Back To CourseSociology 104: World Population
8 chapters | 88 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Look at our world. It looks like a mess, doesn't it? People are bustling from place to place, moving, integrating, socializing, trading, fighting, changing. It's chaos. But, only if you don't know what to look for. In any system of chaos, there are always underlying patterns that give meaning to all the madness. So how do we find them? One way is through demographics, the statistical analysis of a human population. Demographic studies record birth rates, death rates, relocations, occupations, health patterns, and a number of other things. From this data, you can observe trends over time, patterns in the chaos.
Well, in 1929, a demographer by the name of Warren Thompson noticed a pattern in birth and death rates over the previous 200 years. He found that there was a correlation between these rates and the amount that a society relied on industrial technology. This gave rise to the demographic transition theory, which predicts trends in birth and death rates in countries based on their level of industrial development. In other words, countries that developed more industrial technology tend to fit different patterns than countries with less, or newer, industrial technology. See? Patterns in the chaos.
According to the demographic transition theory, human societies are categorized into one of four stages of industrial development. Let's start with stage one, pre-industrial society. This is a society with no industrial technology or development. In general, both birth rates and death rates are high, but stable, so the overall population does not change very dramatically. From the beginning of human history up until the first Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, this was the basic pattern for all human societies.
Stage two is a country that is beginning its industrial development. The new changes in technology mean that agriculture is more productive and healthcare is more effective, so there is more food and less disease. The result is a sharp decrease in death rates. Even though birth rates stay the same, the fact that there are fewer deaths means that population increases very quickly. As of right now, countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Laos, amongst others, match this trend.
As societies become more and more industrialized, they enter stage three of the demographic transition theory. By stage three, death rates are still low, but birth rates begin to decline as well. So, why are people in stage three having fewer kids? For one, fewer children are dying, so parents can stop having children earlier. Also, more industrial technology means that societal values tend to shift away from rural and agricultural lives to urban, industrial ones. In other words, people move to the city and buy food, rather than growing it themselves. Other factors include a higher number of educated, professional women, increased costs of childcare as a result of child labor laws and mandatory education, and increased social pressure to essentially spoil the children you have. Also, birth control is usually first readily available in stage three, although this is a pretty recent change. So, that's a lot of social change, and as a result, the population growth of stage two tends to level out in stage three.
And that brings us to stage four. In stage four, both birth and death rates are low, which often results in a population that shrinks at first but then levels off at lower levels. Many stage four countries rely on immigration to keep their population up, which is generally not a problem since fully-industrialized societies tend to have more job opportunities. In fact, these opportunities are the reason that birth rates tend to be lowest in stage four countries. Almost everyone has equal education and work opportunities, so people choose not to have kids but instead work hard and live out long lives spending their money. The United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Iran, China, Brazil, and most of Europe all display these trends.
Now, it is always important to remember that the demographic transition theory is exactly what it claims to be: a theory. It's not a law of nature, just an observation, and that means that there are some issues with it. For one, many people criticize it for being inherently biased, assuming that all societies are destined to industrialize, or even that they should. Given that this theory was developed by people who lived in industrial societies, it can be seen as looking down on nations that prefer non-industrial economies. Additionally, the rates at which nations can industrialize are becoming quicker and quicker, which means that a country can potentially go through all the stages in only a few years, or even skip stages. Finally, recent demographic data has lead people to wonder if there will eventually be a stage five. Various industrialized countries in Asia and Europe are showing new changes, some with increased birth rates, and some with increased death rates. There are several different ideas about how to interpret this data, forcing some to ask whether the DT model needs to adapt or whether it is simply outdated and needs to be replaced.
The world seems like a mess sometimes, but that doesn't mean that it isn't full of patterns. Demographics, the statistical analysis of human populations, was used by Warren Thompson in 1929, to identify one set of patterns based on the amount of industrial technology that a country had developed. Thompson's demographic transition theory observes trends that countries are predicted to experience at different levels of industrial development. There are four stages, each defined by a change in population statistics. Population is stable in stage one, grows quickly in stage two, levels out in stage three, and declines in stage four. This theory is criticized by some as being biased and by others being outdated due to changes in modern industrial development and population statistics. So, is the world really a mess? Or, is it just an elaborate system of organized chaos?
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Back To CourseSociology 104: World Population
8 chapters | 88 lessons