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Long-term population decline, past and future

David Reher, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

This paper contains some thoughts on the imminent population decline beginning in Europe and quite possibly in other world regions as well. We are witnessing the beginnings of a vast trend change which promises to bring to a close a period of population growth lasting several centuries. It can be shown that this great change is a by-product of the demographic transition because it initiated a number of the forces that have led to where we are today. A comparison will be made between the foreseeable characteristics of future population reduction and other periods of prolonged population decline. Examples will be used of Europe after the appearance of the Black Death and of the indigenous populations of America in the wake of the European colonization. Other periods of population decline may also be compared, though available often data limit their scope. This comparison will underscore the existence of important similarities and also of major disparities among the different processes. From our vantage point early in the twenty-first century, there is still much to be learned from the historical record.

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Presented in Session 94: Interpretations of population history