Population Composition: Definition & Elements

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  • 0:04 Population Composition
  • 0:21 Elements of Composition
  • 3:33 Other Elements
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

What makes up a population? In this lesson, we're going to check out the concept of population composition and see how researchers can use this to better understand a society.

Population Composition

What does your society look like? Different groups of people tend to look differently, and those distinctions actually matter. When studying the ways that societies change and interact, it's important for us to consider the population composition, or the statistical makeup of that group.

Elements of Composition

So, what exactly are the elements of population composition? The short answer is: basically everything. This idea encompasses all of the ways that people in a society can categorize or identify themselves. Various studies will select specific elements to examine, depending on the sort of research being conducted. Let's look at some of the most common elements of population composition to study.


One of the most important elements of population composition is age. Within this category, researchers examine the average age of the population, as well as the distribution of age ranges. Why does this information matter? In Japan, about 27% of the population is 65 or older. That's around 34 million people that are going to need social services but who aren't going to be contributing much to the economy. Governments need to prepare for that.

On the other hand, about 49% of Niger's population is 15 or younger. That's a very young population, and it means that Niger's population is likely going to continue growing at a rapid rate. While this suggests that Niger is about to get a large group of people who are able to contribute to the economy, these same people are going to need space to live, jobs, housing, and government services. If the government isn't prepared for continuous population growth, it could lead to several problems down the road.


Another important element of population composition is sex. In essence, we're asking how many males and females live in a population. The global distribution of males to females tends to be nearly equal, and in most populations that ratio is consistent. So, when we see nations that have disproportionate numbers, we understand that there are cultural factors at work. In the late 20th century, a preference towards male offspring led to imbalanced populations in several East Asian nations. When those generations grew up, there were more men looking for wives then there were available females. Immigration had to be used to compensate.

Age and sex are very often studied together in something we call a population pyramid like this one.


On the left side are ages of males, broken in 4-year increments and stacked horizontally. On the right sides are numbers for females. A population growing at a consistent rate is expected to form a triangular shape (hence the name). A more rectangular shape indicates a population that is growing slowly and steadily.

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