22 September 2015
Rostock, Germany

A theory of demographic metabolism

World Population Program Director Wolfgang Lutz will give a lecture on the theory of demographic metabolism at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

Wolfang Lutz was invited to take part in the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) Suessmilch Lecture series. The MPIDR, one of the largest demographic research organisations in Europe, hosts these events to present outstanding findings in the field of population studies that are expected to make a difference in the debate of the discipline. 

The title of the presentation by Wolfgang Lutz is "The Theory of Demographic Metabolism Applied to World Population and Human Capital Projections in the Context of Sustainable Development".

Event details:

Date: 22 September 2015, 4PM

Location: Auditorium, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Konrad-Zuse-Straße 1, 18057 Rostock, Germany

For more infromation to this event please visit the Max-Planck-Institut website.

Lecture Abstract

Norman  Ryder, in his seminal 1965 article on “the cohort approach” (Ryder 1965) coined the notion of demographic metabolism to describe the process by which societies change through generational replacement. In 2013, the author generalized this to “Demographic Metabolism: A Predictive Theory of Socioeconomic Change” (Lutz 2013). This concept of quantifying and projecting along cohort lines important human characteristics other than age and sex has provided the theoretical foundations for a new set of population projections by age, sex and six levels of educational attainment for all countries in the world. Empirically, it was based on the most comprehensive assessment of the drivers of future fertility, mortality, migration, and education in all parts of the world with the input of more than 500 population experts from around the world who critically assessed alternative arguments associated with likely future trends in these demographic drivers. It explicitly considers educational differences in fertility and mortality and methodologically follows the approach as described in “Global Human Capital: Integrating Education and Population” (Lutz & KC 2011). Five alternative scenarios have been defined in close collaboration with the international climate change and integrated assessment research community who agreed to a set of five so-called Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs). The population scenarios presented for all countries of the world up to 2100 have been labelled “the human core of the SSPs”. The results were published in an OUP volume of over 1000 pages (Lutz et al. 2014). All data can be accessed here.

 These new scenarios also play an important role in studying the synergies among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were set by the leaders of the world in New York in September 2015. They can help to quantitatively address the interactions between education, health, economic growth and even good governance and vulnerability to climate change. This new approach, which explicitly incorporates education as a third demographic variable, can help to make demography much more relevant for the world.


Lutz, W. 2013. Demographic metabolism: A predictive theory of socioeconomic change. Population and Development Review 38: 283–301.

Lutz, W., W.P. Butz, and S. KC eds. 2014. World Population and Human Capital in the 21st Century. Oxford University Press.

Lutz, W. and S. KC. 2011. Global human capital: Integrating education and population. Science 333(6042): 587–592.

Ryder, N.B. 1965. The cohort as a concept in the study of social change. American Sociological Review 30(6): 843–861.

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Last edited: 10 November 2015


Wolfgang Lutz

Program Director

World Population

T +43(0) 2236 807 294

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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