Theories and Methods Basics of Demography

Demography studies the size, composition, distribution, and dynamics of populations. Size refers to the number of persons, usually counted in a census, which can be more or less accurate depending on the method and thoroughness of counting. Composition deals with a breakdown of total population in terms of sex and age categories, and can also include other categories such as race/ethnic group and SES. Distribution primarily maps the placement and density of populations. Finally, and most importantly for the topic of population control, dynamics covers the changes that take place within and between populations. In simple terms, population size change can occur depending upon the number of births versus the number of deaths, plus or minus the number of persons who migrate into or away from a population. Birth, fertility, reproductive, and death/mortality rates are more formally defined than will be utilized here. A highly useful presentation of demographic rates can be found in Gage (2000). Suffice it to say that this discussion on population control will be oriented toward some rather broad aspects of human endeavors to maintain, reduce, or increase total population size, or to restrict/promote certain subsets of a population, both in terms of number and quality. Reference will be made to particular countries or cultures to help illustrate certain features of population control efforts.

A widely cited demographic measure is the doubling rate. The doubling rate is the number of years it would take for a population to reach a two-fold size increase. For example, given the current size of the world's population at more than six billion people, and given the current rate of increase at almost 1.8%, then the world is projected to have around 12 billion persons in about 40 years. This population size is predicted by some estimates to be beyond the maximum number of persons that can be accommodated on earth. A directed interest in the doubling rate is obvious to anyone concerned about overpopulation, which will be considered later.

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