What is Demography?

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Demography is the science of populations. Demographers seek to understand population dynamics by investigating three main demographic processes: birth, migration, and aging (including death). All three of these processes contribute to changes in populations, including how people inhabit the earth, form nations and societies, and develop culture. Most of the discipline’s research focuses on humans, but there is for example the specialized field of biodemography, too.

While it is widely known that demographers analyze populations, they can also draw conclusions about individuals within the population. This is because many of the figures commonly used in demography, such as life expectancy at birth or the fertility rate, can be translated from demographic developments on the level of the population as a whole into statements about the average individual.

Demographic transition

Today, there is growing interest among the public in demography, as demographic transition has become the subject of political debates in many developed countries. Most of these countries have birth rates below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, and, at the same time, life expectancy has been rising considerably and continues to rise – a development sometimes called “the aging of societies.”

While demography cannot offer political advice on how to tackle demographic change, demographers seek to describe the phenomena related to this change, and to understand their causes. Using reliable data and the statistical processing of these data, modern demographic research embraces many scientific disciplines, including mathematics, economics and other social sciences, geography or biology.

Want to know more?

Selected MPIDR research for the public

The media and the public can access a selection of MPIDR’s research at the Institute’s Press Release Archive.

In our Media Center you will find graphics and visualizations of recent studies by researchers at MPIDR.

Even more explanations and definitions of demographic terms are compiled in the Glossary of Demographic Terms.

Quarterly newsletter “Demografische Forschung aus Erster Hand”

Download or subscribe to this German-language quarterly, which features popular science articles on the latest demographic research papers by authors of the MPIDR, the Vienna Institute of Demography, the Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung Wiesbaden and the Rostock Centre for the Study of Demographic Change. www.demografische-forschung.org

Population Europe

Find the latest news and background information on European demography issues at the website of the collaborative network of Europe's leading demographic research centers. www.population-europe.eu

Information for students and teachers

Educational film

For secondary school students (grades 9-12), the MPIDR and the Max Planck Society have prepared extensive teaching materials under the heading “Bevölkerungsentwicklung in Deutschland.” These materials are available to teachers at FWU – Das Medieninstitut der Länder, and include an educational film intended to serve as an introduction to the field of demography. (Materials are available in German only)

Special GEOMAX demography issues

Download the digest issue “Corona-Knick und späte Mütter” (in German) from the popular science serial “GEO MAX – Neugierig auf Wissenschaft,” published by the Max Planck Society. www.max-wissen.de


Once a year, the MPIDR opens its doors to about a hundred students from schools in the Rostock area, introducing them to the world of demography, and showing them how demography is being studied at the MPIDR. Groups of students tour the Institute, and learn about birth, death, and their own lives. The event is suitable for secondary school students in grades 10 and 11. www.wissenskarawane-mv.de

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.