Variants of Second Demographic Transition: Empirical Evidence from Young Women’s Attitudes About Childbearing

Emily A. Marshall, Hana Shepherd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Second Demographic Transition (SDT) theory proposes that rising individualism and secularism lead to new attitudes that drive new family and fertility behaviors. Scholars have argued that analyzing heterogeneity in attitudes and behaviors in populations experiencing family change can clarify SDT processes. This study uses data from the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life study to describe how attitudinal heterogeneity in one small geographic area relates to predictions of SDT theory. We draw on earlier latent class analysis (LCA) that identified groups that share patterns of attitudes in a sample of young women from a midwestern US county. LCA allows inductive identification of heterogeneous subgroups defined by attitudes themselves, which SDT theory posits as a key causal factor in demographic change. We compare the heterogeneous patterns of attitudes in these subgroups of young women to predictions of SDT theory, then compare groups’ subsequent fertility at early adult ages. We find that most groups endorse some attitudes predicted by original SDT theory, but only one group matches most of those predictions. We identify other groups with attitudes consistent with the American religious exceptionalism model and the diverging destinies model, as well as heterogeneity beyond that predicted by these theories. Subsequent fertility at early ages is patterned by membership in these attitude groups. We discuss how the findings might shed light on possible demographic trajectories in the USA and argue for the value of identifying and tracking the prevalence of such groups in nationally representative samples over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2531-2554
Number of pages24
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Attitudes
  • Family change
  • Fertility
  • Second Demographic Transition


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