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Roots and Fruits of Population Growth and Social Structures: Demographic and Sociological Vistas

Abstract

World population, currently approaching 7.5 billion, will probably exceed 11 billion by the end of the century, almost double what it was at turn of the present century. The growth is uneven, and the result is a redistribution of the world’s population: at the end of this century Europe will have essentially no more people than it had fifty years ago, whereas Africa’s population will have multiplied 20-fold, and will have gone up from under 10% to over 30% of the world’s population. Thus, not only is population growing but it is currently growing in those regions of the world that have the least resources at their disposal, and the result is liable to be a dramatic rise in world inequality; increased conflict over access to resources; and increased migratory pressure from the poor to the richer regions of the world. In this introductory chapter, we discuss the history and sources of growth in world population over the past two centuries (in particular mortality and fertility) and its eventual stabilisation. We consider some of the major links between population and social dynamics in the light of two basic approaches to world population growth: The Malthusian approach, which views growth as a catastrophe, and the Marxian approach, which sees both population growth and its outcomes as contingent on social conditions and responses. We focus on the mutual relationship between population and societal change at all levels, the micro-, the meso- and the macro-levels, a relationship that is also reflected in the papers in this collection. However, there is also agency in population growth and the introduction concludes with a consideration of the options which humanity faces given the anticipated growth of world population and its redistribution.

Keywords

  • World population
  • Population growth
  • Social inequality
  • Malthus
  • Marx
  • Social demography

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Fig. 1.1

Source Adapted from Goldewijk et al. (2010) with updated statistics from United Nations (2017)

Fig. 1.2

Source United Nations (2017)

Fig. 1.3

Source Author calculations from United Nations (2017)

Fig. 1.4

Source FAO (n.d.)

Notes

  1. 1.

    Some may take comfort in the fact that the proportion of lives lost was greater in the Black Death. Small consolation, indeed!

  2. 2.

    A grouping suggested by Wilson and Purushothaman (2003), of countries with large and growing economies and populations, and world suppliers of raw materials and manufactured goods. The definition is not consistent, as others, (e.g. Vijayakumar et al. 2010) have also suggested including South Africa, and not all are convinced of the value of the grouping, (e.g. Armijo 2007). We note that following sustained fertility decline, the Russian population is already declining, and China, Brazil and India are expected to follow suit shortly.

  3. 3.

    Gini coefficients are a common measure of income or wealth inequality and range from zero to one. A perfectly equal society would have a Gini coefficient of zero, whereas a country with all the wealth concentrated in one household would score a one.

  4. 4.

    The Gini coefficient rose from a median of about 0.2 in hunter-gatherer societies (whose nomadic lifestyle made it hard to accumulate wealth, let alone bequeath it), to 0.27 for horticulturalists (small-scale, low-intensity farmers), 0.35 for larger-scale agricultural societies, and to 0.5 in around 79 AD in Pompeii. Post-Neolithic Eurasia had a greater availability of large draft mammals like horses, cattle, pigs and oxen that could be domesticated and which were largely absent in North America. These livestock greatly increased farm productivity but were mainly owned by richer farmers who could also rent them out as well as till more land and expand into new areas (Kohler et al. 2017).

  5. 5.

    It is ironic that by the early 20th century Malthus’s name was so firmly associated with contraception that in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), in which casual sex was a way of life, all non-sterile women wore a Malthusian belt in which they carried a ready supply of contraceptives!

  6. 6.

    But see Meek et al. (1971) for a compilation of Marx and Engels on population-related issues; Szreter (2018).

  7. 7.

    The concept of demographisation captures such processes of a discoursive re-framing of social problems as demographic ones (Barlösius 2007; Messerschmidt 2014; Sackmann et al. 2015). A typical example is the neglect of political causes for an oversupply of housing in eastern Germany (i.e. dysfunctional subsidies in the 1990s) by pointing exclusively to demographic change (Sackmann 2015, p. 28).

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Anson, J., Bartl, W., Kulczycki, A. (2019). Roots and Fruits of Population Growth and Social Structures: Demographic and Sociological Vistas. In: Anson, J., Bartl, W., Kulczycki, A. (eds) Studies in the Sociology of Population. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-94869-0_1

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