References to the second demographic transition (SDT) have increased dramatically in the past two decades. The SDT predicts unilinear change toward very low fertility and a diversity of union and family types. The primary driver of these changes is a powerful, inevitable, and irreversible shift in attitudes and norms in the direction of greater individual freedom and self-actualization. First, we describe the origin of this framework and its evolution over time. Second, we review the empirical fit of the framework to major changes in demographic and family behavior in the United States, the West, and beyond. As has been the case for other unilinear, developmental theories of demographic or family change, the SDT failed to predict many contemporary patterns of change and difference. Finally, we review previous critiques and identify fundamental weaknesses of this perspective, and we provide brief comparisons to selected alternative approaches.


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