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The Science of Choice - Population Studies Supplement

To understand population change, it is not sufficient to know what life choices individuals and families make. We need to understand how choices are made. Critical choices in life, such as the choice to marry, to have a child, to migrate, to retire or to end the life course, are outcomes of cognitive processes. The processes involve substantial risk and uncertainty. They consist of stages and each stage takes time. Life choices have far-reaching consequences. Because of them, people’s lives and biographies are diverse, and population change is colourful but complex.

Multi-stage decision processes under uncertainty, embedded in the human life course, are the subject of this special issue (supplement) of Population Studies. To master the complexity of the subject, stochastic process models and microsimulation are used, and Bayesian information processing models that incorporate prior beliefs are suggested.

The publication should appeal to demographers, sociologists, economists, cognitive scientists and anyone interested in understanding how critical life choices are made.

The publication is an outcome of the Scientific Panel on Microsimulation and Agent-Based Modelling convened by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) and a workshop the Panel organized in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.

The entire publication is Open-Access and is available here.



  • Frans Willekens, Jakub Bijak, Anna Klabunde and Alexia Prskawetz – The science of choice: an introduction
  • André Grow, Christine Schnor and Jan Van Bavel - The reversal of the gender gap in education and relative divorce risks: A matter of alternatives in partner choice?                 
  • Stefanie Kley - Facilitators and constraints at each stage of the migration decision process                                                                                
  • Anna Klabunde, Sabine Zinn, Frans Willekens and Matthias Leuchter - Multistate modelling extended by behavioural rules: An application to migration                                                          
  • Tom Warnke, Oliver Reinhardt, Anna Klabunde, Frans Willekens and Adelinde M. Uhrmacher - Modelling and simulating decision processes of linked lives: An approach based on concurrent  processes and stochastic race       
  • Jonathan Gray, Jason Hilton and Jakub Bijak - Choosing the choice: Reflections on modelling decisions and behaviour in demographic agent-based models