World Population Trends & Patterns Throughout History

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  • 0:01 Population Trends
  • 0:31 Agricultural Revolution
  • 2:21 Plagues & Diseases
  • 3:31 Technological Advances
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The world's population is now growing at a faster rate than many people ever thought possible. But is such rapid growth anything new? Can anything slow it? This lesson looks at history for the answers.

Population Trends

Since humanity first emerged out of the mists of pre-history, our population has grown steadily. During the earliest days of our history, only a few million people may have covered the Earth. Today there are 7 billion humans and counting, and by all accounts that number is nowhere close to slowing down. How do we grow so quickly? Could anything ever stop us? What happens when we run out of food or resources? These are some of the questions that this lesson will focus on answering.

Agricultural Revolution

Almost 10,000 years ago our ancestors were living in small tribal bands, traveling behind large herds of mammals with men hunting and fishing and women gathering fruits and vegetables. In short, we were nomads. But then something happened. For a variety of reasons still up for debate, some of our ancestors started to settle down and farm.

It was a pretty big gamble, and one that resulted in the first few generations being shorter and less healthy than their nomadic fellows. However, farming paid off. Within years, villages were started which in turn grew into towns and cities. Trade and specialized roles within society became possible, and all because people had started to farm. Had we all remained nomadic, the population would have remained too small for any of this to be possible. However, soon there were empires with millions of people, all because people had decided to farm.

For a short time population shot up dramatically; then, growth levelled off, only growing sporadically with new innovations. As our knowledge increased, so too did our population. Better trade routes allowed food to be moved faster, which meant settlements could grow larger. Better metals allowed for farms to be more productive, which meant that they could support more people. However, there were not any major 'Aha!' moments that caused the same exponential growth as before. In fact, in many ways the early farms of 7000 BCE actually resemble the farms of the 15th century CE more than those more modern farms resemble our modern agricultural areas. All this while, for all those centuries, the population continued to grow steadily with each new advance.

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