The History of Human Population Growth and Carrying Capacity

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  • 0:06 Human Population Growth
  • 1:39 Pre-Agricultural Period
  • 2:29 Agricultural Period
  • 3:26 Industrial Period
  • 4:51 Carrying Capacity
  • 6:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Most of us are used to the current size of the human population but it was not always this large. In this lesson, we will explore the history of human population growth and the future of its growth.

Human Population Growth

How many people do you think the human population grows by each year? Maybe one million? Ten million? More? As of 2012, over 80 million people were added to the human population each year. To give you perspective, this would be equivalent to the populations of California, Texas and New York combined. On a shorter scale, we add 2.6 people to the population every second! This would mean that each day you could fill two large football stadiums with the number of people that were added to the human population.

As of 2013, the human population is around 7 billion people, and it has taken many years for the population to grow to this size. Over this long amount of time, some periods have had slow growth while others have had more rapid growth. Due to these fluctuations and how large the human population has become, scientists have begun to investigate the growth of the human population.

Demography is the study of the size, density and distribution of the human population. This area of study takes into account birth rates, death rates, age distribution and any other factors that influence the size and growth of a population. Demographers have identified three distinct periods of human population growth that help explain the history of how our population has changed.

Pre-Agricultural Period

The pre-agricultural period is the first period of human population growth. This period is considered anything before 10,000 years ago. During the pre-agricultural period, human population growth was very slow, and it took tens of thousands of years for the human population to double.

Although growth was slow, the population was able to increase due to the development of tools. As people developed more advanced tools, they were able to travel to new lands and use their skills to adapt. This made it possible for people to spread to new regions of the world and expand the coverage of the human population. When the pre-agricultural period ended around 10,000 years ago, the human population was estimated to be somewhere between five and ten million people.

Agricultural Period

The agricultural period is the second period of human population growth. This period ranges from 10,000 years ago to about 1,000 years ago. During this time period, the human population started to grow more rapidly due to advances in agriculture. It was during this time that plants and animals were domesticated for farming. There were also advances in irrigation and plowing techniques that increased overall crop yield. As a result of increased food availability and more nutritious food, the human population grew faster than ever.

Unlike during the pre-agricultural period, when it took tens of thousands of years for the human population to double, during the agricultural period, it only took around 1,000 years for it to double in size. At the end of the agricultural period, the human population had increased a great deal to around 500 million people.

Industrial Period

The industrial period was the third period of human population growth. This period is from 1,000 years ago to current day and is characterized by advances in technology. Although there were advances in technology during the early part of this period, it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s that the advances in technology started to have a profound influence on the human population.

During this time period, there were technological advances in agricultural techniques that made it possible to grow crops on land that had previously been unusable. This resulted in another increase in the amount of food available, and therefore increased the number of humans that could survive. Technology was also used to improve medicine and sanitation, which helped save lives and increase the lifespan of the average person.

As a result of the technological advances of the industrial period, the human population grew at a rapid pace. Over the industrial period, the time it takes to double the population decreased a great deal. During the beginning of the period, it took around 500 years to double the population, but more recently, the number has decreased to 50 years to double. During the industrial period, the human population grew from 500 million people to the 7 billion people we now have on earth.

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