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Population Geography

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Population Geography

The world's population is set to reach 8 billion people in the next few years. This is a huge figure and indicative of positive improvements in medicine and food distribution. People are living longer and healthier lives. That's a good thing! It also means greater governmental and societal coordination is required to keep up with population growth. Let's explore population geography as a study of this phenomenon and what kind of tools are at our disposal. Keep reading to find out more about the scope, importance, and more.

Introduction to Population Geography

The world's population has exploded over the last few centuries. This is attributed to major changes in healthcare, food, and lifestyle which provide opportunities for people to live longer and healthier lives. On a global scale, this leads to exponential population growth, the change in population size dependent on births and deaths. However, not every country experiences population growth—some populations are actually shrinking! So, how can some populations grow, others shrink, and yet we still have an expanding global population?

Population geography can help explain this phenomenon! Population geography is the study of human populations. This includes their distributions across the world, their density in certain areas, and their movements (migration). In other words, population geography provides explanations and methods for understanding where people are, why they may be there, why they're moving, and where they might go.

Scope of Population Geography

Population geography seeks to explain the patterns within the human population. The scope of study spans everything from the natural influences on changes to birth and death rates to the effects of migration patterns on population increases and decreases. By studying population changes at different scales—local, national, and global—population distribution is more easily understood. There are different graphs that explain population information. Population pyramids can visually illustrate a population's age and sex structure at a given time. They can also provide information on birth rates, death rates, and life expectancy, which is useful for predicting reproductive or aging rates.

The way to read a population pyramid is quite simple. As an example, here is the UK's population structure for 2018. Males are on the left, females are on the right, and the age starts at 0 at the bottom and goes to 100 at the top. Each bar is the number of people in each age and gender category. The shape of this population pyramid indicates a low birth rate (smaller base), a low death rate (wide at the top), and a long life expectancy (a lot of people living past 80+).

Population Geography, Population pyramid for the UK, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Population Pyramid for the UK (2018)

Population changes are usually influenced by economic, cultural, political, or environmental circumstances. These influences can be explained by push and pull factors. Push factors motivate people to move away from a country due to political, economic, cultural, or environmental failures. A lack of skilled jobs, religious persecution, or a natural hazard such as a tsunami are all push factors. Pull factors motivate people to move to a country. Higher incomes, better education, or greater safety are examples of pull factors.

Think of pull and push factors that are going on in the world today. Why are people moving? Where are they moving to and why?

Importance of Population Geography

But why does population geography matter? With so many people (and more every day!), planning for enough resources (such as food, jobs, and infrastructure) is an essential component of government work. The importance of population geography depends on governments and associated entities informing themselves about the social composition of their societies to meet current needs and project future needs. The government has the power to oversee and implement different programs depending on the population's needs. They can promote economic growth through business-friendly practices, invest in educational facilities for children and young people, or expand social security benefits for elderly residents. All of these decisions largely depend on current and projected population demographics.

Population Geography and Demography

The study of population geography and demography began out of concern for the world's growing population. Before the 1800s, the world's population remained well below a billion. However, the Industrial Revolution, a period of major economic development in Great Britain and North America (1700s-1800s), led to greater production of goods and services, elevating the standard of living for people (i.e., lower death rates and longer life expectancy).

By the 1800s, the world population reached a billion people. Thomas Malthus, a controversial English economist, presented a theory on population growth that changed much of the study on population geography. The Malthusian theory states that the population grows geometrically (exponentially), while agricultural supply only grows arithmetically (linearly), hence the world's population will run out of food if population limits aren't set. This theory was put to the test during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849 when a potato blight that destroyed potato crops throughout Europe hit Ireland. Mass starvation, the spread of disease, and a major social crisis were underway. In response, the English government justified its lack of intervention with Malthusian's theory that the Irish population should be controlled. As a result, around a million people died from the famine, while around 2 million migrated away, creating a major political contention between Ireland and the UK.

Population Geography, Population change in Ireland 1841-1951 Population Geography and Demography, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Population Change in Ireland 1841-1951

As improvements in medicine, technology, and agricultural production occurred, so too did the growth in the human population. Around 1960, the world hit 3 billion people, with further major increases every decade. In 2022, we're currently at almost 8 billion people in the world. Concerns over resource allocation (ex. food, housing) are top priorities for governments. Some countries have used policies targeting the control of local populations as a way of dealing with these concerns. Likewise, countries with a shrinking population must also address issues of a shrinking economy for the dependents (young and old people), which rely on a working population to fund schooling or retirement.

Population Policies

Historically, population policies (pronatalist and anti-natalist policies) serve as government regulations to address overpopulation or underpopulation. Overpopulation can be concerning for governments as it could put a strain on existing resources such as food and housing and can lead to social unrest. Anti-natalist policies are government policies that serve to discourage people from having children. Underpopulation, on the other hand, is concerning as most economic progress is dependent on a healthy working population. If people have fewer children, there will be a smaller working population in the future, creating concern over funding for schools or social security programs. Pronatalist policies are government policies that serve to encourage people to have children.

Population Geography, Ceramic painting promoting China's one-child policy Population policies, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Ceramic painting promoting China's one-child policy in Xinhui, China

Most infamously, China's One-Child policy in the 1980s attempted to discourage people from having children. As China's population was growing exponentially, China feared future famines and imposed a program to limit families from having more than one child. People who only had one child could receive monetary benefits or treatment, while those who had more than one were fined or punished. Unfortunately, families preferred male to female children, as females were seen as a financial burden on families in the long term (it was common that males would be the only ones to leave home and work). On a major scale, it led to discrimination of females through abortion of female fetuses and abandonment of female children. As a result, there are currently around 34 million more men than women in the country, many of whom may never marry or have children. In contrast, countries whose populations are decreasing, such as Denmark and Sweden, have introduced more paid maternity leave and created propaganda to promote raising children.

Relationship of Population Geography with Other Disciplines

The relationship between population geography and other disciplines is critical to understanding population geography. Population geography is largely tied to major economic, cultural, political, and environmental problems going on in the world. For instance, major economic recessions can lead to the collapse of some economies over others. Economies that are strongest tend to have greater migration patterns due to greater job opportunities (pull factor). Cultural or political persecution can drive people to migrate away from their countries (push factor). Environmental catastrophes can also push people out of their homes due to destruction or insecurity (push factor). It is therefore essential to study population geography in the context of major events that occur in the world.

For the AP Human Geography, ask yourself, what factors can explain migration patterns?

Population Geography - Key takeaways

  • Population geography is the study of human populations. This includes their distributions across the world, their density in certain areas, and their movements (migration).
  • Population changes are usually influenced by economic, cultural, political, or environmental circumstances. These influences can be explained by push and pull factors.
  • The government uses population geography to make decisions on current and future population needs.
  • Anti-natalist policies are government policies that serve to discourage people from having children. Pronatalist policies are government policies that serve to encourage people to have children.
  • Population geography has important ties to economic, cultural, political, and environmental disciplines.

References

  1. Fig. 1 : Population pyramid, UK (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uk_population_pyramid_2018-7-1.png) by sdgedfegw (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sdgedfegw) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 3: China One Child Policy (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PlannedBirthCeramicPaintings-Xinhui.jpg) by Clpro2 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Clpro2) licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Population Geography

Population geography is the study of human populations, including distribution patterns, density, and migration. 

Population geography is important to understand the social structure of the population in order to gauge the current and future needs.  

Population geography means studying where and why people move in the world. 

An example of population geography is the use of population pyramids. Population pyramids are useful graphs to understand the population structure of a country. 

The importance of population geography resides in governments recognizing and addressing their population's needs. This can only be by studying population geography. 

Final Population Geography Quiz

Question

An increase in births and decrease deaths can lead to...

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population growth

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A decrease in births and an increase in deaths can lead to...

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population decrease

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Population geography is

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the study of human populations

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What are population pyramids?

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A graph visualizing a population's age and sex structure at a given time

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What other information can population pyramids provide?

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Birth rates

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Population changes are influenced by [...] circumstances

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Economic 

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A tech worker can't find a job in his field in Pakistan

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Push factor

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A woman feels threatened due to her political views in Afghanistan

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Push factor

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Low cost university fees in Germany

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Push factor

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A job offers benefits and higher salary in the US

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Pull factor

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Governments need population geography to

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Meet current needs and project future needs of a population 

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Malthusian theory applied during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 led to

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A million dead Irishmen and mass migration out of Ireland

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What population policies do governments use to control the population? 

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Pronatalist policies

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An example of an anti-natalist policy is

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expanding women's education

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An example of a pronatalist policy is

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expanding women's education 

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Question

City A adds 10,000 new people every year, of which 2,000 are migrants. City B adds the same number, with 8,000 being migrants. Which city follows a law of Ravenstein, and why?

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City B. Ravenstein said most population growth in cities is accounted for by migrants.

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The following involves two cities in Texas. Of City C's migrants, 78.2% come from Texas. For City D, 57.3% of its migrants come from California. Which city adheres to a Ravenstein law?

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City C is supported by Ravenstein's law that most migrants come from shorter distances or from within the state.

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The following geographic concepts were influenced by Ravenstein:

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gravity model, distance decay, push and pull factors

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Absorption is to _____ as Dispersion is to ______

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Pull factors...Push factors

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(True or False) The law that says that females migrate more domestically than males is still universally applicable today.

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False. It was only applicable during the parameters of Ravenstein's study.

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(True or False). Most of Ravenstein's laws are still applicable today.

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True. Nine out of 11 of Griggs' derived laws are still somewhat applicable today.

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What data did Ravenstein use for his laws?

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The 1871 and 1881 UK censuses.

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Many men in their 20s migrate from farms in rural Brazil to a nearby town looking for work. They stay there a few years and then move to the nearest big city. How many of Ravenstein's laws did they follow?

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Three. Rural-to-urban migration; step migration; mostly single people migrate.

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The following are weaknesses of Ravenstein laws:

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Do not feature cultural or political reasons for migration

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What is voluntary migration? 

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the process of migration where someone chooses to move.

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What are causes of voluntary migration?

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Job opportunities.

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Voluntary migration only occurs internationally.

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True

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What is the key difference between forced and voluntary migration? 

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Voluntary is based on free choice

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What type of voluntary migration is this? 


I got a college acceptance letter in another city in my home country and will have to move.

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Transhumance.

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What type of voluntary migration is this? 


My small village doesn't have a hospital and I want to move to the closest city that does.

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Rural to Urban Migration.

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What type of voluntary migration is this? 


The neighboring country is offering a one-year program where I can work in a hotel.

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Chain Migration.

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What type of voluntary migration is this? 


I'm moving to Italy so I can eat as much pasta as I want!

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Transnational Migration. 

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What type of voluntary migration is this? 


I enjoy white-water rafting and work in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer months and in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter months. 

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Transhumance. 

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What type of voluntary migration is this? 


My family needs me to make money in Sweden to send back to Pakistan.

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Guest Worker and remittances. 

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What is forced migration?

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the involuntary movement of people under the fear of harm or death.

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What kind of forced migration cause is this?


You're a journalist who has published an article criticizing the cartel. You are now a target. 

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Conflict-driven.

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What kind of forced migration cause is this?


Sea-level rise has flooded your community and you have to abandon everything. The government does not assist you. 

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Conflict-driven.

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Slavery does not exist anymore.

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True.

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Refugees are...

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people who are fleeing war, violence, conflict or persecution, cross an international border, and have received refugee status.

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Internally displaced persons are...

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people who have fled their homes due to war, violence, conflict, or persecution but have not crossed an international border. 

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Asylum seekers are...

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displaced people who have fled their homes due to war, violence, conflict, or persecution, crossed international border, and are applying for refugee status.

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What type of forced migration is this?


I'm Mexican; I'm fleeing cartel violence and am waiting on the Mexican side of the border to be able to enter the US.

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Internally displaced person.

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What type of forced migration is this?


I was granted asylum but my father was not. 

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Asylum seeker.

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What type of forced migration is this?


I applied for refugee status and was rejected. 

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Asylum seeker.

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The effects of migration are the same regardless of why someone migrates.

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True.

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The effects of voluntary migration can differ because migrants...

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can learn the language before moving.

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The effects of forced migration can vary because migrants...

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have little resources with them.

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Migration is controlled by governments through...

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Immigration laws.

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Immigration policy is the same in every country. 

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True.

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Upfront costs on housing, education, and transportation must be provided by governments. This is true for...

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Refugees.

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