Changes in Demographic Rates & Population Distribution

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  • 00:00 Changing Demographics
  • 1:18 Aging
  • 2:20 Urbanization
  • 3:23 Fertility Rates
  • 4:38 Racial Diversity
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

As populations change in size, shape, composition, and distribution, the world faces new challenges. Explore how we use demographics to identify and prepare for major changes, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Changing Demographics

The times, they are a'changin'. Did you know that? You probably did. If you are old enough to be watching this video, then you've probably noticed the world changing in your lifetime. Populations change in size, shape, and composition. People develop different expectations and goals. Daily life is influenced by new technologies. The world is always changing, and this means that as researchers, we've got to constantly keep an eye on what's happening. After all, the whole point of social science research is so that we're not caught off guard by a major population shift.

One of the best ways we can stay on top of major changes is through demographics, or population statistics. How many people are born, how many die, where are people living, what are their incomes, how often do they move; demographics can tell us a lot of information about people's lives. That information keeps us ahead of the game and ready to face any challenges that may arise due to population shifts.

Let's look at some major demographic changes from the last several years. Now, we're just going to focus on changes here in the United States, but most of these are actually global trends as well.


One of the first major shifts we're noticing is average age. After World War II, America had a huge growth in population called the baby boom. So, for most of the past 60 years or so, the average age in the USA was fairly young as this generation grew up.

However, now the baby-boomers are reaching retirement age, defined by the government as being at 65, and once they do, we'll have a major shift. For the first time, we could have more retired people than we do working people, and that raises some concerns. How do we pay for retirement benefits if there is more demand than there are taxes from people working? What will happen to the economy when such an important part of the workforce retires?

These are all questions we'll be addressing soon, but we are already looking into solutions because, thanks to demographics research, we're aware of the change before it becomes a major issue.


Another major shift in population statistics has to do with where people live. Since the mid-20th century, people across the world have been steadily moving to urban centers, a process called urbanization. In 1950, only about 30% of the world's population was urban. By 2014, that increased to 54%. The United States is no exception to this, with an urban population at over 80% in 2014.

People are moving to urban centers, which generally means abandoning agricultural work. So, less people are producing food, but more people are relying on food produced by somebody else. That's a problem. Urbanization can also present public health issues, such as unhealthy, fast food-based diets and rapid spread of disease due to dense populations, as well as environmental concerns from pollution. The rates of urbanization are expected to just continue rising, so we need to be prepared to find solutions to these issues.

Fertility Rates

Along with urbanization, another major demographic shift concerning population size and distribution is from changing fertility rates, or rates of birth. This is an interesting one. Some places, like Africa and Asia, are experiencing extremely high fertility rates, which means large numbers of babies are being born. Other places, like Northern Europe, are actually seeing decreased fertility rates as more people focus on building careers than growing families.

Still, even with lower fertility rates, many populations keep growing. That's what's happening in the United States. Fertility rates are slowly declining, but not as dramatically as we see in Northern Europe, since the high rates of immigration provide us with populations that are still interested in having larger families.

The emerging changes in fertility are relatively new, so researchers are still trying to figure out how to deal with them, but countries such as Sweden found that many effective solutions come from making families and careers more compatible. If the problem is that people are having to choose between careers or having children, then increasing maternity and paternity benefits could go a long way in making this easier for many people.

Racial Diversity

The increasing population, continual urbanization, and changing fertility rates, in addition to immigration and the need for laborers, makes racial diversity a large source of demographics research and discussion in the United States. Also, demographic changes affect different racial groups differently since, here in the United States, other statistics such as social status and economic opportunities are still often defined by race.

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