Special Collection 3 - Article 3 | Pages 45–86

Value Orientations and the Second Demographic Transition (SDT) in Northern, Western and Southern Europe: An Update

By Johan Surkyn, Ron Lesthaeghe

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Date received:24 Apr 2003
Date published:17 Apr 2004
Word count:9438
Keywords:cohabitation, demographic transition, Europe, family characteristics, fertility theory, marriage, values


The core issue in this article is the empirical tracing of the connection between a variety of value orientations and the life course choices concerning living arrangements and family formation. The existence of such a connection is a crucial element in the so-called theory of the Second Demographic Transition (SDT).
The underlying model is of a recursive nature and based on two effects: firstly, values-based self-selection of individuals into alternative living arrangement or household types, and secondly, event-based adaptation of values to the newly chosen household situation. Any testing of such a recursive model requires the use of panel data. Failing these, only “footprints” of the two effects can be derived and traced in cross-sectional data. Here, use is made of the latest round of the European Values Surveys of 1999-2000, mainly because no other source has such a large selection of value items. The comparison involves two Iberian countries, three western European ones, and two Scandinavian samples.
The profiles of the value orientations are based on 80 items which cover a variety of dimensions (e.g. religiosity, ethics, civil morality, family values, social cohesion, expressive values, gender role orientations, trust in institutions, protest proneness and post-materialism, tolerance for minorities etc.). These are analysed according to eight different household positions based on the transitions to independent living, cohabitation and marriage, parenthood and union dissolution. Multiple Classification Analysis (MCA) is used to control for confounding effects of other relevant covariates (age, gender, education, economic activity and stratification, urbanity). Subsequently, Correspondence Analysis is used to picture the proximities between the 80 value items and the eight household positions.
Very similar value profiles according to household position are found for the three sets of countries, despite the fact that the onset of the SDT in Scandinavia precedes that in the Iberian countries by roughly twenty years. Moreover, the profile similarity remains intact when the comparison is extended to an extra group of seven formerly communist countries in central and Eastern Europe. Such pattern robustness is supportive of the contention that the ideational or “cultural” factor is indeed a non-redundant and necessary (but not a sufficient) element in the explanation of the demographic changes of the SDT. Moreover, the profile similarity also points in the direction of the operation of comparable mechanisms of selection and adaptation in the contrasting European settings.

Author's Affiliation

Johan Surkyn - Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium [Email]
Ron Lesthaeghe - Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium [Email]

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