• Report

Completing the demographic transition in developing countries


Cross, H., Hardee, K., & Ross, J. (2002). Completing the demographic transition in developing countries. (POLICY Occational Paper #8). Washington, DC: The Futures Group International, POLICY Project.


The transition to low fertility in much of the developing world is incomplete. To leave it half-finished or to slow its pace would have enormous demographic, programmatic, and foreign assistance implications. Despite considerable progress over the last 35 years, much remains to be done to complete the demographic transition. The world’s population has not stopped growing, and it is growing fastest in the poorest countries. To achieve sustainable development, strong measures by governments and donor organizations to promote fertility decline in developing countries—and to give individuals and couples the means to do so—need to continue for the foreseeable future.

This paper reviews the status of the demographic transition worldwide, discusses factors associated with fertility decline, and highlights challenges associated with completing the transition in developing countries. It is intended to help policymakers both here and abroad to better understand the need for continued efforts to reduce fertility and population growth rates, even in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

A reduction in population growth to sustainable levels is not something that will just occur on its own. Completing the demographic transition requires addressing a number of challenges—and first and foremost is maintaining strong support for family planning programs from governments and donor organizations. Sustaining the demographic transition also requires focused attention on other proximate, or direct, determinants of fertility, such as increasing the age at marriage and reducing abortion. In addition, donors and governments have an important role to play in providing continued support for policies that indirectly affect fertility, such as promoting girls’ education and safe motherhood.