Hello from a sunny day in Alexandria, Egypt! Sorry for my brief hiatus – the past few months have been incredibly busy with studying, traveling and planning for future studies/internships. I’m excited to update you in the next few blogs!

In this blog, I’ll discuss the importance of the demographic transition in economic development. I will then share stories from my trips to Italy, Luxembourg and Belgium.

Demographic Transition

Though economists argue that appropriate policy environments and technological advances are key to improving standards of living (Das Gupta 2011), demographers argue that population dynamics are the catalyst for development (Dyson 2010). Despite differing institutional environments, all now-developed countries have completed their demographic transitions. This universality serves as evidence of the centrality of demographic change in economic development.

The demographic transition, which operates in underlying ways and over long periods of time, is the process by which a society moves from high death/birth rates to lower death/birth rates. The natural succession of the demographic transition is:

1 – Mortality decline – Populations achieve sustained mortality decline with medical advances. Healthier people are more productive and have incentives to acquire more skills, which can lead to higher savings/investment and higher economic output.
2 – Population growth – as mortality declines, population grows increasingly
3 – Fertility decline – Population growth creates pressures that lead to fertility decline. Reducing fertility facilitates economic growth by creating opportunity for savings, increased productivity and investment.
4 – Urbanization – The fall of the urban death rate below the urban birth rate eradicates the “urban sink” (concentrated centers with high migration and high mortality). Urban natural increase occurs for the first time and is supplemented by continuing rural-to-urban migration. Urbanization creates a larger and more concentrated market which allows for division of labor and an increase in economic competition.
5 – Population Aging – The demographic transition ends in its final state of low death/low birth rates. This possibly underpins modern systems of liberal democracy because the concentrated and aging population challenge autocratic rule and political power can become more evenly distributed. Society also becomes more complex.

Given sustained mortality decline, these events will unfold independently of other factors.

The population of poor countries has been through a phase of population expansion – it multiplied fivefold between 1900 and 2000 (Livi-Bacci 2001). Specifically in Africa between 1970-2000, the population aged below 15 grew 150-200% while regional GDP growth nearly halved on a per capita basis. To facilitate the subsequent fertility decline in Africa, demographers believe giving people access to safe, effective and affordable means of birth control is essential. Fertility decline is associated with broader indices of poverty reduction and household wellbeing (Das Gupta 2011).

In developing countries, the continuation and completion of the demographic transition will be positive as people live longer and healthier lives and have fewer kids. Likely side effects include an increased sense of personal agency and increased importance attached to formal education. Women will become more independent. Countries could become more open and democratic. Societies will continue to become increasingly complex (Dyson 2010).

The demographic transition also has other important personal, economic, political and gender relations implications, which I will not discuss here.

Assuming the demographic transition plays a key role in economic development, assisting developing countries through this process can reduce poverty effectively. Rather than assisting in “nation-building” or other poverty-reducing efforts, demographers would suggest that providing access to accessible birth control and influencing norms of fertility can most quickly and efficiently increase living standards.

For my 22nd birthday, I went with two of my friends to Venice. We spent five days exploring Venice by boat, eating mass amounts of pizza/pasta/gelato and wandering along the canals. In Venice, we walked the entire island, visited the Doge’s palace and visited the islands of Murano and Burano to see glass-blowing and the colorful homes.

One highlight was our day trip to Verona! I loved walking through the narrow roads and by beautiful architecture. In Verona, we also visited the third-largest ancient Roman stadium in Italy. Though the weather was quite cold, visiting these cities in the off-season enabled us to avoid large tourist crowds and fully experience the cities’ charms. Such a fun birthday trip!

My initial apprehension to visiting Luxembourg City (especially after being surrounded by businessmen in suits while dressed in my oversized jacket and blue jeans for the flight) was completely overwhelmed by my appreciation of the city’s historical relevance and charm. My cousin Nicole and I walked around the old town, passing Grand Ducal Palace and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. I also walked around the European Quarter to see the EU Court of Justice and visited the underground tunnels of the Bock Casemates.

A major highlight was my visit to the Luxembourg American cemetery, where soldiers from the Battle of the Bulge are buried. It was interesting to compare the nearby German cemetery which seemed quite bare and forlorn in contrast.

From Luxembourg, I took a train to Bruges. Bruges was a medieval city that once rivaled Venice in its sea trade, and actually had one of the first stock markets in the world. I visited the Cathedral which holds Michelangelo’s Madonna and Baby – one of his few works outside of Italy! The town was beautiful after the snow left a light snow dusting over the medieval architecture and canals.

I spent the next two days in Brussels. My cousin and I took a 3-hour walking tour of the history of Brussels and did our own food tour of the city – waffles, Belgian fries, mussels and chocolate galore!

As a final update – this summer I have enrolled in a summer language program at Peking University in Beijing. I will be taking language classes while completing my dissertation.