News | May 12, 2015

The role of communication in demographic change

At this year's Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, MPIDR-researcher Sebastian Klüsener has been awarded a prize for a research poster. The research project addresses the question of why various social groups experience demographic change at different pace – temporally and spatially.

Along with co-authors Francesco Scalone, University of Bologna (Italy), and Martin Dribe, Lund University (Sweden), he investigated how the exchange of ideas and information between people could affect the development of spatial, temporal, and social differences in demographic change. The results highlight that communication plays a much larger role in shaping demographic processes such as trends in fertility rates than commonly assumed.

To carry out their research, the scientists needed detailed information on existing communication links between people and places. But as the availability of relevant data on current population groups is limited for reasons of data protection, the researchers turned to data on the fertility decline in late 19th century Sweden instead. Their research shows that the upper class maintains more social contacts across long distances than other population groups ─  such as blue-collar workers and famers. This is particularly the case for links to large cities, the early centers of fertility decline. To measure the influence of these communication links on spatial and social differences in the pace of fertility decline, the scientists used agent-based simulation models.

The researchers conclude that many key characteristics of the Swedish fertility decline could result from communication processes. This comprises, among other characteristics, that the upper class and large cities experienced the fertility decline earlier in time than did farmers and remote regions. 

“Our findings bear relevance for a range of current societal issues,” says MPIDR-researcher Sebastian Klüsener. One is the question of whether low-developed countries currently witnessing high birth rates may see fertility decline even in the absence of strong economic development. Communication processes spreading information on advantages and disadvantages of such a behavioral change and on contraceptive techniques may indeed be able to foster fertility decline even under these conditions. The results on the role of information exchange in demographic change are also relevant when it comes to highly developed countries. Communication can significantly increase the impact of population-relevant policies and other processes of social change on changes in birth behavior, for instance. “Much research is still needed along these lines,” says Klüsener.

Could the Fertility Transition just be a Communication Process? (PDF, 1 MB)

Sebastian Klüsener, MPIDR; Francesco Scalone, University of Bologna; Martin Dribe, Lund University