Implications of the demographic transition for gender relations and the position of women in society

Essay, 2016

8 Pages, Grade: Merit

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Positive Implications

Negative implications




“A phenomenon of the longue durée , the demographic transition of a country requires us to set its historical markers as precisely as possible” (Chesnais, 2001). Some scholars, inter alia, McNay (2005), have argued that demographic transition has more negative effects. While this study grasps with the question of the demographic transition’s implications for gender relations and the position of women in society, this paper will argue that demographic transition elevates the position of women in society and regardless of the negative impacts, the positives surmount. Firstly, this paper will provide clarity on the demographic transition concept and assumptions. Secondly, it will look at the main body in which it will discuss that the demographic transition to a larger extent has more positive impacts to gender relations as opposed to negative implications, using East Asian region because “It has experienced a more rapid demographic transition than any other region at any time in history” (Bloom & Williamson, 1998). This will then take the essay to the final section where it will emerge that the demographic transition to a larger extent does play a positive role in regards to the gender relations and position of women in society.


“The theory of the demographic transition was initially developed nearly half a century ago” (Teitelbaum, 1975). This theory recently became a part of international politics, as it got entangled in the debates at the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974 (ibid, 1975). Generally, demographic transition is a description of changes over time of a population of a country. “The original model showed that countries passed through four stages” (Jackson, n. d.). However, newer accounts of this model use five stages. Dyson (2010) observes that in the appreciation of the world development trajectory, one has to study the demographic transition which has an end result of the change in mortality rates and fertility rates. As a concept of several but similar meanings, Dudley (1996) looks at it as a process in which societies move from a pre-modern time of high fertility and mortality to a modern time of low fertility and mortality. Dyson (2010) explains demographic transition as a process of demographic change in which societies experience mortality decline, population growth, fertility decline, urbanization, and aging population. Generally, as noted by Federici et al. (1993) “it’s a shift from death rates and birth rates that are high but closely balanced to rates that are low but again closely balanced.” In a pre-transitional state, there will be high fertility rates as well as high mortality rates and the population will be more youthful due to high fertility rates and low life expectancy at birth, resulting from the absence of modern sanitation, transport, agriculture and medicine. Dyson notes that transition starts with reduction in mortality rates which leads to increase in the population. When the survival rates increases and fertility declines, urbanization sets in and then the population starts to age as a result of reduced fertility and increased life expectancy at birth. The end of the transition is reached when fertility rates are equal to mortality rates (replacement levels). The transition has quite a number of implications towards women’s position in society which therefore takes me to my next section in which I will discuss both the positive and negative implications, with the positive out weighing the negative as earlier stated.

Positive Implications

Reduction in fertility: Bloom & Williamson (1998) argue that given the presence of more mouths to feed, population growth linked to the rise of fertility has a negative effect on the economic growth. Dyson (2001) argues that demographic transition’s key benefit for women is in relation with reduction in fertility, claiming that in pre-transitional societies, pregnancy, lactation and child-care dominate women’s lives. This is because they are highly fecund and have around an average of five to six live births in their life time with shorter lives, whereas in a post-transitional society, roughly two or fewer live births is the custom, with much more longer lives and so women are more productive. “The attainment of low fertility and the concentration of childbearing into a relatively short period of life have almost certainly assisted in the entry of women into the labor force in many developing countries,” (Dyson, 2010). The reduction of fertility is mainly caused by the reduction of mortality which increases life expectancy and so fertility rates go down. However, other means like the use of modern contraceptives and government intervention shows how important low fertility rates are to development because it makes women more productive: for example China employed the wan xi chao (late, space and few) birth control campaign in 1970s, and later in 1979 introduced the one child policy. China, Singapore and Republic of Korea have a total fertility of 1.19, 1.23 and 1.26 respectively (UN P, 2015). Lee (2003) argues that women’s participation in work in high fertility countries tends to be lower than those in low fertility countries. McNay (2003) observes that since the 1950s the number of working women in East Asia (Indonesia and Singapore) out-competes that of men. In addition, Bauer (2001) argues that the demographic transition has greatly influenced the non-domestic economic roles of women in East Asia. This therefore shows a positive impact on the position of women because they can now fend for themselves and so their levels of dependency have reduced.

Reduction of gender differentiation: Dyson (2010) argues that though pre-transitional societies differed considerably in the provision of personal autonomy to women, their roles were highly constrained as is still the case. This therefore means that they are restricted to the domestic domains. The demographic transition has changed this and continues to do so, benefitting the circumstances of the women. Lloyd (1994), argues that in societies of low fertility, with fewer children around the household, comes a big reduction in differences in which they are socialized. Dyson (2010) notes that the lives of women in a demographically advanced society have tended to become like those of men. In support of this, Anne Karpf notes that voices of women are turning and evolving to sound more like men’s in both roles and power (Karpf 2007 cited in Dyson, 2010). Lieberson et al. (2000) notes that with the rise of feminism also came the rise of androgynous names hence reducing gender difference. Dyson (2010) argues that this may be in line with aspects of life rather than education or employment. However, in a pre-transitional society, men are looked at as the source of everything and so women become dependent on them, therefore the tendency of women becoming more like men means that women can now provide for themselves as they can work outside the domestic setting and get better education, which will make women and men have equal job opportunities. In line with this is the fact that the transition weakens the institution of marriage. In the past a woman would get married and spend most of her time in wedlock but in a post-transitional society that is not the case as she can decide not to marry and not depend on any man as they have the ability to work, hence promoting self-independence, (Davis & van den Oever, 1982).

Education and employment: Kabeer (2000) articulates that education in the international development agenda now means a necessary pre-condition for the achievement of a range of economic goals for social development as well as self-realization. The demographic transition increases a woman’s involvement and attainment of education. This is simply because low fertility not only means that women will spend little of their lives childbearing and rearing but will also push ahead their child birth to later years. This therefore means they can spend their early life attaining education which will lead to good employment. McNay (2003) contends that low fertility will open up new doors for education and employment for women. Bhati (2002) asserts that in smaller families, girls are less likely to forego school in order to take care of their young ones, as opposed to larger families. Bauer (2001) asserts that women’s non-domestic economic roles in East Asia have significantly influenced economic growth in Asia. This is because the rise in participation of women in the region’s labor force has played an important role in the region’s export-led industrialization. For instance, in China, the rapid economic progress the country has experienced is partly due to the massive influx of women in the job sector. This therefore shows the positive impact of the demographic transition on the position of women in society.

However, there are those who believe the demographic transition has negative implications for women in society and gender at large. These negative implications are discussed in the ensuing section.

Negative implications.

Expanding roles: Regardless of the fact that demographic transition opens the way for women to work outside their domestic spheres, they are still obligated to work in their domestic spheres as they, rather than the men, have primary responsibilities for these tasks, thereby exacerbating “double burden” (McNay, 2003). This is simply because unlike the men, the women have to work and at the same time take care of the children, elderly, and their husbands as well as the fact that they have to cook. More to this is the fact that women tend to be traditional care givers in most societies and so with the economic and domestic burden, comes more burden. However, this is not the case because post-transitional societies due to high specialization of work, have child-care facilities and so the burden is hugely reduced or at least shared not only between the parents, but also between parents and contracted child caretaker.

Selective discrimination: Das Gupta (1987) asserts that in countries where there is a preference for males, girls are most likely to be denied vital resources such as health care. McNay (2005) argues that this is most likely commonly used as an elimination technique by parents who believe they have one or more daughters and would like to limit the number of girls in the family. For example in China, there was a lot of sex discrimination during the recently abolished one child policy: many girls would live second class lives hidden from the world, excluded from healthcare and school, or face orphanages if not aborted. This therefore led to an upsurge of suicidal cases among women in their reproductive years and above all pressure to give birth to the so much desired male child (Kane & Choi, 1999) hence rightfully so, portraying a very negative impact of the demographic transition on women.


All in all, the demographic transition has led to the upsurge of women in the once patriarchal world to a larger extent. As Dyson (2010) ascertains, the lives of women in a demographically transitioned society has become more like those of men. This therefore shows that the women can now be more productive and independent signifying the fact that the positive implications outweigh the negative implications.

The transition led to the rise of the women in gender agenda that later went on to better version of gender and development with the rise of feminism at the forefront. As Davis & van den Oever (1982) remarked: “seen in this light, the rise of women’s movement in recent decades in industrial societies becomes comprehensible.” This like any other movement aimed at supporting new female behavior patterns through showing that they are widespread.

However, it should be noted that the outcome of the transition is not pre-determined. Bloom & Williamson (1998) claim “this effect was not inevitable; rather, it occurred because East Asian countries had social, economic and political institutions and policies that allowed them to realize the growth potential created by the transition.” They go ahead to infer that population growth has a notably transitioned effect on economic growth given the fact that the dependent and working age population are growing at different rates. This therefore signals the fact that demographic transition is an important feature in development.


Bauer, J. (2001). “Demographic change, development, and the economic status of women in East Asia”, in A. Mason cpter 14. Population Change and Economic Development in East Asia. Challenges Met, Opportunities Seized, pp. 359-384.

Bhati, M. P. (2002). Returning a favor: Reciprocity between female education and fertility in India. World Development, 1791-1803. doi:10.1016/S0305

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Lieberson, S., Dumais, S., & Baumann, S. (2000). The Instability of Androgynous Names: The Symbolic Maintenance of Gender Boundaries. Chicago Journals, 105 (5), 1249-1287. Retrieved from

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Implications of the demographic transition for gender relations and the position of women in society
London School of Economics  (International Development)
Msc Development Studies
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Teacher's comment: "The essay is good in reviewing the different arguments to answer the question, and supporting them with the relevant literature."
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Jenkins Tanga (Author), 2016, Implications of the demographic transition for gender relations and the position of women in society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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