The study of change is basic to all social sciences. There are numerous theories to explain the rate and direction of social and demographic change, some focused on transitions in individual life styles and life coursesm others more concerned with family, community and societal transformations. At certain moments, these transitions, at the level of the individuals as well as for larger social groupings, occur so quickly that they represent major breaks with past, more evolutionary trends. Is contemporary Europe in one of these periods when a break with the past is in view?
Fertility in numerous countries has fallen to levels never before observed, in some regional subpopulations total fertility rates are close to one. Mortality has fallen to low levels but significant health, morbidity and mortality differentials, both socio-economic and regional, may be observed. The survival of older persons improves continuously, resulting in major changes in the overall age structure of the population, but again with very different patterns.
Changes in living arrangements, depending on union and fertility biography, including marriage, family formation and divorce, have given rise to a much more diversified household structure of the population. Living alone, unmarried cohabitation, single parents and reconstructed families are among the living arrangements which make for a more complex life course. Added to these changes, there is the resurgence of major international population movements, both voluntary and involuntary.
All of the changes, breaks with past-1945 trends, imply major shifts in individual behaviour and in social organization, which occur within changing geopolitical and socio-economic frameworks where both integration and disintegration processes are at work. The 1995 European Population Conference hopes to capture some of these major shifts in population dynamics and to explain how individual and population transitions are redrawing the map of Europe 2000.