumpass. 1990.


  • Marital disruption

    • Insecurity about the viability of marital relationships  reduced investments in some marriages  decline of the continuation prospects (Becker 1981)

    • Unstable marriage trend  recognition of necessity to support themselves  decrease in women’s economic dependence  reduction of the probability that couples will stay in bad marriages or, perhaps, even increase of possibility to exit good marriage in the tough times

    • Marital instability as a cause to negative children outcome, increasing cohabitation, and declining fertility,

  • Cohabitation

    • The erosion of normative objections 1) The revolution in the sexual experience of unmarried persons, 2) Sharing a household with an intimate friend is more rewarding

    • “try out” marriage due to marital instability

Sara Mclanahan. 2004.



  • Increasing disparity of children’s resources(McLanahan 2004)

    • 1) The second wave of feminism, 2)New birth control technology: pill & legalized abortion, 3) The changes in labor market conditions during the 1970s and 1980s: increase in wage inequality, 4) The change in welfare policies for single mothers: benefit reduction and income test

Popenoe. 1993.



  • High divorce rate:

    • 1) Growing affluence that weaken the family’s traditional economic bond, 2) Higher psychological expectations for marriage today, 3) Secularization, 4) The stress of changing gender roles and 5) Rising acceptance of divorce, especially when children are involved.




  • The American family decline

    • 1) The advent of “me-generation”, 2) Increase of women’s labor market participation resulting in decline of economic interdependence, 3) Functional divestiture into other modern institutions, and 4) Ideational changes preferring self-fulfillment and egalitarianism

  • Critiques: Stacey(1993) and Cowan(1993)

    • 1) Postindustrial economic transformation and worldwide economic upheaval as major causes to family changes, 2) Women’s capacity to survive outside marriage as a emancipation from inequality and coercion of “traditional nuclear family”, 3) Not divorce itself but a hostile emotional environment that causes negative children outcome.








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