Foto: Maria Sbytova /

NIDI 50 • The Second Demographic Transition • 1986

21 May 2021

The (first) demographic transition of a nation, considered the ‘bread and butter’ for all demographers, describes in a stylized way the historical shift in a country’s demographic development. Starting from a situation with relatively stable population growth where traditionally high mortality is balanced by traditionally high fertility, mortality begins to decline first due to modernization processes; fertility decline follows only with a (varying) time lapse, leading to a growing population. In the longer run, lower mortality and lower fertility would find a new balance and population growth will slow down.

In the 1980s the first NIDI director Dirk van de Kaa and his Belgian colleague Ron Lesthaeghe argued that a new theoretical framework was needed to understand the changes since the sixties, which showed a dramatic shift in norms toward progressiveness and individualism. This was moving Europeans away from marriage and parenthood and seemed to be the end of the historical mortality and fertility declines. New forms of demographic behaviour were developing, including single parenthood, voluntary childlessness, and alternative partnerships such as (unmarried) cohabitation.

With their groundbreaking work Second Demographic Transition, published in 1986, Van de Kaa and Lesthaeghe provided such a new framework, emphasizing the importance of cultural factors including the role of values to understand population change and below-replacement fertility. The SDT framework is still being used worldwide and may very well be NIDI’s best-known export product.

Also view the corresponding VIDEO on union dissolution  

In 2020 we celebrated our 50th anniversary as the national demographic institute of the Netherlands. Here we look back at 50 years of NIDI research and relate that to our current research. We present insights and landmarks from some of the studies that have been conducted in the past, combined with short videos of early career scholars at NIDI, presenting current research projects on similar topics.

Back to: NIDI 50 Years • Cross sections of population research

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