views updated May 21 2018


The articles under this heading provide an overview of the field of population. Specific topics directly within the field of demography are reviewed in Fertility; Migration; Mortality; Nuptiality. Methods used for the study of population are described in Census; Life Tables; Sample Surveys; Statistics; Survey Analysis; Vital Statistics. Other material directly relevant to the study of population will be found in Capital, Human; Epidemiology; Fertility Control; Food, article on World Problems; Genetics, article on Demography and Population Genetics; Labor Force; Literacy; Public Health; Social Behavior, Animal, article on The Regulation of Animal Populations. Also relevant are the biographies of Bertillon; Graunt; Lotka; Malthus; Petty; Sundt; StJssmilch; WlCksell; WlLlcox.

I.The Field of DemographyDudley Kirk


II. Population TheoriesAlfred Sauvy


III. Optimum Population TheoryJoseph J. Spengler


IV. Population CompositionKurt B. Mayer


V. Population DistributionVincent H. Whitney


VI. Population GrowthJohn V. Grauman


VII. Population PoliciesHope T. Eldridge



Demography is the quantitative study of human populations. Its basic materials are censuses, vital statistics, and, increasingly, sample surveys. Its central concerns are the measurement and discovery of uniformities in the basic processes of human birth, death, population movement, and population growth; these phenomena are treated in both their socioeconomic and their biological contexts. The methods of demography are empirical and statistical and make as much use of advanced mathematics as those of any branch of the social sciences. Like anthropology and psychology, demography bridges the social and biological sciences.

The word “demography” was apparently first used by Achille Guillard in his Elements de statistique humaine, ou demographie compare in 1855. Its Greek origins are demos (people) and graphein (to draw, describe). Until recently, the word had not attained general usage among English-speaking peoples, and those using it were frequently the victims of typographers and casual audiences who insisted on confusing it with “democracy.” The most widely used textbook on population problems in the United States during the period from 1930 to 1960 does not mention the word in the first three editions and refers to it only casually in the fourth and fifth (Thompson & Lewis 1930). However, the word is gaining both wider usage and wider meaning as describing the scientific aspect of population study.

Formal demography A distinction is commonly made between “formal,” or “pure,” demography and broader population studies. Formal demography is a well-defined, technical subject with a highly developed mathematical methodology. It is concerned primarily with the measurement and analysis of the components of population change, especially births, deaths, and, to a smaller extent, migration. It is concerned with population structure—that is, the age, sex, and marital composition of the population—as it contributes to the understanding of population change.

Formal demography has provided some of the most fruitful uses of mathematical models in the social sciences. These include the construction of life tables, which provide the terms within which life insurance and social security systems must operate; intrinsic rates of reproduction and other sophisticated measures of natality, which have contributed much to the understanding of the secular decline of birth rates in the West and their fluctuations after World War ii; stable population analysis, which has provided methods of estimating birth rates and rates of population growth in the absence of reliable vital statistics and often with grossly inaccurate census data; and population projections, based on the analysis of trends in the components of population change. Such projections are in great demand for purposes of economic development, market research, city planning, educational planning, estimating future labor supply, and numerous other approaches to measuring people as producers and consumers.

For actuarial purposes, demography is usually defined in the narrow sense of formal demography (Cox 1950). This definition also prevails in certain European countries, notably Italy.

Broader usage. A broader and increasingly popular usage of the term “demography” includes studies of demographic variables in their social contexts as well as their biological contexts. In this approach, demographic changes are viewed as part of, and as both cause and effect of, their social environment. Demographic analysis has also come to mean “not only the statistical manipulation of population data, but more important, the study of such data as a method of solving empirical problems” (Spengler & Duncan [1956a] 1963, p.xiii).

In addition to the components of population change, demographic variables are rather arbitrarily assumed to include those mass measurements of population that are commonly enumerated in population censuses: the size and distribution of the population, its biological composition by age and sex, and certain of its more measurable socioeconomic characteristics. Among these variables, data on population size, geographical distribution (including rural-urban), age-sex composition, and marital status are generally considered to be more specifically the subject matter of demography. Other socioeconomic characteristics, such as race, language, religion, education, occupation, and income, are studied in their own right and often in relation to group differences in birth rates, death rates, and migration.

The broader definition of demography inevitably involves interdisciplinary aspects, since demographers and other social scientists may study human populations in relation to other variables. Thus, a study of rural-urban migration may be considered demographic if it is primarily concerned with measurement and quantitative uniformities, economic if it is concerned with economic causes and effects, and sociological if it deals with sociological causes and effects. There is no firm line of demarcation, nor should one be expected. Beyond the specific discipline of formal demography there is no distinguishing criterion of demography as such, other than its involvement in quantitative measures of human populations. Thus, it can be said that the subject matter of demography includes those population theories that are based on quantitative observation and generalization, but not those that are formulated a priori at a more abstract and polemical level.

The development of demography

Censuses in various forms were conducted early in human history. A Roman census was taken under Caesar Augustus the year Christ was born (thus forcing Joseph and Mary to journey to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the place of their ancestry); and a major census was conducted in China in the year 2 A.D., during the Han Dynasty.

While such scattered censuses are of great interest for historical demography, modern censuses usable for scientific pursuits are essentially of nineteenth-century origin. Regular decennial censuses were initiated in the United States in 1790 and in France and England in 1801. Important exceptions are the population registers in Scandinavia, which date back to 1686 in Sweden and 1769 in Denmark.

Origins in vital statistics

Empirical demography began in the context of vital statistics with the work of John Graunt. His Natural and Political Observations Upon the Bills of Mortality, published in 1662, is a study of current reports on burials and christenings for a population of about 500,000 persons in the vicinity of London. The very title of this early work illustrates the fact that demography has roots in both biological and social inquiries. In the 1670s, William Petty built on Graunt’s work to write a treatise on what he described as “political arithmetick.” Gradually demography was absorbed into the new and more general study of statistics to the point that, in the United States, for example, concern about the accuracy and implications of vital statistics in the city of Boston led to the establishment of the American Statistical Association in 1839.

The line of succession in the biostatistical tradition of demography is a notable one (see Lorimer 1959). Interest in biostatistics led to attempts to explain population change in terms of mathematical processes, particularly logistic curves. Population change was conceived in terms of mechanical models by nineteenth-century researchers such as Adolphe Quetelet and Pierre Francois Verhulst and in biological terms by Pearl and Reed (1920), Alfred J. Lotka (1925), and G. Udny Yule (1925). While mechanical and biologically deterministic models did not ultimately prove convincing, they did lead to major developments in the statistical analysis of the processes of birth and death. Outstanding among these were Lotka’s contributions in computing reproduction rates and intrinsic, or true, rates of natural increase, holding constant the age structure of the population. The use of mathematical models, both stochastic and deterministic, has enjoyed a rebirth in demography, perhaps because of the vogue of model-building in social sciences generally, and certainly because of the capabilities of modern computer technology.

Malthusian theory

The economic approach to demography is commonly traced to the work of Thomas Malthus, although he readily admitted the contributions of his predecessors. His Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, is undoubtedly the most discussed work in the field of demography. While he modified his position in successive versions of the volume, Malthus held the general view that population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence and thus to absorb all economic gains, except when checked by moral restraint, vice, and misery.

Malthus’ influence was enormous, but his view was later challenged in three ways. First, during the nineteenth century economic growth far outdistanced population growth among European peoples, resulting in rising levels of living. Second, despite rises in the level of living, birth rates declined, first in France and Sweden, and by 1880 in western Europe generally. Finally, liberals and Marxists challenged the Malthusian view by asserting that poverty was the result of unjust social institutions rather than of population growth. Regardless of the validity of this argument, it caused population study to be associated with the conservative social philosophy of Malthus, an association which retarded the growth of demography as a scientific discipline. As one author says,

The marriage of demography and economics while both were immature—“Parson” Malthus officiating— resulted in a stormy and unfruitful union. Both the dynamics of interactions among economic factors and the dynamics of vital trends in relation to population structure were long neglected in a hasty synthesis that placed undue emphasis on the relation of population to resources and the corollary theory of a hypothetical fixed “optimum.” This led to the fallacious assumption that increase of population is necessarily advantageous in a country with low density of population and to an unwarranted pessimism about the possibilities of economic progress in densely populated countries. (Lorimer 1957, p. 21)

Dissatisfaction with the Malthusian approach led to the divorce of demography from economics and to a continuing suspicion among some economists that demography overemphasizes the force of population growth and that population control in underdeveloped areas is in some way a diversion from, and even a threat to, the central purpose of economic development. Therefore, the economics of population change in the contemporary world has not received the attention that its importance would seem to merit, although it has not been entirely neglected. Now largely separated from economics, demography in the English-speaking world is commonly taught as a branch of sociology.

The birth rate in Western society

In its sociological aspects, population study emerged as a science in the 1920s and 1930s. Up to that time, births, deaths, and natural increase had generally been regarded as biologically given, exogenous both to the economy and to the social system. But by the interwar period, the general reduction of the birth rate in Western society had become highly visible and was the principal focus of demographic inquiry. Demographic studies demonstrated the social, as opposed to the biological, correlates and determinants of the decline in the birth rate.

Thus, empirical studies showed that the decline was not the result of biological sterility but of voluntary restriction of births, predominantly by methods requiring a high level of motivation. It is perhaps not widely known even today that reduction of the birth rate through contraception was initially and predominantly the result of “male” methods, specifically the practice of coitus interruptus and, later, the use of the condom; the principal “female” method of birth control was abortion [seeFertility Control]. The feminist birth control movement was noisy, often courageous, and certainly psychologically important, but there is little empirical evidence that the methods it advocated or the services it provided ever played a large part in the reduction of the birth rate in the Western world. In much of the Western world the chief methods of birth control are still coitus interruptus and abortion, although these are being increasingly replaced by new methods that have become generally available only since 1960.

Another major concern of demographers was “differential fertility,” that is, the general observation that birth control was first adopted by the more urbanized, the better educated, and the upperincome groups, with consequent rural–urban, educational, and class differences in birth rates. Demographers were reluctant to do more than measure these differences, but their observations reinforced concern about population “quality,” since class differences in natality clearly seemed to favor the reproduction of the socially and economically unsuccessful, and possibly also the genetically inferior.

The obvious role of social environment and voluntary control in the reduction of the birth rate gave rise to a new realization that birth and death rates, like migration, are effects as well as causes of social changes–dependent as well as independent variables with reference to the society in which they occur. Some felt that the existing trends were disturbing and even alarming, threatening “race suicide,” on the one hand, and deterioration of “quality,” on the other.

The reaction to the declining birth rate was strongest in the totalitarian countries that for nationalistic reasons adopted “pronatalist” population policies. These policies included such measures as propaganda for larger families, family allowances, suppression of induced abortion, marriage loans with deductions for each child born within the period of repayment, “motherhood medals” for parents of large families, and various privileges in taxation and in the social insurance schemes. Prior to World War ii such policies were adopted in fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan. Some of these measures, without the nationalistic overtones, were also adopted in France and Sweden [seePopulation, article onPopulation Policies].

In the English-speaking countries reaction to the declining birth rate was slower. In the United States the problem was given intensive study by the National Resources Committee (U.S. National Resources…1938). In Great Britain and Canada family allowances were adopted after World War ii; and in Great Britain a Royal Commission on Population was created and issued a report that is a landmark in British thinking on this point (Great Britain 1949–1954).

The effect of these pronatalist policies is controversial. The only clear cases of moderate success are rises in birth rates achieved in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union. In Germany the suppression of abortion and the promotion of earlier marriages and childbirth by marriage loans were contributing factors in the rise in the birth rate from 14.7 in 1933 to 20.3 in 1939 (Kirk 1942; Demographic Yearbook 1948, p. 262). But a substantial part of this increase was almost certainly due to the general improvement in economic conditions, especially the reduction of unemployment. In the Soviet Union the suppression of abortion was especially successful in raising birth rates in the cities, because abortion had formerly been legal and had even been provided as a health service of the state. In the mid-1950s abortion was again legalized and the birth rate in the Soviet Union is now quite low. In the period since World War n, French observers have expressed the view that family allowances have contributed to maintaining a higher birth rate in that country.

Theory of the vital revolution

In Western countries there were important regularities in the declines in death rates and birth rates, whether viewed in time or space. The spread of declines, first in death rates and later in birth rates, is a well-documented example of cultural diffusion. From these regularities were derived a number of general propositions concerning the sequence of demographic developments in the modern world Taken together, these propositions have come to be called the “theory of the vital revolution,” or the “theory of the demographic transition.”

According to this theory, in premodern societies both birth and death rates are high; reproduction is inefficient because it is necessary to have high, relatively unrestricted natality in order to match the waste of a high death rate. The initial effect of modernization is a fall in the death rate, apparently owing to higher levels of living and to the introduction of epidemic controls and other elementary public health measures. Without a comparable decline in the birth rate, there is a growing margin of births over deaths and an accelerating rate of population growth. At a later stage of socioeconomic development, with the achievement of general literacy, urbanization, and industrialization (as in the Western countries and in Japan), the size of family is reduced by birth control and the birth rate falls, eventually reducing the rate of population growth.

The theory of the demographic transition gave a plausible interpretation of demographic events in Western countries up to World War II. Demographers sought to extrapolate it in time, by projecting the then existing trends, and in space, by assuming that in the process of modernization the rest of the world would follow the same sequence of events as in the West. Population “projections” based on extrapolation of natality and mortality trends gained wide currency and were commonly regarded as estimates rather than as the mechanical extrapolations that they really were.

It is ironic that demographers developed the techniques for projecting certain long-standing trends in the components of population growth, especially in natality, just at a time when these trends were about to dissolve. New attitudes favoring earlier marriage and more children appeared in the very societies where the great majority of families had been practicing birth control. The recovery of the birth rate in Western countries just before, during, and especially after World War II violated the projections of previous trends and those formulations of the demographic transition that considered Western countries to be approaching a stationary or declining population. While the prolonged “baby boom” after World War II has receded, all Western countries continue to have modest rates of population growth.

The demographic transition has not fully materialized in non-Western cultures, aside from Japan. The transition has largely run its course in countries inhabited by peoples of predominantly European race and heritage, including Europe, the Soviet Union, and the overseas countries of chiefly European background. As yet, very few non-European countries have clearly reached the stage of declining birth rates and slower rates of population growth. There has not been a continuum of countries moving through the stages of transition, as Western countries were doing at the time when the theory was developed. Instead, there is now a sharp division between countries that have passed through the “vital revolution” and now have modest birth rates and growth rates, and countries in which the death rates, but not the birth rates, have been going down, so that the rate of population growth has been accelerating. This division separates the developed from the underdeveloped world, and, aside from the important exception of Japan, it also separates the peoples of European race and tradition from the peoples of the rest of the world. But there are clear indications that other nonEuropean countries such as Taiwan and Korea may now be entering the later phases of transition, and the development of government policies and especially of better contraceptives may well accelerate the transition. As yet, no country has become “modern”—in the sense of achieving mature socioeconomic development—without also undergoing a decline in its birth rate.

Later methodological developments

Two major developments have occurred in demography since World War ii as a result of the problems and failures of previous population projections: the development of a complex methodology to analyze trends in natality and the use of field surveys to determine causal factors affecting the number and timing of births.

The attempts to obtain better forecasts of future population resulted in successive improvements in the measuring of reproduction. These included the refinement of the crude birth rate to a population standardized by age; Lotka’s historic breakthrough in determining the true birth and death rates, given the continuation of existing age-specific natality and mortality rates; the analysis of births by duration of marriage, developed primarily in Europe (since such data were not available in the United States); the analysis of cohort fertility, that is, the number, spacing, and order of births per woman in her total reproductive experience (Whelpton et al. 1965); and stable population analysis, that is, the analysis of mathematical regularities in the interrelations of births, deaths, age structure, and population growth at fixed schedules of natality and mortality (Coale & Demeny 1966). Some of the methods in this area of growing demographic importance involve elaborate computations that are being facilitated by advances in computer technology.

Despite great technical virtuosity and much better understanding of the various ways in which natality may be measured, it is too early to tell whether these efforts have added much to the accuracy of population forecasts, although they have improved understanding of current natality trends. Cohort fertility analysis certainly provides meaningful interpretations of past trends and provides the basis for reasonable estimates of the total number of children a cohort of women will bear well before they have actually reached the end of their reproductive period. In the United States women born during the period 1905–1914 show the smallest average number of births and stand at the end of the long fertility decline that began in the early nineteenth century. It seems certain that later cohorts of women–that is, those born during the period 1915–1935–will show a larger average number of births (U.S. Department of Health…1966, p. 6).

After World War n, couples in the United States married earlier, had their children earlier, and had more children than their parents. The result was the higher birth rate in the United States and in some other Western countries during the postwar period. Recent trends suggest that these forces are receding.

The official statistics used in the sophisticated methods of analysis referred to above have not given the reasons for the changes that have occurred. These have been sought in the second of the recent major developments in demographic methodology: field studies of attitudes, motivations, and expectations relating to family size. In the United States demographers have conducted a series of national sample surveys of attitudes and practices in relation to family planning. These surveys are documenting the changing aspirations of American families with regard to the size of family desired and the changing practices of marriage, spacing of children, and methods of family limitation (for example, see Whelpton et al. 1965; Westoff et al. 1961; 1963).

Demography and the population explosion

Since World War n, interest in population problems has re-emerged with great force. This is related to the rapid progress achieved in controlling or postponing deaths throughout the world, which has occurred without a compensating decline in the birth rate in the underdeveloped areas. The result has been the acceleration of population growth, dramatized in a vast and sometimes controversial literature about the “population explosion.” The rate of world population growth, over 2 per cent per year, is accelerating [seePopulation, article onPopulation Growth].

World population growth in the present period is historically unique, and there is a general realization that it leads to serious obstacles to the whole range of socioeconomic development, whether in food, health, education, housing, or the general level of living. Population growth is a major block to the satisfaction of rising aspirations in the underdeveloped countries (Coale & Hoover 1958).

In both developed and developing countries the rapid growth of metropolitan areas with their wide range of problems has also been classified as a “population problem” on the mistaken assumption that this is primarily due to the birth rate rather than to migration, which has been the principal factor. It is recognized that population growth and concentration have contributed to a wide range of problems involving the quality of education, the urban sprawl, the contamination of the atmosphere, and, according to some, the mediocrity of mass culture and the cacophony of much of modern life.

As logical results of these concerns, social scientists have become more interested in the population problem, whether defined as a social problem or as an area of scientific interest. Demography has, of course, provided analysis of the population trends and prospects that underlie this concern. Prior to World War Ii demographic studies were largely confined to countries with adequate censuses and vital statistics–that is, chiefly countries of the Western world. In recent years there has been growing interest in the demography of the underdeveloped world, where great ingenuity and methodological skill are often needed to make up for the absence of reliable data. This changing emphasis has been reflected, for example, in the much greater attention given the underdeveloped areas in the Second World Population Conference in Belgrade in 1965, as compared with the First World Population Conference in Rome in 1954 (World Population Conference 1966, p. 2).

The growth of applied demography

Demography has supplied much of the factual background for the population policies and family planning programs that have been adopted by several of the developing countries. Much of the demographic literature now relates to attitude studies and to action experiments designed to introduce family planning in these areas.

On the world scale, the field surveys of knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP studies) concerning family size and family planning are perhaps the broadest cross-cultural series of studies on any subject in the social sciences. Sample surveys of this type have been done in some twenty countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These surveys have revealed the feasibility of obtaining useful information on such delicate subjects in all societies; the existence of a substantial “market” for contraceptive information and services almost everywhere; and actual contraceptive practice in close relation to the degree of modernization of the country or socioeconomic class concerned [seeFertility Control].

Although demography has been described as “observational,” as opposed to experimental, at least some demographers have embarked on controlled experiments in relation to efforts to reduce birth rates. In several instances, the Kap studies have included an action component, that is, experimentation in introducing family planning to the population concerned. These studies have met with varying success, depending on the characteristics of the populations and the methods of education and motivation employed. Such attempts have been successful where the population was already in the stream of modernization, had experienced increasing survival of infants, and had achieved some success in avoiding births through postponement of marriage and through contraception and abortion. Projects of this nature have been working in Taiwan, Korea, and Ceylon. However, where the population had not already made serious efforts to reduce family size, as in India and Pakistan, the results of such experiments have been limited (Conference . . . 1962; International Conference… 1966; Studies in Family Planning).

A number of countries have adopted national programs for introducing family planning: Communist China, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Ceylon, Pakistan, Turkey, the United Arab Republic, Tunisia, Morocco, Barbados, Jamaica, Honduras, and Chile. The list grows each year. Most of these programs are as yet too new and too small-scale to have achieved measurable success in reducing the birth rate. However, their chances for success may change rapidly with the improvement of contraceptive technology, notably oral contraceptives and plastic intrauterine devices. All contraception involves motivation; the newer methods are effective because they help the less strongly motivated and those living in circumstances where earlier methods were impractical. It seems likely that these and further improvements will revolutionize the whole approach to family planning in developing and developed countries alike (International Conference ... 1966).

There is controversy among demographers about the scientific relevance of applied studies in their field. There is less controversy about the role of getting better information on vital statistics and population growth, since these pursuits serve both academic and applied ends. In over half the world, including most of the countries that have adopted population policies, official vital statistics are inadequate for determining either the true levels or year-to-year changes in birth rates, death rates, and population growth. New approaches that are being undertaken to obtain better estimates include closely supervised registration in sample areas, repetitive surveys, and various combinations that have come to be called “population growth estimation studies.” The real measure of the success of a national family planning program is reduction in the birth rate and in the rate of population growth, and demographers are therefore becoming increasingly involved in problems of measuring population growth, as well as in the evaluation of the results of family planning programs.

Demography in the social sciences

Demography is generally considered an interdisciplinary subject with strong roots in sociology and weaker, but still important, connections with economics, statistics, geography, human ecology, biology, medicine, and human genetics. It is rarely thought of as a completely separate discipline, but rather as an interstitial subject or as a subdivision of one of the major fields. In English-speaking countries persons who describe themselves professionally as “demographers” usually hold positions of broader definition as sociologists, economists, or statisticians, or are in offices and research organizations whose titles include the word “population” but only rarely “demography,” a word that is more commonly used in other countries.

Interest in demography has led recently to the rapid multiplication of offices and institutes devoted specifically to population research. In the United States there are some ten such institutes associated with universities. There are important centers of demographic study in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. The United Nations sponsors three regional centers of demographic training (in Santiago, Chile, for Latin America; in Bombay, India, for Asia; and in Cairo, United Arab Republic, for north Africa), and others are under consideration. Some of the most rapid progress in demographic work is occurring at newly established centers in eastern Europe and in the developing areas.

Demography is, in one sense, a general servant of other social sciences. It evaluates and initially digests the vast reservoirs of social data compiled in censuses and vital statistics. It provides substantial raw material for the study of social, political, and economic change. Moreover, in spite of past disappointments over their accuracy, projections and estimates are continually requested from demographers for a multitude of planning purposes.

Demography has not had a prominent place in social scientific theory except in that of economics, through the works of Mai thus. It is quantitative, empirical, and methodologically rigorous. Its subject matter is statistical categories that only indirectly reflect real social groups. Its quantitative documentation of specific social change is not readily integrated into the structural-functional theories prevailing in sociology, which are commonly speculative and hard to subject to empirical tests.

Within its own domain demography has had its greatest successes in the analysis of mortality [seeLife tables; Mortality]. Its greatest interest and virtuosity has been in the study of natality [seeFertility] . The stepchild of demography is migration, which up to now has defied the application of refined measurements comparable to those developed in the other two fields. Although international migration is no longer of great demographic importance, internal migration in the United States, for example, is the chief cause of variations in rates of population growth between states, cities, and regions. The importance of migration, as well as the advantages of the new computer technology, may bring greater talent and resources into this field [seeMigration].

In recent years perhaps the most neglected area in demography has been on the important frontiers between demography and economics, in such areas as population growth in relation to capital formation; application of life table principles to labor force changes; the economics of health, morbidity, and mortality; and the economic implications of different levels of morbidity and mortality. There are also unexplored possibilities for more fruitful cross-disciplinary work between demography and the fields of anthropology, politics, geography, ecology, and genetics [see Genetics, article ondemography and population genetics]. There are beginnings, but as yet the joint efforts in these related fields are minimal.

Dudley Kirk


Barclay, George W. 1958 Techniques of Population Analysis. New York: Wiley. → A nonmathematical presentation.

Carr-Saunders, Alexander (1936) 1965 World Population: Past Growth and Future Trends. New York: Barnes & Noble. → A classic work.

Coale, Ansley J.; and Demeny, Paul 1966 Regional Model Life Tables and Stable Populations. Princeton Univ. Press.

Coale, Ansley J.; and Hoover, Edgar M. 1958 Population Growth and Economic Development in Lowincome Countries: A Case Study of India’s Prospects. Princeton Univ. Press. → The most comprehensive work on this subject.

Conference On Research In Family Planning, New York, 1960 1962 Research in Family Planning: Papers. Edited by Clyde V. Kiser. Princeton Univ. Press.

Cox, Peter R. (1950) 1959 Demography. 3d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press. → Emphasizes the needs of actuaries.

Demographic Yearbook. → Issued annually by the United Nations since 1948. The standard international compendium and source book for world demographic information. See especially the 1948 issue. Demography. → Published irregularly since 1964 by the Population Association of America.

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Hauser, Philip M.; and Duncan, Otis Dudley (editors) (1959) 1964 The Study of Population: An Inventory and Appraisal. Univ. of Chicago Press. → A major compendium of scholarly papers on the history, substance, and status of demography.

International Conference On Family Planning Programs, Geneva, 1965 1966 Family Planning and Population Programs: A Review of World Developments. Edited by Bernard Berelson et al. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Kirk, Dudley 1942 The Relation of Employment Levels to Births in Germany. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 20:126–138.

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Pearl, Raymond; and Reed, L. J. 1920 On the Rate of Growth of the Population of the United States Since 1790 and Its Mathematical Representation. National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings 6:275–288.

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In this discussion we will leave aside such subjects as population genetics, eugenics, and the geographical distribution of people in a particular area. We will concentrate instead upon those theories which relate population size to environment. This relationship is expressed, for instance, by the terms “overpopulation” and “underpopulation” and by the concept of an optimum state which lies in between.

It is appropriate to start with a short historical overview.

Antiquity. Since overpopulation in China goes back to very ancient times, it is not surprising that Chinese philosophers, especially Confucius, entertained the notion of a numerical balance between population and environment. They also looked for means to check the increase in numbers. The foundations of a theory of optimum population level, fully stated only in the twentieth century, can be found in their writings.

In ancient Greece, the earliest thinkers favored the expansion of population. Plato, however, became the foremost exponent of the restrictionist point of view, although he was by no means its first representative. In his Laws, following Hippodamos, he advocated an absolute limit to the number of citizens and suggested means to that end which would frighten today’s moralists. In Plato’s Laws, however, as well as in his Republic and in Aristotle’s Politics, the perspective is rather narrow, and any concern for the whole of mankind is wellnigh missing. Fear of overpopulation finally contributed to the decay of Hellenic civilization. At this point, Polybius analyzed the causes of the low fertility of the Greek population and proposed remedies—but it was too late.

Early Rome was characterized by a fertility cult, as was typical of many rising civilizations, including Greece. This ideal found practical support in military and political expansion. From Ennius to Varro, all the writers of the republican period claimed that the primary function of marriage was to provide citizens—if not soldiers–for the state.

Later writers denounced the evils of depopulation, and several emperors, notably Augustus, introduced legislation to encourage parenthood. In spite of these efforts, Rome’s lack of men finally contributed to its downfall, since it was unable to hold back the barbarian invasions.

The Middle Ages. Medieval population theory was not, generally speaking, grounded in economics. Since the concepts of state, race, and nation made little sense to medieval man, political concern for population growth could not crystallize. Gradually, however, the depopulation ensuing from disastrous invasions gave rise to the feeling that population growth in itself was a good thing and a mark of divine favor. This view was to survive a long time, and to this day it has not completely vanished.

The setting up of a social hierarchy could only strengthen this line of reasoning. The leisure classes dreaded any decrease in the numbers of those whose labor they were exploiting (the analogy with a herd was becoming obvious). Thus, the return of the populationist tradition coincided with the reorganization of Western society after the era of feudalism.

The Enlightenment. The populationist theory which appeared during the seventeenth century and flourished in the eighteenth century rested on paternalistic premises. According to an early statement by Guillaume Bude: “The king’s glory is in the multitude of the people.” Similarly, Perriere asked: “Who will carry the weapons, if men are lacking?” Jean Bodin was even more explicit: “There is no wealth nor strength but in men.”

Mercantilism was a natural extension of populationist theory from the political to the economic field. Mercantilist theory was nationalistic and expansionist in outlook; it aimed at increasing both employment and number of men by processing as much raw material as possible within the national boundaries. In fact, it was less of a scientific theory of population than a political attitude. Political concern with increasing the population as a means of promoting wealth and power for the lord, the king, and later for the state, extended through the centuries, well beyond the period of mercantilism. Most orthodox thinkers in the eighteenth century instinctively took a populationist position. The frankest statement of that position was given by Turmeau de la Morandiere, in one brutal sentence: “Subjects and beasts must be multiplied.” We shall see why nationalism, in its early stages, and dictatorships are more prone to populationist arguments than are democratic regimes. In Germany, Hermann Conring also attributed the power of states mainly to population. In England, at the same period, another confirmed populationist was William Petty, who founded the science of “political arithmetic,” or demography, and who used his truly brilliant gifts to raise questions so novel that they opened up vast areas to scientific investigation.

In France, the physiocrats and their leader, Frangois Quesnay, thought that proper regulation of landed property by means of capital investment should take precedence over population increase. Quesnay’s Tableau economique (written in 1758 and revised in 1766) contained the first dynamic model of a national economy and was in this respect a forerunner of modern national accounting and the matrix developed by Leontief [seeInput-output analysis].

Adam Smith took little interest in the population question, which, as a matter of fact, baffled him slightly. The first to raise it in a formal way was Thomas Malthus.

Malthus and his contemporaries. The autocratic ruler who wields absolute power without avowed obligations always desires a greater number of subjects. The scope of this observation extends beyond the field of demography; it applies to the sovereign as much as to the collector of objets d’art, to the head of a family as much as to the office manager. But when his subjects—or rather, the objects in his possession—have rights or occasion some expense, the ruler’s point of view changes, and he grows increasingly cautious with regard to numbers. Such a situation existed in seventeenth-century England, where the poor laws resulted in an increasing burden for the ruling class at the same time that the poor themselves were ceasing to rely on charity and were becoming conscious of their rights. This new dispensation was the cue for Malthus.

The desire of Malthus and his supporters to see poor families restrict their progeny has been described alternatively as altruistic and egoistic. Indeed, it is both things at the same time: pity for the paupers and dread of having to share with them.

Many members of the ruling classes, including a majority of classical economists, agreed with Malthus that it was advisable to keep down the size of the labor force. Reacting to Malthus and his school, the contemporary socialist writers took an opposite stand: Owen, Fourier, Proudhon, and Marx were all unwilling to ascribe pauperism to excessive population and therefore rejected the remedies advocated by Malthus. The egoism demonstrated by Malthus, particularly in his famous statement that a man born into a world already owned by others has no inherent right to a place at nature’s feast, elicited violent indignation. This reaction is still partly responsible for several of the misconceptions that surround the population problem. Let us try, then, to clear up these misunderstandings by presenting the problem in the light of the most recent scientific developments, while not forgetting that one’s point of view on the subject may vary with one’s social status.

The concept of optimum population

The concept of optimum population corresponds to the idea of a happy medium: it is assumed that since we talk about overpopulation and under-population, there must be some intermediate stage that avoids either defect. We have already seen that this notion of the proper limit, this concern about avoiding both overpopulation and underpopulation, has a lengthy history. Plato aside, it can be found in rudimentary form in the works of many authors in various countries, from Giovanni Botero to Voltaire to the classic liberal economists. However, it was first stated in scientific terms only at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the word optimum was applied to population by the German economist Julius Wolf. He was soon followed by other economists, such as Knut Wicksell (Sweden), Paul Mombert (Germany), and Edwin Cannan (England). The notion of optimum population was further elaborated during the interwar period by A. B. Wolfe and H. P. Fairchild in the United States and by Lionel Robbins and A. M. Carr-Saunders in England, among others. Meanwhile, it was criticized mostly by writers on the Continent, such as Corrado Gini, Eugène Duprèel, W. E. Rappard, and Adolphe Landry.

Determining optimum population

Talking of an “optimum population” implies trying to find out how many inhabitants it would be desirable to have if a given end is to be achieved. The end itself remains to be specified, and there are a number of such ends that can be proposed. Among them are the following:

Full employment, that is, work for all persons of working age;

Power, that is, the full range of means that can be set to work to obtain a collective end, whatever the end may be;

Long life and good health;

Knowledge and culture;

Aggregate welfare, or, put in a slightly different way, the aggregate income of the population;

Number of years lived by the population as a whole; Average standard of living.

Still other objectives, such as social harmony, family stability, and so on, may be conceived; thus Plato had a political view of optimum population and Eugene Dupreel an aesthetic one. Here we shall only discuss two of these objectives: the economic objective, that is, the average standard of living, and the objective of the collectivity, which is much the same thing as power. The pursuit of either of these objectives leads to a specific optimum population size.

Minimum and maximum population

Before proposing a definition of optimum population, we have to specify the extremes on either side of the

optimum. In other words, we have to specify the range between minimum and maximum population.

Minimum population is determined jointly by economic and biological considerations. Life is very hard to sustain without at least some division of labor. Besides, a minimum number of people is required in order to provide marital partners for all, without too much consanguinity or disparity of ages. On these grounds, it has been estimated that an isolated population cannot safely fall under five hundred or six hundred inhabitants [seeGenetics, article onDemography and Population Genetics].

Maximum population is the highest that could conceivably subsist on the total product, provided it is distributed fairly among all.

In both minimum and maximum, the population is drawn toward the bare subsistence level—a very low standard of living indeed.

In Figure 1, the horizontal axis measures population size, and the vertical axis measures production per head. The minimum population is equal to p, and the maximum population to T. The subsistence level is ST or mp. Between these two extreme positions, there must be at least one population size that maximizes the standard of living. This is the optimum population, P, with a standard of living equal to MP.

The general model

In order to specify the position of the optimum population, P, we cannot avoid using a very simplified model. We shall review its defects at a later point.

In Figure 2, population size is still measured on the horizontal axis. Curve AA’ denotes marginal productivity, that is, the increase in total production resulting from the addition, one by one, of extra individuals to the population. Initially this curve rises, thanks to the division of labor and the sharing of overhead costs; the latter part of the curve slopes downward, reflecting saturation and diminishing returns. The curve’s highest value (J) is reached at population size K. Curve BB’ represents total production; it is the integral of curve AA’. Its point of inflection, /, is for population size K, the same population size that maximizes curve AA’.

Point M is touched by a tangent from O, the origin. Production per capita (measured by the tangent of angle MOP) is highest for that point M; On the right of M, it decreases. Curve mRS also indicates output per capita, but this time as measured on the vertical axis. It is maximized at population size P, corresponding to curve Bbf. Curves Aa’ and mRs cross at R, since marginal productivity and output per capita are equal at that point. On the production axis, OV, rap, or ST represents subsistence level.

The way in which optimum population is derived can now be described as follows:

If n is population and f(n) is total production, then curve AA’ represents f’(n), curve BB’ represents f(n), and curve mRs represents f(n)/n. The economically optimum population, n0, is given by f’(n0) = f(no)/n(0). Furthermore, V being the subsistence level, both nm (the minimum population) and nM (the maximum population) are given by f(nm)/nm= f(nM)/nM = V. A second kind of optimum population, nv, is that which maximizes power, in a sense to be described below. This optimum population occurs where curve AA’ intersects the horizontal at V, f’(np) = V.

Now we have at our disposal all the elements required to assess the state of a population that is

subject to environmental pressure. Going from left to right in Figure 2—that is, in the direction of population growth—we find:

p = minimum population,

K = population with highest increase in production as a function of population size,

p = optimum population from an economic point of view,

Q = optimum population insofar as power is concerned (see below),

T = maximum population.

Optimum power

When we speak of optimum power, we have in mind not only military power but also any objective involving the collectivity. Such an objective can even be the wealth of a despotic ruler or sovereign who aims at the highest possible income by exploiting the population.

If we ignore the case of minimum population, which has no practical importance here, we see that power, defined in these terms, is whatever exceeds the subsistence level. Power can therefore be described as the area in Figure 2 between curve AA’ and straight line VS. Maximum power, N, is attained for a population size Q. Beyond population size Q, power decreases, for when marginal productivity is less than average production, any additional person can be fed only at the expense of the surplus.

Since point Q is on the right of P, the population that is optimum for maximizing collective power is always larger than the population that is optimum from the economic point of view. This difference has important social and political implications. It explains why, all other things being equal, totalitarian states have more of a stake in acquiring large populations than have democracies, which tend to be more concerned with the standard of living. Thus it will easily be seen that in any sociopolitical system the effect of any military or other collective burden is to raise the size of a country’s optimum population. Let us refer, at this point, to Figure 3, in which the upper total production curve is identical with curve BB’ in Figure 2, with the maximum at M, when P is optimum population size.

The lower curve in Figure 3 is the result of a constant shift on the vertical axis, so that the tangent through O, the origin, now passes through point M′. On the horizontal axis, M′ corresponds to P′, which is well to the right of P. The way in which collective burdens increase optimum population can also be demonstrated as follows: Let np (the P of Figure 2) be the optimum population

size when there is no collective burden. Production per capita is f(n)/n, which is maximized (differentiate) when nf’(n) – f(n) = 0. Thus, as was noted for Figure 2, npf’(np) – f(np) = 0.

Now if a collective burden, K, is added, usable production per capita is reduced to [f(n) – K]/n. This function will be maximized when nf’(n) –f(n) +K = 0, or

The only way to achieve this equality is for n to be larger than np, since f’(n) is a decreasing function of n in the region in question.

The influence of fixed costs. The important conclusion reached in the preceding section can now be generalized: a country that, for any reason, has to meet fixed costs or, at the very least, costs that are disproportionate to the size of its population will benefit if it succeeds in increasing its population. For instance, if the aged members of a population are to be helped by retirement pensions or other means, the economically active members of that population will benefit from an increase in numbers, so as to spread the burden over a larger number of shoulders. In such a case, optimum population size is increased because of two factors: the number of retired persons, since these are economically inactive, and the number of economically active persons, for reasons already explained. From this we can judge what kinds of problems arise when, for instance, the retirement age is lowered: not only do many of the economically active cease contributing to production by becoming economically inactive, but a need also arises for an increase in the economically active population. Let us spell out the same point in figures. Suppose that a population of ten million happens to be of economically optimum size. If one million of its economically active members suddenly become economically inactive, the standard of living is going to drop. In order to raise the standard of living to the highest level possible for that population, it would be necessary to attract a number of immigrants in excess of one million—two or three million, for example.

Evolution of optimum population

Optimum population has increased considerably since the 1860s in the developed countries. In every case, the increase in optimum population has been faster than the increase in actual population. This trend has resulted from (a) the importance of fixed costs in modern society; (b) the fact that industrial production is less subject to decreasing returns than is agricultural production; (c) the fact that technological progress, contrary to what is generally thought, does increase the number of jobs.

Under an agrarian economy, the populations of European countries traditionally exceeded the optimum. This was demonstrated when, as usually happened, the standard of living improved after the population had been reduced by a severe epidemic, such as the Black Death in the fourteenth century.

Today’s situation is entirely different. Let us consider the example of Switzerland. In the late eighteenth century the population probably did not exceed 1.7 million inhabitants. Nevertheless, some of them were forced to emigrate, and Swiss men often served in foreign armies. We can assume that the optimum size of the Swiss population at that time was somewhere between one million and 1.5 million people. Today the population is over five million, which must still be below the economic optimum, since it has been necessary to call on 700,000 workers from abroad.

The reversal of the secular trend in migration, which instead of flowing out of Europe, as it did for so long, is now flowing in Europe’s direction, also shows how much the optimum population must have grown in the course of the twentieth century [seeMigration].

Review of the optimum population concept

Early in this century, when the concept of optimum population was given systematic expression, writers on the subject thought that a definitive solution had been found for the population problem, at least in theory, and that the only difficulty remaining was to apply the solution in practice. This opinion did not survive long under scrutiny, especially since the facts were against it. The concept of optimum population is indeed too static; it implies that population size can vary without any change occurring in the other factors that could affect the population’s standard of living.

Besides, even if it were possible, at a given point in time, to calculate a country’s optimum population correctly, it would still be difficult to base a population policy on that calculation. For example, if it could be demonstrated that 400 million inhabitants would fare better in present-day India than the actual 500 million, there could be no question of killing 100 million people in order to improve the others’ lot. Conversely, if it could be shown that the optimum population of France is 60 million instead of its present 47 million, or that that of Australia is 30 million instead of its present 11 million, there could be no question of suddenly raising the population of these two countries by such large numbers. Even if enough immigrants could be found, there would still be the problems of fitting them all out and providing them with housing, schools, and so on. Thus, there is also a question of time involved.

Considerations such as these lead to a less static orientation or, in other words, to the study of population dynamics. But before we turn to that subject, it should be stressed that the concept of optimum population is a usable one provided one is discussing, as we were above, the way in which a specific factor affects the optimum. It is, therefore, a useful tool, and one that, if used correctly, would enable us to explain many historical phenomena and in future to avoid certain dangerous sociological misconceptions.

Optimum population growth

Technological progress and employment

The problems of development, and therefore the very concept of an optimum rhythm of population growth, hinge on a very important phenomenon which has been too often neglected by economists because the subject breeds superficial prejudice and discourages empirical research. That important phenomenon is the relationship between technological progress and employment.

It is commonly believed that technological progress has the effect of reducing employment. Although this opinion, which is very old, has been constantly contradicted by the facts, it nevertheless continues to command belief and regains strength with every technological innovation, as it has with automation. If this opinion were based on fact, if the economy really were headed toward the “pushbutton” economy imagined by Simonde de Sismondi (the king of England, alone on his island, enjoying a very high standard of living through the operation of handles and levers), then population growth would become useless. Furthermore, the economic system would have to be altered drastically. But actual trends have been in the opposite direction. The gainfully employed population is very much larger now in the developed countries than before the industrial revolution, while it is in the underdeveloped countries—that is, in the countries that lack machines—that underemployment is most severe.

This is not the place to expound a theory of employment and technological progress. Let us content ourselves with emphasizing the fundamental roles of population growth and of the proliferation of consumer needs. The orientation of consumption toward goods that contain an ever-increasing proportion of value added by manufacture and by services continually raises the number of jobs and at the same time reduces the threat of overpopulation. Of course, other factors may prevent full employment in a specific country. It is even conceivable that there will be a constant increase in the number of available jobs and yet that full employment will never be reached.

We are now in a position to approach the question of an optimum rate of population growth.

The concept of optimum growth rate

When a population grows very rapidly, it is confronted with a major need for new capital goods. It is therefore compelled to devote a large part of the national income to capital investment, and, as a result, to lower its standard of living. If, on the contrary, the population decreases or remains constant, it suffers various troubles that are difficult to analyze but that have results which are quite obvious. Not one single historical or present-day instance can be cited of a declining or stagnating population that has enjoyed or is now enjoying any real economic expansion.

If we follow a chain of reasoning analogous to the one that led to the concept of optimum population size, we come to the conclusion that there must exist, between the two extremes of rapid growth and decline or stagnation, some intermediate condition of the population that guarantees the highest possible rate of growth in the standard of living. Let us call such a condition the optimum rate of growth, as opposed to the static optimum, defined above, of population size.

The concept of optimum rate will become clearer if we examine first the costs, and second the advantages, of growth. As previously, we are concerned only with the economic aspects.

The cost of growth

Once again, we shall simplify the problem by turning to a model. If, as a result of certain investments, I, national income increases in each of the years following the investments by a quantity r, the ratio r/l is the national rate of interest, T. The reciprocal, I/r, is called the capital-output ratio. For instance, if an investment of 1,000 million increases national income by 300 million a year, the national rate of interest of that investment is 30 per cent. More often than not, the national rate of interest is between 20 and 50 per cent.

Let us accept the simplifying assumption that, for all the investments made each year, the capital-output ratio remains constant, so that the increase in national income is equal to IT. If the ratio I/r remains constant every year, national income will grow exponentially at a rate (It)/r. And if population itself remains constant, the increase in per capita national income, or in average standard of living, will follow the same geometrical progression.

Let us now introduce population increase into the model. By demographic investment we mean all outlays or efforts aimed at avoiding a deterioration of living standards as a result of growth. Many authors have used the same capital-output ratio for population increase as for the growth of national income that results from economic investments. For example, if 4 per cent of the national income has to be invested in order to raise national income by 1 per cent in each of the years following the investment, these authors assume that 4 per cent of the national income would also be required in order to accommodate a population growth rate of 1 per cent without a decline in income per capita. This equation of one type of return on investment with another is a mere statistical convenience that may sometimes be very remote from fact. Except when the rates coincide by chance, the assumption is justified only in instances where all persons added to the population are completely unproductive, i.e., contribute nothing to national income.

Some idea of the size of the required demographic investment can be obtained by adding to the cost of the technical means of production the cost of educating a man to the level at which he can make use of them—a process that may add up to 10 or 12 years of work. Consequently, a 1 per cent increase in a population would, if we assume that this population is stable, absorb 10 or 12 per cent of its national income. This figure is much higher than the one quoted previously for the capital-output ratio. It would be only too easy to infer from this that any growth of population is costly in itself and that, from a strictly economic point of view, it is in a population’s interest not to grow, and even to decrease. But this conclusion runs counter to too many empirical findings not to be highly suspect. Moreover, the advantages of population growth should be taken into consideration, and a clear distinction made between advantages of a purely economic nature and the social advantages that have an effect on the economy.

Economic advantages of growth

We have already mentioned overhead, or fixed costs, and the fact that in an industrial economy the classic law of diminishing returns is superseded by a more favorable law and sometimes even by a marked increase in returns.

Another factor, which has been neglected but which should certainly be mentioned, is the way in which growth facilitates the correction of every mistake, every structural defect or imbalance, in any aspect of population distribution—geographical, occupational, or other. When a faulty proportion, of whatever kind, has to be corrected in any organism whatsoever, this can be done by amputation—that is, by taking something away. But in social matters it is hard to take anything away from what already exists, and strong opposition is likely to be encountered. Population growth, however, makes it possible to improve existing structures without encountering these problems, since faulty proportions can now be corrected by adding what is needed instead of taking away what is not needed.

The advantages of growth are still more striking in cases where the proportions that need to be corrected are continually changing. This is especially true of technological progress and economic progress, both of which are continually modifying the occupational distribution of the labor force, not only among the three traditional sectors—primary, secondary, and tertiary—but also among the occupational subdivisions of each sector. In a stationary population with low mortality, the economically active population is replenished by the younger age groups at a rate of only 2.2 per cent a year. Such a rate is not sufficient to ensure the occupational reallocation required by technological change. The result, relatively speaking, is an excess of people in obsolete trades and a consequent slowing down of economic progress.

Social advantages of growth

The first advantage of a growing population that should be mentioned here is its age distribution. Since mortality has declined in most human populations and since, as a result, the absolute number of the aged is bound to increase for years to come, a population that remains about the same size is bound to contain fewer young people and fewer adults of working age. In other words, the average age of the population is going to increase rapidly. When a population ages in this way, there are certain material consequences that have been fairly well investigated and certain moral consequences that so far have hardly been studied. However, it is generally acknowledged that the spirit of enterprise does not flourish in an aging population; nineteenth-century France, and perhaps modern Ireland, are significant instances of this. Nor is an aging electorate the only factor. Not many new businesses are created when the generations hardly replace one another, since the younger generation is content to wait until jobs are vacated by the older. In such a population most positions of power and responsibility are held by elderly people, and thus institutional rigidities set in. It seems that there is a certain analogy in this respect between social and biological organisms.

The large proportion of one-child families in a stationary population is another reason why the spirit of enterprise is weakened in both the older and the younger generations.

Estimating the optimum growth rate

As far as research on a specific country is concerned, the optimum growth rate has been just as neglected as the optimum population size. There is, of course, no question of proposing a single rate for all economies. In an agrarian economy with an arrested technology, growth is advisable only if the country is underpopulated. Even then the optimum growth rate will be slow, unless underpopulation is very marked, as was the case in the United States and Canada during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Thus the concept of optimum growth rate is better suited to an industrial economy. Generally, the more abundant or accessible natural resources are through international trade, and the faster technological progress, the higher the rate of population growth should also be. For western Europe during recent years, a growth rate of between 0.5 and 1 per cent per year seems to have been necessary and by no means excessive.

The problems of measurement in this area stem from the fact that it is harder to measure the advantages of population growth—advantages that, as we have seen, are in part social—than the disadvantages. Even if all the elements involved were known, it would still be necessary to choose between maintaining current standards of living and making sacrifices for the sake of future generations. Finally, it should be remembered that demographic trends are slow and far-reaching, so that the consequences of any change that is too sudden may be felt for years afterwards.

Social and political aspects of growth

Although it is now possible to outline a theory of the influence of population growth on economic development and standards of living, various elements needed to apply it correctly are still missing. This uncertainty has only exacerbated political and class conflict over population policies. Marxist doctrine, for instance, has never recognized the possibility of a population problem, especially one of overpopulation. This position is out of date; it still shows the effects of the violent reaction against Malthus’ egoistic view of society. However, there have been significant departures from this position in such countries as Poland and Yugoslavia, where the birth rate—and thus the growth rate—has been voluntarily reduced in order to make it possible to meet the cost of demographic investments. In Western countries, many Marxists take a more realistic view of population growth than is warranted by orthodox Marxist doctrine.

In capitalist countries there is still some fear of the effects of population growth on employment, although recent trends in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, and other countries have demonstrated the weakness of economic theory on this subject. Meanwhile, these same countries dread population increase in the underdeveloped countries of the Third World—an attitude that is reminiscent of Malthus but that, since 1962, is no longer opposed by the Soviet Union.

The underdeveloped nations themselves are influenced by two conflicting trends. Tradition, concern for power or prestige, and sometimes the availability of wide-open spaces lead to a favorable view of present rapid growth rates. This attitude is exemplified by the countries of Latin America and tropical Africa. On the other hand, concern about standards of living and fear of overheavy demographic investments are arguments in favor of—or at least not against—the acceptance of birth control. This attitude is encountered mostly in the Far East and the Arab world.

All too often in the history of ideas authors have believed themselves to have given the final answer to a problem and to have built a definitive and universally valid theory. Such experiences warn us to be far more cautious.

Despite considerable progress made since the early 1950s in understanding these phenomena, one cannot suppress a feeling of dissatisfaction. Building a coherent theory of the interrelations of economy and population requires continuous and careful appraisal of actual developments. Because of the practical complexity of such an undertaking, prejudice and facile theories always tend to have the upper hand. As a result, continuous observation of the facts leads to conclusions different from those currently held. These conclusions give food for thought. In particular, they suggest that economic research should focus on the working population and its problems rather than on finance, monetary policy, or materials. These latter are only the results of something else; as economic phenomena, they lie only at the surface, and lead all too often to neglect of the essential factor: men as producers and consumers. Statisticians, demographers, and economists should all work together to establish an all-encompassing, usable theory of population and economic development.

Alfred Sauvy

[Directly related is the entry Population, articles onoptimum population theoryandpopulation policies. Other relevant material may be found in Fertility; Fertility Control; Mortality; Planning, economic; Planning, social; and in the biographies of Bodin; Carr-Saunders; Fourier; Gini; Malthus; Marx; Owen; Petty; Plato; Proudhon; Quesnay; Simonde De Sismondi; Wicksell.]


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The term optimum population denotes a population of such size that, given this population, a specified indicator of “welfare” is maximized. This indicator may be output, or consumption per capita, or some more complicated social welfare function. How large a population must be to be of optimum size thus depends upon the content of the welfare indicator selected; it will be greater, in proportion, as population-oriented elements enter into this content.

Optimum size of population also depends, given some welfare index, upon other determinants of the value of this index. Thus, if W denotes this index, W = f(P,x1,x2,x3,xn),where P denotes population and the x denote other conditions, changes in which affect the value of W and could conceivably affect that value of P with which, under given conditions, the maximum value of W is associated.

The population P is therefore of optimum size when, with conditions x1x2x3 ... xn essentially constant, neither an increase nor a decrease in P can augment W. This optimum may not be invariant; a change in the ceteris paribus assumption may make greater or smaller the P with which a greater or smaller maximum value of W now is associated. The augmentability of the optimum is limited, however; a point is reached when further improvement in conditions x longer requires further increase in P for W to be maximized with respect to P, and thereafter such improvements increase W, but do not enlarge the optimum. A change in the value of W, dependent as it is on many sorts of change, does not indicate whether population maladjustment (defined below) is changing; it is only change in W, in relation to change in P (with other conditions essentially given), that indicates this. The optimum concept is applicable to sovereign states, regions within states, and metastates.

Optimum size and optimum growth rate. The advantages or disadvantages associated with a population’s being, or not being, of optimum size must be analytically distinguished from those associated with the process whereby a population changes size; for the former are associated with differences in population size as such, whereas the latter are associated with positive or negative population growth. Population growth, as such, may make for advantage; it also entails costs—costs in the form of the inputs required to train, accommodate, and equip population increments, as well as costs in the form of such unfavorableness in age composition as is associated with population growth. Further population growth is desirable, until an optimum size has been attained. Some of the rates at which this growth might proceed are preferable to others, and some particular rate might even be preferable to all the others. This last rate could then be designated as the optimum rate of growth, and alternative rates could be described as nonoptimal. This article does not, however, deal with this particular optimum or with advantages and disadvantages of population growth as such.

Population maladjustment. When the size of a state’s population deviates from what is optimum for it, such a state is experiencing population maladjustment. Let M, A, and O, respectively, denote degree of population maladjustment, actual population, and optimum population. Then M = (A – O)/O; and negative maladjustment signifies “underpopulation,” while- positive maladjustment signifies “overpopulation.” Although some of the circumstances that underlie O also condition A, O is looked upon as normally independent of A. Insofar, however, as changes in A generate changes in conditions underlying O, it may be said that O is functionally connected with A.

Yet, as a rule, changes in A do not produce such novel effects; they merely change the location of preferred positions on existing indifference maps, transformation curves, etc. To this statement, changes in A attributable to migration are most likely to be exceptions, inasmuch as such changes may produce changes in the technologies or the tastes of the affected countries. Underpopulation is more easily corrected than overpopulation as defined above; its correction merely requires population growth, whereas that of overpopulation depends on suitable autonomous changes (for example, in tastes, technology, external relations), whose occurrence may not be very probable.

History of optimum population theory. PreMalthusian writers occasionally complained of population maladjustment, but they did not define a population optimum or measure population maladjustment in relation to it. Presumably, they were not inspired by the attempts of Plato and Aristotle to fix what amounted to an optimum number of citizens for a Greek polis and, in addition, to indicate roughly how many slaves and noncitizens would be required. Malthus and some of his followers suggested the existence of an optimum; but they were concerned primarily with showing that positive population maladjustment is virtually inevitable, and that, consequently, it is essential to favor institutions that tend to retard population growth.

J. S. Mill ([1848] 1961, pp. 191–192) defined an optimum population, although he did not so name it: “After a degree of density has been attained, sufficient to allow the principal benefits of combination of labour,” he wrote, “all further increase tends in itself to mischief, so far as regards the average condition of the people.” Mill thus supposed the optimum would remain constant, although he implied that it had increased in the past. However, it was not until the late nineteenth century and thereafter that considerable attention was given to this concept, usually an optimum defined in terms of per capita income and reflecting a balance between “increasing returns” in manufacturing and related industry and “diminishing returns” in extractive industry. Whether increase in population was accompanied by increase in positive maladjustment, therefore, turned on which of these two forces was the more powerful.

On this issue, authors differed. Some expected that improvements in prospect were likely to increase optimums further. Others (for instance, Knut Wicksell) believed that populations in most, if not all, settled countries are of supraoptimum size and unlikely to derive much relief from optimum-increasing forces; they reasoned, therefore (partly on the basis of a generalized marginal productivity theory), that average income would increase most rapidly if growth in numbers was restrained and improvements in methods, together with increases in capital, were concentrated upon increasing output per head. Most discussions of the optimum were policy-oriented; they were designed above all to force proponents of population growth (of whom there were many in military, ecclesiastical, commercial, and other circles) to face the question, Cui bono?

In the 1920s, concern with overpopulation, stimulated in part by interpretations of the causes of World War I, intensified interest in optimum population theory. This interest declined somewhat in the 1930s, as the rate of natural increase fell in developed countries, only to be revived after World War II, as adverse effects of population pressure came to be more widely recognized.

Formal theory. Theory respecting optimum population must identify this population, given some welfare indicator, and it must account for the tendency of output to grow, under essentially ceteris paribus conditions, at a rate that both varies and differs from that at which population grows.

Specification of the optimum can then proceed as follows. Let the chosen indicator be output or consumption per capita; and let it be assumed that (within limits and for reasons examined below) output grows faster than population. This is assumed to be true even though output-governing conditions, other than increase in population, remain constant, with the exception of adjustment of input use to this population change, together with the distribution of activities in space and among occupations.

Then, to facilitate identification of the optimum, when population increases while other outputaffecting variables are held constant, let T denote total output; S, total savings or provision for capital formation; C, total consumption (C = T - S); and A, actual population. Let t and c, respectively, denote output and consumption per capita; and m, marginal output per capita (m = ∆t/∆a); then if T increases faster than A, with m increasing initially faster, and then slower, than t, t will be at a maximum when m and t coincide.

The population size associated with the coincidence of m and t is sometimes designated the optimum, although this designation is applicable only if there is no need, or incentive, to form capital, that is, when there is a glut of agents of production, complementary to labor, and with zero marginal productivity (as the equality of m and t implies). In all probable situations, however, these agents will be scarce and command a return, and further increments of capital will increase t; should the condition m = t accidentally come into existence, it would be unstable, for dissaving would result, and t, as well as the magnitude of the optimum, would decline.

A stable optimum population may coincide with the point of equivalence of m to c, a point at which a return, A(t – m), is imputable to the complementary agents and there are corresponding savings, S; this population is necessarily larger than that associated with m = t, since the marginal curve intersects the average consumption curve (which lies below the average output curve) to the right of where it intersects the average output curve. Even so, c will be about as high when m = c and S is saved as it would have been at the point m = t, had the state then impounded an amount corresponding to S and thus reduced actual consumption at that point. When c < t, the population optimum associated with m = c, although not unstable because of dissaving (there being saving), might increase in size as a result of the continuing capital formation made possible by savings, S. Given existing technology, this is only a possible outcome, however; for the increase in capital per head may raise t and c and yet not produce changes that increase the optimum. Indeed, many, and probably most, of the changes that increase t and c do not also increase the optimum, O, and do not therefore reduce population maladjustment, M; they merely make it more bearable.

The optimum is further increased when actual consumption is reduced not only by savings, S, but also by the more or less unavoidable use of resources for purposes other than the supplying of the domestic population with consumer goods and services and capital. Illustrative of this is the employment of resources for the supplying of security against possible foreign enemies, or for the support of unproductive idlers, or for unilateral payments of tribute and so-called economic aid to foreign states. Let all such outlays be denoted by L; then consumption, C, on the part of the productive population (hitherto supposed to embrace all persons), becomes not T – S but T – S – L. Accordingly, m will coincide with average consumption (T – S – L)/A at a point lying to the right of the point where c approximates (T – S)/A; the population of optimum size will be larger, therefore, and t will be smaller when L is positive than when L is zero. In general, threats to a nation’s security enlarge its optimum-size population and diminish its average consumption.

Values underlying choice of optimum. A nation’s population optimum is further enlarged when it seeks to maximize not, for instance, consumption per capita but some other social welfare function into which populousness enters as a substitute for output or consumption—or, in other words, up to the point where a further increment in populousness does not compensate for the diminution in per capita income and consumption associated with it. The size of the optimum population corresponding to this point depends on how powerful are the tastes favoring populousness; it may occasion problems not associated with smaller optimums. Thus when this optimum is reached and families can therefore average barely more than two children, unsatisfiable tastes for children may occasion discomfort. This optimum also conduces to relatively greater inequality in the distribution of pretax income (although this can be offset by differential taxation) than do smaller optimums. Moreover, it would result in greater positive population maladjustment, should tastes for populousness decline markedly.

Of more fundamental concern than these various formulations is the rationale underlying “increasing returns,” or the sometime tendency of output to increase faster than population or the labor force (here supposed to constitute a constant fraction of the population), even though other conditions (technology, capital stock, etc.) remain unchanged. One source of this tendency is the indivisibility of some complexes of agents of production with which labor in general is combined, such as the transport system or much of the apparatus of state. Indivisibilities of this sort are most important when over-all population density is low; they become of little or no importance after density has become relatively high, even though quite lumpy increments are sometimes added to a nation’s equipment. The second, and principal, source of this tendency is extension of the market, together with facilitation of the extension of various forms of the division of labor. Within limits, enlargement of the labor force permits greater technical subdivision of productive activities in economic and geographical space and, at the same time, by providing an enlarged market, makes much of this subdivision sufficiently profitable to warrant its undertaking. A point is finally reached when numbers are sufficiently great and average income is sufficiently high to provide as large a market as is required to support the best of current and prospective technological possibilities. This point will be approached at a rate proportionate to the speed at which small-scale plants and firms become as efficient as large-scale undertakings, and as international and interregional trade remains unimpeded and, hence, able to add, for particular products of specialized undertakings, external to internal markets.

Some limiting factors. In the past, it was supposed that discovery and invention were positively associated with population density, up to a point, because interpersonal stimulation and communication were facilitated by increase in density. This supposition, while not without limited validity, is now seldom of much import; today, international interchange of technical information, together with improved internal means of communication, supplies most of the stimulus and information essential to discovery and invention.

To the limits to “increasing returns” already noted—namely, the overcoming of indivisibilities and the exhaustion of benefits consequent upon extension of division of labor and markets—there must be added a third: the emergence of factors that may become operative even before the other two limits are reached. This third type of limit becomes operative when whatever inputs have been available gratuitously (for example, fresh water) or under conditions of constant supply price either are no longer susceptible to further increase in supply or are susceptible to such increase only under conditions of rising real cost. While the advent of such a limit may be partially counterbalanced by substitution at the technological, as well as the consumer, level, it is never wholly counterbalanced save through technological changes that often, and perhaps usually, are the result in large part of input investment that might otherwise have been used to increase average output. Furthermore, should the limitational factor or its replacement be a wasting resource (for example, fossil fuels), its scarcity would increase more rapidly than otherwise, and so might prove less susceptible to technological alleviation.

It is doubtful if the populations of many advanced countries (barring such countries as Australia and South Africa) are of less than optimum size, given that consumption per capita is the indicator to be maximized. It is probable that technological improvements, together with increase in capital per head, have long been almost entirely responsible for increases in output per man-hour and that larger populations have not been essential, or in a free-trade world would not have been essential, to the optimum exploitation of these improvements. It is now quite possible, furthermore, that additional technological improvements, together with increase in capital per head, may reduce the optimum size of population. Should this come about, both positive population maladjustment and average consumption will increase, as, indeed, they seem to have been doing for many years. Maladjustment will increase further, of course, as physical environmental limitations to growth of output make themselves felt.

Tendency to optimum. Although some authors have suggested that populations tend to assume optimum size, this inference is of quite limited validity. Populations are likely to respond significantly to changes in the degree of population maladjustment only if these changes generally modify the ability of men to satisfy their aspirations and only if men can respond thereto by regulating their fertility or otherwise controlling their numbers. This sort of regulation is possible in a country in which control of the apparatus of state is highly centralized and the welfare function to be maximized is one prescribed largely by those in control of this apparatus; powerful incentives, deprivations, and propaganda can then be used to modify fertility and perhaps also mortality. In a modern state in which individual sovereignty is great, however, increase in population maladjustment is likely to make for a decline in fertility only if such an increase slows down the rate of growth of average income more than the rate of growth of the aspirations to be realized through the expenditure of this income; for then, family size, if not the rate of family formation, will be subjected to greater restraint.

In underdeveloped and backward states, a contrasting situation may be encountered. In these states, an increase in positive population maladjustment is likely to be accompanied by a diminution in the rate of population growth, when, even under optimum conditions, average income supplies little beyond pressing needs. An increase in population maladjustment then tends to lower average income somewhat, and hence to worsen mortality, as well as to intensify some of the restraints to which fertility is subject.

The optimum and policy. Theory relating to the optimum, as such, is not very well adapted to the formulation and execution of population policy, even though population maladjustment is very common and the marginal social benefit of population growth seldom coincides with the marginal social cost of such growth. It is rarely, if ever, possible to determine precisely what population size is optimum for a country, under given conditions; and it cannot be supposed that these given conditions will be static. Nor is it possible to “zero in” on the optimum point, after the manner of revealed preference theory. It is possible, however, given some welfare index and working criteria of changes in this index, to narrow the zone within which the definied optimum almost certainly lies. One may choose a tentative optimum point, inquire carefully if a larger or a smaller population is desirable, and then move this point in whatever direction reduced maladjustment seems to lie. There will emerge an “optimum” zone, within which the true optimum may be assumed to lie. Even though the precise location of the true optimum is not determinable, it may be assumed that welfare per capita at any point within this zone is not likely to be notably different from that associated with any other such point.

Some believe, however, that the smallest of the populations lying within such a zone are the ones to be preferred; then the rate at which depletable resources are used is depressed, and (should technological or other changes make for a reduction in the magnitude of the optimum) positive maladjustment almost certainly will be less than it would have been had the larger of the populations lying within the optimum zone been chosen. This belief rests upon the supposition that whereas a condition of underpopulation is easily remedied, one of overpopulation often is irremediable.

If the actual population of a country corresponds to one lying within such an optimum zone, it may be inferred, when there is little uncertainty respecting the boundaries of the zone, that further population growth is not desirable; and this inference becomes all the stronger when the actual population corresponds to one situated in that portion of the zone where the largest populations are found. It is then highly probable, given the welfare function chosen for maximation, that the marginal social cost of a further increment in population would outweigh its marginal social benefit. Under these circumstances, it becomes clearly desirable, should the marginal private benefit of population growth still appear to exceed its marginal private cost, to introduce incentives and deprivations suited to bringing these benefits and costs into balance.

It is not likely, however, that such action would be taken in the typical polity where short time-horizons, ideologies, and superstitions play important roles. While modern governments may subsidize family planning, they tend to more than offset this by somewhat easing tax burdens and costs associated with the production and rearing of children. It is to be expected, therefore, that the net effect of government policies will almost invariably be to re-enforce the forces making for positive population maladjustment, until it becomes very pronounced.

Joseph J. Spengler

[See alsoLabor Force; Migration; Population, article onpopulation policies; and the biography ofMalthus.]


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Cohn, Selig S. 1934 Die Theorie des Bevolkerungsöptimums. Berlin: Michel.

Dalton, Hugh 1928 The Theory of Population. Economica New Series 8:28–50.

Dublin, Louis I. (editor) 1926 Population Problems in the United States and Canada. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ferenczi, Imre 1938 The Synthetic Optimum of Population: An Outline of an International Demographic Policy. Paris: International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, League of Nations.

Gottlieb, Manuel 1945 The Theory of Optimum Population for a Closed Economy. Journal of Political Economy 53:289–316.

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Economy. 7th ed. Edited by W. J. Ashley. New York: Kelley.

Sauvy, Alfred (1952) 1956 Theorie genirale de la population. Volume 1: Economie et population. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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Spengler, Joseph J. 1962 Population and Freedom. Population Review 6:74–82.

Spengler, Joseph J.; and Duncan, Otis Dudley (editors) 1956 Population Theory and Policy: Selected Readings. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Stone, Richard 1955 Misery and Bliss: A Comparison of the Effect of Certain Forms of Saving Behaviour on the Standard of Living of a Growing Community. Economia internazionale (Genoa, Italy) 8:72–91.

Wolfe, A. B. 1934 On the Criterion of Optimum Population. American Journal of Sociology 39:585–599.


The term “population composition” refers to the various social and biological categories into which the members of a population may be classed. The composition of a population at any one time is not only a reflection of its social history but also an indicator of the kinds of social problems that it will face in years to come. It is therefore of great interest to governments to obtain, by means of censuses, systems of vital registration, and so forth, the most complete and most accurate information possible concerning population composition. The analysis of population composition forms an integral part of demography, the science of population.

Although the number of traits that distinguish one person from another is theoretically unlimited, the number of individual characteristics generally included in the study of population composition is rather small. Only characteristics that are socially and demographically relevant are considered, and even then the technical and financial problems of recognizing and recording individual attributes tend to impose stringent limitations. The characteristics by which populations are usually classified include such basic demographic variables as age, sex, and marital status, and such elementary indicators of social organization as nationality, race or color, language, religion, education, labor-force status, occupation, and industrial classification. This information, as already stated, is generally gathered by means of census enumerations and through the registration of births, deaths, and marriages. Although the “vital statistics” generated by the latter method refer only to people who have experienced a vital event in a given year, they can be used to estimate certain characteristics for the total population and, thus, to maintain a continuous inventory of characteristics. For example, the registration of births and deaths by race permits a fairly accurate estimate of the racial composition of the population in intercensal periods. Another source of information, of growing importance, is the sample enumeration (or microcensus, as it is called in some countries), which provides data needed in intercensal intervals and also permits questioning about characteristics that cannot be included in complete enumerations.

The specific population characteristics included in census and other official statistics vary from nation to nation, depending upon their relevance in each case. Thus, questions about race or language are omitted in countries which are ethnically homogeneous; likewise, questions about literacy have been deleted from the censuses of many advanced nations. On the other hand, some governments, for reasons of policy, deliberately omit certain important characteristics from their enumerations. For example, no question has ever been asked about religious affiliation in the United States decennial census, because of a rigorous interpretation of the constitutional separation between church and state. In India enumeration of caste membership was dropped after independence, as a matter of social policy.

Sex composition

Most easily measurable, and of fundamental importance both demographically and socially, is a population’s composition by sex. In any given area the distribution of the sexes tends to be unequal, owing to the operation of any or all of three factors. First, a differential sex ratio at birth is universal; more males are born everywhere than females. On the other hand, at all ages the death rates for males are usually higher than those for females. Finally, migration is sex selective; in long-distance migration males tend to outnumber females, but in short-distance movements females usually predominate.

The most frequent measure employed in the study of sex composition is the sex ratio: the number of males per 100 females. It is easily computed by dividing the number of males in the population by the number of females and then multiplying by 100 (in European countries the ratio is often expressed

Table 1 – Sex ratio (males per 100 females) in selected countries
CountryCensus yearSex ratio
Source: Adapted from Demographic Yearbook 1960, table 1. Copyright © United Nations 1961. Reproduced by permission.
* Jewish population only.
New Zealand1956101.1
South Korea1955100.0
United States196097.1
United Kingdom195192.4
West Germany195088.2

as the number of females to a hundred males). Table 1 shows the sex ratio of a number of selected countries throughout the world. It indicates a variation from less than 87 males per 100 females in Austria to 111 males per 100 females in Ceylon and Pakistan. The countries where the sex ratio exceeds 100 fall into two distinct groups. First, there are underdeveloped areas, where females in the childbearing ages have higher mortality rates than males. In this category belong such countries as Ceylon, Pakistan, Libya, Tunisia, and India. The second group consists of countries which have experienced large-scale immigration which is predominantly male. This explains the relatively high sex ratios of Israel, Malaya, Argentina, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, for example, and of Cuba and Panama, which have attracted young male laborers from other Caribbean countries. An unusual case is that of Ireland, a country with the relatively high sex ratio of 101.9. The explanation probably lies in the fact that emigration from Ireland is predominantly female; citizens of Ireland may enter the United Kingdom freely, and young Irish women avail themselves in large numbers of the opportunity to obtain positions in the neighboring country.

At the other end of the scale are the countries with low sex ratios. The imbalance of the sexes in those countries is the result of a combination of war losses and long-standing emigration. France, Germany, and Austria have been heavily affected by war losses, whereas emigration has played the greater role in accounting for the low sex ratios of the United Kingdom and Italy, for example.

In countries where migration plays a minor role, the sex composition is determined almost entirely by the interplay of birth and death rates. In the industrially advanced countries the sex ratio at birth is usually around 105 or 106, but mortality differentials favor females at all ages, so that the sex ratio declines steadily with advancing age and reaches 100 between the ages of 40 and 50. The total populations of these countries tend to have sex ratios between 94 and 97. In the underdeveloped countries maternal mortality is high enough to offset the lower mortality rates of older females; consequently, the sex ratio for the total population in such areas averages around 100.

Migration also exerts a powerful influence upon the sex ratio within a given country. Internal migration generally consists of short-distance movements, which in their net effect shift the population from rural to urban areas. Urban migration usually includes more women than men. Occupational opportunities open to women are greater in urban areas; women are therefore strongly attracted to the cities. As a result, sharp differences may arise between the sex ratios of rural and urban areas. In general, cities have low sex ratios, while rural–farm areas have high ones. There are, however, some exceptions; cities which are steel or mining centers or naval bases have high sex ratios.

The ratio of the sexes in a given area has an important bearing upon the incidence of marriages, births, and deaths. The number of possible marriages depends in part upon the proportion of the sexes in the marriageable ages. The surplus of women in the urban areas reduces their chances of finding a marriage partner, whereas their shortage in rural areas may create difficulties for eligible young men. An imbalance of the sexes will delay marriage and reduce the number of legitimate births. Because mortality rates among males tend to be higher than among females, a disproportionate sex ratio also affects the over-all death rate.

Age composition

Age, as well as sex, is a primary characteristic of the individual. Since it is related to physical capacity and mental maturity, every society uses age as a major building block in its social organization. Social roles and responsibilities are assigned in accordance with an individual’s age. The age composition of a society, therefore, determines the number of people available for important social categories. Of special importance here is the size of the labor force and of those groups wholly dependent upon the working force—children and the elderly. In addition to serving as an important basis for the ascription of social status, age is biologically related to fertility and mortality.

The obvious connection between age and a wide range of demographic and social phenomena makes the classification of a population by age groups especially important. In conjunction with sex, the age distribution provides the basis for all detailed demographic analyses. Birth and death rates can be meaningfully compared and interpreted only when the age and sex composition of the population is taken into account. It is likewise indispensable for the construction of life tables and for making population projections.

Data on age are less reliable than sex data. In nonliterate societies individuals often do not know their age, and census takers have to resort to estimates. Even in literate populations there is a definite tendency for respondents to concentrate on numbers ending with zero or five, and on even numbers. For purposes of refined analysis it is, therefore, necessary to calculate correction factors to offset the effects of age heaping.

The current age structure of any population is the product of birth, death, and migration rates which have operated in the past. A comparison of the age composition of various countries, illustrated in Table 2, shows the existence of wide variations between different parts of the world. One can distinguish several major types of age structures. At the one extreme are the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which encompass most of the surface of the earth and include the greater part of the world’s population. These countries, characterized by high fertility and high mortality rates, have a very similar age composition. They all have a high proportion of children—approximately two-fifths of their population is in the 0–14-year age group. Over one-half the population is in the 15–64-year age range, which contains most of the economically active people. The proportion of people over 65 years is quite small, generally below 4 per cent. The high proportion of children means a heavy dependency burden on the economically active members of the population.

At the other end are the economically advanced countries of northwestern and central Europe, North America, and Oceania, where birth and death rates are both low. In these countries children under 15 years constitute only one-fifth to

Table 2 – Percentage distribution of selected populations by three broad age groups
Source: Adapted from Demographic Yearbook 1960,table 5. Copyright © United Nations 1961.Reproduced by permission.
Dominican Republic195044.552.62.9
South Korea195241.155.23.7
United States195027.164.78.2
West Germany195023.667.29.3
United Kingdom195122.566.710.8

one-fourth of the total population; about two-thirds of the population are in the 15–64-year age range; and the proportion over 65 ranges from 8 to 12 per cent. These age structures are the result of major fertility declines, which have had the effect of sharply reducing the proportion of children and increasing, first, the percentage of persons of working age and, in time, that of the aged. The popula tions of France and Sweden, for example, where the decline of the birth rate began early, were already comparatively aged at the turn of the twentieth century. But in most countries of this group the modifications of the age structure a relatively recent phenomenon. In the New World substantial immigration has also contributed to enlarging the proportion of adults in the 15–64-year age range. The result has been an immediate economic advantage, since this has meant a light burden of dependency on a broad base of economically active age groups. However, the reduction of fertility means that the present extraordinarily broad groups of people in the working ages will not be fully replaced in the near future. Consequently, the proportion of those over 65 will continue to rise.

A third group of countries are now in a transitional stage. After drastic reductions in their mortality, these countries have recently begun to experience substantial fertility declines. Analyses which have measured the effects of changes in mortality and fertility separately have shown conclusively that fertility is the main factor that affects the age structure of any given population. Countries with currently declining fertility will therefore experience a progressive aging of their population: Japan and some eastern European countries are cases in point. As economic development progresses, other countries will also enter the transitional phase; but the age structure of the presently underdeveloped countries is not likely to change appreciably in the near future.

In the economically developed countries the phenomenon of aging has attracted widespread public attention, since it has created considerable social and economic problems. In an agricultural economy societies have a familistic social organization. There the aged not only are maintained within the family household but occupy a high social status. By contrast, in industrial societies the aged are in a much less enviable position. They tend to maintain separate households and to drop out of the labor force, often involuntarily. They can play fewer socially useful roles, and those who cannot live on their savings become dependent upon their children or the state. These changes in status have had not only economic but also major psychological repercussions, which require attention and amelioration. The situation was viewed with considerable alarm in the 1930s, when the birth rate of most Western countries reached a new low and the populations of many of them appeared to be aging very rapidly. The postwar resurgence of the Western birth rate, however, has reversed the trend and resulted in a measure of population rejuvenation in a number of countries—for instance, France and the United States. Nevertheless, the absolute number of old people continues to rise, and the concern about their welfare is greater than ever.

Age composition and the incidence of aging vary also among subgroups of the population within a given country. Age differentials exist whenever groups exhibit different fertility and mortality levels; their age structure is also affected by migration. Thus, the rural-urban migration of the younger age groups causes rural populations to be older, on the average, than city populations. Considerable differentials are often found, also, between various ethnic and religious groups. For example, the higher fertility of Roman Catholics gives them a younger over-all age structure than that of Protestants or Jews in the same countries. Differential mortality also creates significant age differences between the sexes. In the developed countries females live, on the average, from four to seven years longer than males; consequently, in such societies the proportion of old women is considerably higher than that of old men.

Marital status

In every human society the family functions as the basic unit, charged with the continual replacement of the generations. This involves not merely procreation but also caring for the children over a long period of time and training them for the performance of socially useful roles. Because of this important part played by the family, information about the marital condition of the population is generally included in official census enumerations, and changes in family formation are carefully studied by demographers, sociologists, and economists. Differences in marital status have a direct bearing on both fertility and mortality. The age at which people get married and the proportion of the population that eventually gets married is an important determinant of fertility, since in general fertility is higher in places where marriages are concluded early and where the proportion married is high. Mortality also varies with marital status; both married males and married females have lower death rates than do unmarried persons of the same ages. In part these differentials arise from the fact that marriage is selective of individuals in better health. Partly, however, the greater longevity of the married may result from the better personal care and greater regularity which usually characterize married life.

International comparisons of marital status require considerable caution because in certain countries a high proportion of couples live in consensual unions and may or may not report themselves to the enumerators as married. This problem exists in all countries, because of those who are legally or de facto separated. As a result, the number of married males is not equal to the number of married females in the census statistics of any country. Despite these difficulties of classification, the percentages of married people in various age groups, as reported by their respective national censuses, show some interesting variations. First of all, there are great differences in the age at marriage, as can be seen from the data presented in Table 3. India and Turkey, for example, show pronounced patterns of early marriage, whereas the tendency to postpone marriage is clearly evident in such countries as Ireland, Spain, and Japan. In addition, there are substantial variations in the frequency of marriage. The proportion married at different ages undoubtedly reflects variations in social organization and in cultural patterns between different societies; but the connections between marital status and social structure are complex and do not permit easy generalizations.

The only generalization which applies universally is that the percentage married reaches its maximum for females at an earlier age than for males. As Table 3 shows, women in the 15–24-year age group are much more likely to be married than men. However, after the age of 35 the proportion of married men exceeds that of married women everywhere except in Ireland, where male celibacy is unusually high and the reversal occurs only after age 44. In all countries the disproportion becomes quite pronounced after age 45 because the number of widows increases much more rapidly than the number of widowers.

As in the case of age and sex composition, there also exist differences in marital status between subgroups of the population within a given country. Perhaps the most pronounced differentials are the residential ones which are the effects of migration. The cities attract a disproportionate percentage of unmarried women but a relatively low proportion of single men. By contrast, the suburbs and

Table 3 – Percentage married in selected countries, by age group and sex
   AGE GROUP      
Source: Adapted from Demographic Yearbook 1960, table 10. Copyright United Nations 1961. Reproduced by permission.
United States195021.942.479.184.787.084.378.861.2
United Kingdom195112.527.272.079.886.282.080.858.2

the open country contain a very high proportion of married women.

Occupational composition

When we turn from the more strictly demographic to the social attributes of a population, it cannot be denied that occupational status assumes a place of paramount importance. Men do not live by bread alone; but the need to make a living requires the sustained effort of a very substantial proportion of the population in all societies. Moreover, the way this living is made largely determines the general social and economic position of the worker and his family. Lastly, the classification of workers by occupation and industry provides a major measure for any comparative analysis of the stage of economic development reached by different societies, as well as an index of regional differences within a given country.

Labor-force status

The first step in the analysis of occupational characteristics is the separation of the total population of a country into two groups —those who are economically active, also called the working force or labor force, and those who are economically inactive. Actually, this distinction is hard to make in primitive societies or in grossly underdeveloped areas, where the low level of technology forces virtually the entire population to participate in the production of goods and services. However, with the rise of a market economy, there is an increase in the proportion of people who consume goods and services but do not produce them, and the distinction between economically active and inactive becomes significant. Yet even in highly developed societies it is no easy matter to delineate adequate criteria for distinguishing between those who are economically active and those who are not. [SeeLabor Force, article ondefinitions and Measurement.]

These difficulties notwithstanding, statistics on the labor force are included in the census tabulations of most countries. Although different countries vary considerably in their definitions and classification procedures, these differences affect mainly the statistics for women, youths, and aged persons because these are the groups in which relatively large proportions of workers are engaged in unpaid family work or work only part time, seasonally,

Table 4 – Percentage of economically active population in selected countries
Source: Adapted from Demographic Yearbook 1956, tables 11 and 12. Copyright © United Nations 1957. Reproduced by permission.
United Kingdom194797.638.06
United States195090.834.015
West Germany195094.841.716
New Zealand195196.125.322

or intermittently. By contrast, the statistics for men in the working ages are much more comparable, because the overwhelming majority of males in these age groups are economically active. Indeed, the proportion of males between the ages of 20 and 60 years who are in the labor force in various countries is almost uniform. Thus, in the 20 countries listed in Table 4, which represent widely differing social and economic structures on six continents, the proportion of men aged 20–59 years who are economically active ranges from 91 to 99 per cent. By contrast, labor force participation rates for women range all the way from 13.3 per cent for Brazil to 99.3 per cent for Egypt, with 15 of the 19 countries reporting less than half of the females in this age range as economically active.

The total size of a country’s economically active population depends to a large extent on the size and on the age and sex composition of the total population. Demographic factors establish the maximum limit of the number of people who can participate in economic activities. Such factors are the principal determinants of the size of the male labor force, since in all countries nearly all males pursue some gainful activity from the time they enter adulthood until they reach old age. However, the number of women, young people, and old persons who are economically active is strongly affected by a variety of nondemographic, cultural, and economic factors. The type and organization of economic production, the level of income, and the relative value placed on such noneconomic activities as formal education, retirement, child rearing, and leisure-time pursuits strongly influence the labor-force participation rates of these three groups. In underdeveloped countries, children begin to work at a tender age and few old people can afford the luxury of retirement. In industrially advanced nations, almost all youths are in school until they are 16 or 17 years old and a sizable proportion continue their formal education well into their twenties, while pension plans facilitate and often force the retirement of the elderly. The extent to which women participate in the labor force depends on the type of employment available to them, their marital status and childbearing patterns, and the degree of their social emancipation.

Industry and occupations

In addition to separating the total population into the two basic categories of those who are economically active and those who are not, most national censuses further classify the economically active according to the industries in which they are engaged and the types of occupations they follow. The relative distribution of the labor force by major lines of endeavor, such as agriculture, manufacturing, trade and commerce, transportation, and service, provides one of the most useful indicators of the stage of economic and cultural development a particular society has attained. The same is true of the division by major occupation groups, such as professional and technical workers, managerial and clerical employees, sales workers, farmers and fishermen, craftsmen, industrial operatives, laborers, and service workers. Major shifts have occurred in the occupational composition of all economically advanced countries as the processes of urbanization and industrialization have proceeded. The proportion of the labor force engaged in agricultural activities has declined rapidly, while the percentage engaged in manufacturing, trade, transportation, and services has sharply increased. In the United States, for example, in 1840 nearly 70 per cent of the economically active were in agricultural occupations; a century later the proportion had fallen to less than 20 per cent. Under the impact of technological change, the redistribution of the labor force is a continuing process.

Unfortunately, national variation in the definition of the various industry groups and in the content of the occupation categories greatly limits the validity of international comparisons. Nevertheless, a rough measure of the relative degree of industrialization can be readily obtained by comparing the proportion of the male labor force engaged in agriculture. The smaller the percentage of men engaged in agriculture, the more highly developed is a country’s economy. The proportion of males in the labor force who are engaged in agriculture is shown in column 3 of Table 4. Although these 20 countries show remarkable uniformity in the percentage of their male population who are economically active, they diverge widely in degree of industrialization. Countries like the United Kingdom, Belgium, the United States, and West Germany all have reached an advanced stage of industrialization, with less than one-sixth of their male labor force engaged in agriculture. In sharp contrast stand underdeveloped areas like Bolivia and Brazil, where two out of every three males are still occupied in agricultural pursuits.

Educational status

Next to occupation, to which it is closely related, education ranks as an element of major importance in the composition of modern populations. The educational achievements of an individual largely determine his level of living, his cultural opportunities, his social status and prestige. They influence his health and survival chances, his mental attitudes, and his entire outlook on life. By the same token, it is well recognized that the degree of literacy and the total amount of schooling received by the population as a whole plays a major role in its social, cultural, and economic well-being and influences the rate of its development. Educational status therefore serves as a most useful index of the socioeconomic position of individuals and of the class composition of a whole society.

Educational data are collected by the censuses of most nations, but until recently the amount of educational information has been quite limited. The simplest and most widely available measure of educational status is the proportion of the population unable to read and write [seeLiteracy], In most advanced countries illiteracy has been almost eliminated, and therefore questions on literacy are no longer included in population censuses. Thus, the data for Sweden stop with 1930, and those for Canada stop with 1931. Illiteracy still constitutes a serious problem, however, in many countries.

Because literacy rates are merely crude approximations of educational achievement, an increasing number of national censuses have recently begun to employ more refined measures. They ascertain the number of years of school completed by each respondent and the proportion of the population in specified age groups who are attending school. Unfortunately, the great diversity in the structure of national education systems precludes any valid international comparisons. Within a given society, however, statistics on years of school completed, cross-classified by age, sex, residence, and other characteristics, serve as very useful indexes of cultural achievements and of needed improvements. In the United States, for example, the median level of school years completed by the total population 25 years of age and over rose from 8.6 in 1940 to 10.6 in 1960. Particularly significant is the fact that the proportion of those who have at least some college education rose even more steeply, from 10.1 per cent of the total population 25 years of age and over in 1940 to 16.5 per cent in 1960; in the same 20 years, the percentage of college graduates increased from 4.6 to 7.7. The trend of college enrollment has been rising very rapidly since World War II. Of all American students who were graduated from high school in 1959, 42 per cent were enrolled in college in 1960, on either a full-time or part-time basis. In the United States a higher education may soon become the rule, rather than the exception.

Although educational gains have been widely shared by males and females, rural and urban population, white and nonwhite groups, there still persist sharp differences in the average level of schooling. In 1960 the median number of school years completed by the nonwhite rural farm population was only 5.7 years, or just about half the 11.5 years of the urban white population. This extreme contrast proves that even a country like the United States, where educational progress has been rapid and widespread, still has far to go before all elements of the society are assured a reasonably adequate amount of schooling.

Ethnic and religious composition

Most of the remaining population divisions that have major demographic and social significance refer to ethnic and religious differences. Cultural diversity generates differentials in fertility, mortality, migration, marriage patterns, educational attainments, and socioeconomic status. In many societies, therefore, classification by ethnic and religious characteristics is essential for any useful analysis of population data. Thus, as the data in the preceding paragraph indicate, a meaningful analysis of the educational status of the United States population should show statistics subdivided not only by age, sex, and residence but also by race.

The divisions created between different segments of a population by religious differences have ranged all the way from violence and warfare to segregated school systems. In most Western countries religion now plays a less drastic role than formerly; but there are some exceptions. In the Netherlands, for example, Roman Catholics and Protestants have developed an almost completely dual social structure, from separate schools to separate labor unions and separately organized leisure activities, including sports. In most other nations, the influence of religion has become attenuated and individuals often are not consciously aware of it. But its effects on behavior patterns still persist in many subtle ways; in the United States, for instance, most fertility differentials have declined noticeably in recent years but differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants remain undiminished.

The most important characteristics with respect to which ethnic groups are usually compared are race, color, national origin, and language. In immigration countries all of these factors, in various combinations (and often intertwined with religion), give rise to important cultural differences. In such countries, place-of-birth statistics are useful in identifying immigrant minorities, and in highlighting problems of acculturation and assimilation. In most areas which have been subjected to conquest and colonization by Europeans, race or color differences divide the population into several segments, which remain sharply differentiated in all demographic and social respects. In all such countries statistical breakdowns by race are indispensable for demographic and sociological analysis.

In most of Europe, of course, racial composition is not as important as in areas of European colonization, but nationality and language differences play a prominent part in many countries. The history of Europe abounds with incessant clashes over nationality differences, which have resulted in numerous wars and frequent persecution of national minority groups. The outstanding exception to this pattern of conflict is modern Switzerland, where four language groups and the adherents of three major religions have long been integrated into a stable and harmonious unity without losing their distinctive identities. By comparison, the animosity between the Belgian Flemings and Walloons, which shows no signs of abating, appears a curious anachronism in the very center of the rising European Community.

It is likely that in the long run the all-pervasive processes of industrialization and urbanization will have the effect of imposing a similar socioeconomic structure upon most, if not all, societies, thereby greatly attenuating the importance of internal ethnic and religious diversity. In the meantime, however, statistics on nationality, language, race or color, and religion remain indispensable in most countries, not only for analytic purposes but also for the making of social policy.

Kurt B. Mayer

[See alsoAging; Fertility; Labor Force; Literacy; Migration; Minorities; Nuptiality.]


Demographic Yearbook. → Issued by the United Nations since 1948.

Hawley, Amos H. 1959 Population Composition. Pages 361–382 in Philip M. Hauser and Otis Dudley Duncan (editors), The Study of Population. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Jaffe, Abram J. 1959 Working Force. Pages 604–620 in Philip M. Hauser and Otis Dudley Duncan (editors), The Study of Population. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Jaffe, Abram J.; and Stewart, C. D. 1951 Manpower Resources and Utilization: Principles of Working Force Analysis. New York: Wiley.

Smith, Thomas Lynn 1960 Fundamentals of Population Study. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social

Affairs 1956 The Aging Population and Its Economic and Social Implications. Population Studies, No. 26. New York: United Nations.

United Nations, Department of Social Affairs, Popu Lation Division 1953 The Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends: A Summary of the Findings of Studies on the Relationship Between Population Changes and Economic and Social Conditions. Population Studies, No. 17. New York: United Nations.


Population is in essence a quantitative concept used to denote aggregates of various kinds. The study of population distribution is concerned with how and why the unit parts of such aggregates are distributed over space in one way rather than another. Particular patterns of population distribution are seen to be closely associated with varying rates of population growth and migration. As applied to human beings, this topic has obvious theoretical and empirical interest, not only for sociology, but also for economics, anthropology, political science, and all those disciplines concerned with the organization and structure of communities, regions, economies, or other groupings that denote relatively stable patterns of human settlement.

In the study of any population, emphasis can be placed either on the whole or on its parts. Historically studies of population distribution have shown a strong tendency to involve a restricted area, such as one city or one section of a country, and, at least until recent years, they have been descriptive rather than analytical in scope (Bogue 1959). Many are case studies of the size and composition of the populations of minor divisions within a state or district or of changes in these over time. Quite often, population trends in a local area are contrasted with those in some larger region of which the area is a part.

Measuring population distribution

The concern of geography with space has been clearly demonstrated for a long time. It is not space itself, however, that is of interest to the geographer, but rather the persons and objects occupying space and their relations to each other and to a habitat.

The conventional method which geographers have used to present data on population distribution is mapping. Various cartographic techniques, such as dot maps and linear-distance maps, have been developed (James 1954). Although these have a certain convenience, they lack precision and are useful only as first approximations to understanding the distributions they depict. However, their utility is enhanced when they are used in conjunction with statistical measures of various kinds. Obviously maps, charts, and tables are dependent on the collection of census data or on data from registration systems or special surveys. They are no more than graphic representations of the basic figures on distributions of populations. It must be emphasized that any measures which summarize the distribution of population are likely to be strongly influenced by the choice of area for the collection of data. [SeeGraphic Presentation.]

Measures of density

All measures of population distribution are concerned with variations in numbers or characteristics of a population over time or by place. The simplest measure is a ratio of numbers to land area. Where information on number of people and amount of land is available, it is a simple matter to use the ratio P/A, population divided by area, to yield a population density. So crude a measure is only slightly improved by substituting population per square mile of arable land. Furthermore, density ratios are averages that give no indication of significant internal variations. Nevertheless, countries, provinces, and other areas are often compared in terms of relative degrees of concentration or dispersion of population by the use of a series of density ratios.

Such comparisons may be useful when there is a rather high degree of both geographic and cultural uniformity among regions. Just the opposite, however, is frequently true. In consequence, ratios of population density are often not comparable. In the absence of other information it is not very helpful to know that in 1961 the population density of the United Arab Republic was 27 times that of Australia. Such a figure must be interpreted, and it is of little consequence that large areas of both countries are uninhabited desert. What is significant is that there exist differences in social and economic organization which produce quite diverse patterns of land utilization and dissimilar functional relations with external areas. Both of these result in differences in ability to provide support for the population of each country at particular levels of living and in specific distribution patterns.

Around the world the highest densities are found at two extremes. In crowded underdeveloped countries both fertile lands and nearby large commercial-industrial cities support dense populations at low levels of living. In modernized nations the highest densities appear in and around those large cities that are best situated to mediate in the exchange of goods and services on a national and world-wide basis and, by so doing, to support their people at relatively high levels of living.

Measures of spacing

In addition to density ratios, various other measures of spacing and concentration are employed to indicate the extent to which numbers are massed or dispersed over a given territory (Duncan 1957). The Lorenz curve has been adapted to measure variation in population distribution, and related indexes of concentration and of dissimilarity have been developed. The fundamental problem remains that when different sets of areas are used as a base, different and even opposing results may be obtained. Consequently any interpretation of an index of this kind must be directly related to the system of subareas adopted.

Measures of spacing have evolved both from the community studies of plant ecologists and from the economists’ use of models of areas within which an even distribution of population is hypothesized. Various centrographic methods measure central tendency by computing centers of population or of activity. Such measures have been popularized by their use in census volumes, particularly in the United States. The mean center conveniently summarizes the distributions within a particular area at one or more points in time. Simultaneously computing the centers for several different groupings, such as population, urban population, ethnic groups, farm population, and manufacturing, will summarize general trends within a region. However, the choice of the mean point (center of gravity) or some alternative device, such as centilides or quartilides, will depend on the problem under investigation. [SeeGeography, article onstatistical geography.]

Using an analogy from physics, John Q. Stewart and William Warntz (1958) have described the structure of particular population distributions by the use of population potential models expressed by the coefficient N/d, numbers divided by distance. These are measures of the influence, or “drawing power,” of people at specific distances from one another. They are illustrated by the attraction of a major population center for migrants initially located at various distances. Finally, use has been made of several categorical measures that involve the classification of populations by size of community, distance from designated centers, rank-size, function, and so on. Examples are the division of urban centers into metropolitan and nonmetropolitan and of villages into industrial, agricultural, and suburban. The population distribution “found” by the categorical approach will depend heavily on the scheme chosen by the investigator.

World population distribution

The single most striking fact about the distribution of the world’s population is its unevenness. Roughly nine-tenths of all people are crowded into no more than a quarter of the land surface. There are three broad areas of heavy massing of population. The most prominent is in Asia, where the most densely populated areas are Japan, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan, Java (in Indonesia), India, and east Pakistan. Also heavily settled are the greater part of the European peninsula, the northeast coast and Great Lakes rim of the United States, and parts of the Caribbean and of coastal South America. Non-Soviet Asia, which constitutes not quite 20 per cent of the land surface of the globe, is occupied by an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s people, and this percentage is increasing. By contrast, South America, with 13 per cent of the land surface, presently accounts for only 6 per cent of the world’s people. It too is growing at a rapid rate.

Differences among areas in natural or social conditions produce marked variability in the degree of population concentration. The causes are in part geographic. The significance of climate as a determinant of population distribution, a theme familiar since Montesquieu, was enlarged upon in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by such geographers as Friedrich Ratzel. Not only do climatic conditions limit the spread of population by maintaining arctic, desert, and tropical areas where settlement of any sizable numbers is difficult or impossible, they also influence the fertility of lands, such as the valley of the Nile or the flood plains of the Ganges, where natural conditions encourage a massing of human beings. Similarly, topographic features may provide favorable or unfavorable conditions for settlement. For instance, only a minute fraction of the world’s people live at any great altitude above sea level.

In the modern world cultural factors are of greater importance for population distribution than all but the most extreme geographic conditions. The existence of local natural resources may be an immediate cause for the settlement or rapid development of specific areas. Nevertheless, iron ore, coal, and other natural resources have no real significance except in a culture technologically and economically able to exploit them. The growth of large communities on favored coastal and river sites is a function of the development of trade, particularly of industrial commerce. In both cases the likelihood of concentration of population at a given point will be related to the existence of competing sites and to the requirements of an economy for specific raw materials or finished goods. The size, and even the existence, of particular places will also vary according to such outside conditions as economic costs, transport time, or changing routes and market requirements.

Distribution of urban population

Marked changes in human organization are reflected in the redistribution of population into an increasing number of larger centers. Between 1900 and 1960 alone the number of cities in the world with more than a million inhabitants increased from 10 to 63. Around 18 per cent of the people of the world now live in cities with populations of 100,000 or more. This urban trend has been accompanied in the modernized nations by a precipitous decline in the proportion of the population living on farms. In the United States, for instance, only some 5 per cent of the population lived in places with 2,500 or more people in 1790, when the first census was taken. By contrast, in 1960, 70 per cent lived in such places or in the built-up fringe of large urban centers. Farm families made up 95 per cent of the population in 1790 and only 9 per cent in 1960.

Rapidly spreading urbanization, as well as the concentration of population in an increasing number of growing cities, has had an obvious and profound effect on population patterns, not only in Europe and North America, but increasingly in all the settled portions of the globe. History provides examples of isolated cities with several hundred thousand people, usually commercial centers located in fertile agricultural areas, or administrative capitals supported by the wealth of such favored regions. A network of large cities, on the other hand, is based on the creation of an elaborate technology and involves the interchange of varied goods and services, not only between adjacent cities and their immediate hinterlands, but also among cities, regions, and nations that are widely scattered. Thus, in the 30 years from 1888 to 1918, the population of Japan’s six largest cities rose from under 2.5 million persons to over 6 million (Taeuber 1958, p. 47). Between 1947 and 1957, Singapore’s population grew by almost a quarter of a million people, representing an annual average growth rate of some 3 per cent. Such growth was supported not by any local natural resources but by the pre-eminence of Singapore as a trade center in its region.

The reasons for urban growth are complex, whether we are dealing with South Africa or northern Europe, Asia or the Americas. In terms of purely demographic variables, cities grow because of natural increase, net in-migration, or a combination of these. In terms of cultural variables, growth is dependent on technological developments in industry, transportation and communication, agriculture, science, and medicine. Such developments have reduced agricultural labor requirements, made possible the exploitation of distant as well as local resources, and established cities as the centers of perceived opportunities for migrants. They have made close living possible for masses of people by controlling epidemics and providing for the necessary transportation of persons, food, and goods.

Urban concentration

In the industrialized nations the pattern of population distribution now exhibits a high degree of concentration. Even in those agricultural countries that have not achieved full economic development, cities are claiming a rapidly increasing percentage of the total population. In Malaya, for example, the proportion of the population living in centers of 1,000 or more people increased from 35.1 per cent in 1947 to 50.5 per cent in 1957 (Caldwell 1963, p. 41). Indeed, since World War n, urban growth rates have tended to be highest in the less developed nations. In such countries rates of growth for smaller cities have commonly been higher than for the largest city, although absolute increments have remained highest for the major centers.

The increasing concentration of population in urban areas, however these are denned, is a worldwide phenomenon. But in general the more developed nations are also the most urbanized. For instance, in England and Wales fully 80 per cent of the population was denned as urban in 1961. Other countries with over 60 per cent of their populations in the urban category are, in descending order of per cent urban, Australia, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, East and West Germany, Scotland, Canada, the United States, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, and Venezuela. By contrast, countries with under 25 per cent of their population in the urban category included, in the early 1960s, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, the Sudan, Tanganyika, Togo, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and North Vietnam (percentages based on data compiled from official sources by the author; compare Demographic Yearbook 1962, Table 9, pp. 304–315).

The definition of urban population varies markedly from country to country and may shift over time. Nevertheless, by any definition, industrial growth has been closely tied to urban growth. A concentration of population in urban areas may also be found in countries like Denmark, where commercial agriculture is of prime importance. In addition, there are many developing countries, such as Thailand or Egypt, which have one or more cities growing at a more rapid rate than is commensurate with their increase in employment opportunities (a trend sometimes called “overurbanization”). It has been alleged that heavy net migration to such cities reflects the “push” of excess population off the land, but such a view fails to explain the long history of rural population pressure without migration. Proponents of this type of theory also tend to overlook the fact that marginal urban employment often represents a gain in the migrant’s level of living (Sovani 1964, pp. 117–119).

Number and size of centers

There is a noticeable difference among countries in the distribution of urban population by size of center. In India, for instance, there were, in 1951, 11 cities with populations over 500,000 and another 59 cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000. Despite this, slightly less than 7 per cent of the country’s total population lived in cities of 100,000 or more, whereas nearly 17 per cent were dwellers in places (many of them agricultural villages) of 2,000 to 5,000 population. By contrast, in Australia there are only 6 centers containing more than 100,000 people, but in 1947 some 51 per cent of the total population could be counted in the large-urban category and only 8 per cent in the small-urban grouping (see Gibbs 1961, p. 405, Table 1). The total population in India’s “urban places” (that is, in all those centers of 2,000 or more people) was 24 times greater than that in places of comparable size in Australia. Obviously this is, to a considerable degree, a function of differences in the total numbers of inhabitants of the two countries– 441,631,000 in India in 1961 and 10,508,000 in Australia in the same year. What is significant is that the ratio of urban to rural population and, within the urban category, the ratio of residents in large centers to those in small ones are both totally different in the two countries, reflecting profound differences in the extent to which each is urbanized. This in turn suggests important national differences in economic and social organization.

Primate cities

Another way to denote degrees of urban concentration is to compare countries with respect to the percentage of either the total population or the total urban population that is found in the largest city. Great variability will be found from country to country. For instance, the more than 14,000,000 people in the New York metropolitan area in 1960 were still only 8 per cent of the total U.S. population of 179,323,175. But in Greece the 1961 population of 1,852,709 for metropolitan Athens constituted 22 per cent of the national population, and in Uruguay in 1963 the 1,173,114 inhabitants of Montevideo made up 46 per cent of the total population.

In many countries, particularly those of small or medium size, the urban population shows a pronounced concentration in a single center. Such places, termed “primate cities,” tend to mass within their limits not only population but also a variety of economic, social, and political functions. These diverse functions—commerce, government, manufacturing, recreation, and so on—are the basis of support for relatively large local populations. It is sometimes alleged that this concentration at one point in space inhibits the growth of rival cities and thus holds back national development by focusing the means of growth in a single limited area. This argument remains unproved and ignores the stimulus to development which is achieved by a concentration of growth factors. Moreover, primacy may be a temporary phenomenon since, although it is logical to suppose that the primate city bears some fairly stable size relation to the cities beneath it in rank, the assumption is not borne out by any available data. Estimates of the 1955 populations of the metropolitan areas in ten countries show the size of the largest urban area to vary from 1.1 times that of the next largest, in Canada and Italy, to 16.3 times in South Vietnam (California, University of…1959).

Ecological considerations

From the ecological viewpoint, an area constitutes an environment to which a collective adaptation has been made by a population. The pattern of distribution of human beings over an area is thus a generalized indication of their economic organization and life style [seeEcology, article onHuman Ecology]. It is also an index of the degree to which there have developed complex, welldifferentiated social orders, in which both activities and populations exhibit high degrees of specialization as interdependent unit parts of areally organized social structures. Such social orders, or communities, show relatively high rates of both migration and social mobility, subjects of considerable prominence in distribution research.

A central problem for ecology, then, is to understand the collective adaptation, to a particular environment, of an aggregate with identifiable characteristics. Among human beings such adaptation varies with the existing technology and results in distinctive and modifiable patterns of social organization. Functionally these human communities are affected by their position in a hierarchy of interdependent communities, ranked in size and distributed over space. The physical and social structure of the community may be viewed as responses to its predominant functions, whether that community be hypothetical or real [seeCity, article oncomparative urban structure]. However, the relationships among these factors—specifically those between numbers of people and their distribution in space—have not as yet been systematically explored. Current knowledge depends rather heavily on a combination of logical assumptions, conjecture, and limited, unrelated observations of particular populations that are often unrealistically treated as closed systems. Interdependence of parts is well established in theory, but quantitative proof is largely lacking (see, however, the demonstration of economic interrelations in Duncan et al. 1960).

Nevertheless, ecological studies continue to demonstrate how varying distributions are reflected in clearly differentiated patterns of organization. For example, Donald Bogue (1949, part in) has shown how variations in population density, related to distance from metropolitan cities, were associated with variations in the average amounts of trade, services, and manufacturing activities in the metropolitan communities of the United States in 1940. The growth of cities has been shown to be accompanied by an increasing differentiation of specialized parts, with a relative concentration of population and of functions in particular sectors. The location of functional areas and their relations to one another vary in time and space, but the tendency for an uneven distribution of people and activities to exist has led to the development of theories of urban structure based on zones, sectors, multiple nuclei, and functional differentiation (Duncan et al. 1960, chapter 2; Harris & Ullman 1945).

Ecological processes

The tendency toward uneven distribution has also led ecologists to emphasize such processes as concentration, centralization, segregation, invasion, and succession in order to describe aspects of the process of population redistribution in local areas. The study of the massing of people (concentration), particularly around points of specialized activity (centralization), or the tendency for people or activities of a similar sort to locate together and to develop areas of relative homogeneity (segregation) seems superficially to present few methodological difficulties. Closer examination, however, shows that these common concepts are difficult both to define and to measure. A major problem is that none of the processes is independent of area. Accordingly, the selection of different areal boundaries will alter the substantive findings. For instance, in calculating the population density of a city, it makes a great deal of difference whether the base for calculation is the central part of a metropolitan area or some larger unit that includes suburban or even agricultural land. Similarly, the various indexes that have been constructed to measure residential segregation have frequently been criticized for failing to measure what their authors thought they were measuring. The difficulty, again, is in the areal base unit selected.

Rank-size distribution of places

The question of distribution of population by rank-size of community has received considerable attention. As early as 1826 the German economist J. H. von Thiinen, in Der isolierte Staat, suggested that ideally a single city on uniformly flat land devoted to agricultural activity would locate centrally and become surrounded by concentric rings of land use. Over a century later Walter Christaller (1933) argued in a similar vein that a central place, whose function it is to provide services for a surrounding hinterland, can exist only where there is an amount of productive land sufficient to support it. The central-place theory is an idealtype formulation and therefore cannot be expected to provide an accurate description of the distribution of a specific population. Nevertheless, it is useful in identifying a number of factors involved in place distribution and in providing a generalized measure from which deviations are to be expected in reality. The explanations of such variance are not apt to be covered by any single theory. [SeeCentral Place.]

A number of attempts have been made to formulate a more precise statement of the distribution pattern of communities as a function of their size (Berry & Garrison 1958). One example is the work of George K. Zipf (1949), who developed a rule of rank-size relations to describe a general tendency toward rank frequency in all human activity. As applied to communities, Zipf’s hypothesis attempts to make specific the common observation that in most inhabited regions there are a few large places and an increasing number of smaller ones. The number of inhabitants of a center multiplied by its rank would thus yield a constant. Testing this simple rank-size rule with places of 1,000 or more population in the United States in 1950, O. D. Duncan and A. J. Reiss, Jr. (1956, pp. 26–28) concluded that it did not provide a good fit for the distribution of places by size in that year. Despite this they judged the rule in a generalized form a useful summary of the widely noted inverse relationship between the size of a community and the number of such centers. The same authors went on to demonstrate that there are significant differences in age, marital conditions, income, and other demographic and social factors by size of place. This confirms the importance of studies of the changing distribution of population into metropolitan, urban, and rural categories, supplemented as necessary by finer classifications.

Vincent H. Whitney

[See alsoCentral place; Ecology, article onhuman ecology; Geography; Migration; Rank-size relations; Social mobility; and the biographies ofRatzel ThÜnen]


Berry, Brian J. L.; and Garrison, William L. 1958 Alternate Explanations of Urban Rank-Size Relationships. Association of American Geographers, Annals 48:83–91.

Bogue, Donald J. 1949 The Structure of the Metropolitan Community: A Study of Dominance and Subdominance. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

Bogue, Donald J. 1959 Population Distribution. Pages 383–399 in Philip M. Hauser and Otis Dudley Duncan (editors), The Study of Population: An Inventory and Appraisal. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Caldwell, J. C. 1963 Urban Growth in Malaya: Trends and Implications. Population Review 7, no. 1:39–50.

California, University Of, Institute of International

Studies 1959 The World’s Metropolitan Areas. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Christaller, Walter 1933 Die zentralen Orte in Siiddeutschland: Eine okonomisch-geographische Untersuchung iiber die Gesetzmdssigkeit der Verbreitung und Entwicklung der Siedlungen mit stddtischen Funktionen. Jena (Germany): Fischer.

Demographic Yearbook 1962. 14th ed. 1962 New York: United Nations. → Special topic: Survey and Statistics on Marriage, Divorce, Birth, Death and Life Expectancy. Prepared by the Statistical Office of the United Nations in collaboration with the Department of Social Affairs.

Duncan, Otis Dudley 1957 The Measurement of Population Distribution. Population Studies 11, no. 1:27–45.

Duncan, Otis Dudley; and Reiss, Alrert J. Jr. 1956 Social Characteristics of Urban and Rural Communities, 1950. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census Monograph Series. New York: Wiley.

Duncan, Otis Dudley et al. 1960 Metropolis and Region. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Duncan, Otis Dudley; Cuzzort, Ray P.; and Duncan, Beverly 1961 Statistical Geography: Problems in Analyzing Areal Data. New York: Free Press.

George, Pierre 1951 Introduction a Vitude géographique de la population du monde. France, Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques, Travaux et Documents, Cahier no. 14. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Gibbs, Jack P. (editor) 1961 Urban Research Methods. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Harris, Chauncy D.; and Ullman, Edward L. 1945 The Nature of Cities. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 242:7–17.

James, Preston E. 1954 The Geographic Study of Population. Pages 106–122 in Preston E. James and Clarence F. Jones (editors), American Geography: Inventory and Prospect. Syracuse Univ. Press. Sovani, N. V. 1964 The Analysis of “Over-urbanization.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 12:113–122.

Stewart, John Q.; and Warntz, William 1958 Physics of Population Distribution. Journal of Regional Science 1:99–123.

Taeuber, Conrad; and Taeuber, Irene B. 1958 The Changing Population of the United States. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census Monograph Series. New York: Wiley.

Taeuber, Irene B. 1958 The Population of Japan. Princeton Univ. Press.

Weber, Adna F. (1899) 1963 The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Statistics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Zipf, George K. 1949 Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.


“Population growth” seems a partial term for a field of study where decline, fluctuations, and sharp changes can also occur, unless it is understood that “growth” is not necessarily positive or monotonic. Population growth is the sum of natural increase (births minus deaths) and net migration (immigrants minus emigrants); but each of these balances can be negative, and so can be their sum. Population growth equals natural increase only where net migration is nil or negligible.

Ordinarily, population growth is studied by the comparison of rates in time and space—for example, by comparing annual or average annual rates of growth. This presupposes the absence of compelling events disruptive of orderly time sequences, such as the invasion of a territory, removals or displacements of minorities, and casualties sustained in famine, epidemic, war, or a large natural disaster. Such events are said to cause population “gains” or “losses,” and balance sheets can be drawn up after their occurrence. But it is not possible to make a clear separation between population changes caused by disruptive events and all other kinds of population changes. In a long historical perspective, all societies are prone to incur crises; the victims, constituting “excess deaths” in the short run, are then part of the normal long-run risks of society. Again, war losses are not confined to deaths from deliberate military action but include excess deaths due to deterioration in food, shelter, and medical care, a birth deficit due to the mobilization, captivity, or death of potential fathers, etc. Such losses are, therefore, incalculable.

Population growth from 1950 to 1960

Two types of population growth rates are used: exponential rates (per 1,000 per annum), for comparison with other demographic measures, and compound interest rates (per cent per annum), for comparison with growth in nondemographic quantities, e.g., income. There is a slight difference in per-unit value of these rates, since the exponential rate refers to population of midyear, or the mean of the period, while the compound interest rate refers to that at the beginning of each year.

Table 1 shows world population counts and population growth rates, as compiled by United Nations demographers, for the period 1950–1960. Many of these figures are unofficial, and some are very rough. The four most populous countries contain half the world’s people within one-third of the world’s land. The 20 countries which follow have 30 per cent of the world’s inhabitants on one-sixth of the world’s land. The 205 less populated countries and territories, not separately shown, extend over large land areas, including Canada, Australia, and large portions of Africa and South America.

From 1950 to 1960 the world’s population increased by an amount (482 million) larger than the 1960 population of India (433 million) or of Europe outside the Soviet Union (425 million). The 1950–1960 gain in China alone approximately equaled the 1950 population of Japan; other comparisons of this sort are no less spectacular. Exceptionally high rates of growth were shown by Indonesia and by Pakistan, which by 1960 had both surpassed Japan in population. Comparisons between the growth rates of European and non-European nations are also instructive; Brazil, for instance, with a growth rate of 3 per cent per annum, not only is growing twice as fast as any of the western European nations except Switzerland but also has, since 1950, drawn far ahead of any of them in absolute numbers.

Among gains in average density not shown in the table, it should be noted that during 1950–1960 some 800 persons were added per square kilometer of land in Hong Kong and about 160 per square kilometer of habitable or cultivable land in

Table 1 – Estimated 1950 and 1960 population, land area, population gain 1950-1960, gain per square kilometer, and average annual rate of growth: 24 most populous countries and rest of the world
 1950 (midyear)1960Million square kilometersMillionsPer square kilometerPer cent
a. Compound interest rate.
b. Population estimates very rough.
c. The 1960 total of 99.95 millions was adjusted for underenumeration of the 1961 census as estimated by the Planning Commission’s report. No attempt was made to adjust the 1950 total. This probably accounts for the much higher rate of growth than the officially calculated one of 2.1 per cent per annum for 1950–1960.
d. 1955–1960 average: 2.8.
e. Habitable and cultivable area: 35,580 square kilometers.
f. Includes East Berlin.
g. Consists of 205 countries and territories,
h. Antarctic not included.
Sources: Adapted from United Nations 1966 (population); Demographic Yearbook 1965 (areas). Population gain and growth rates calculated by the author.
China (Chinese People’s Republic)560.0b650.0b9.690.0b91.5
Soviet Union180.0214.422.434.421.8
United States152.3180.79.428.431.7
United Kingdom West Germany50.652.50.21.9100.4
(German Federal Republic)47.853.20.25.4271.1
South Korea(Republic of Korea)20.524.70.14.2421.9d
Egypt (United Arab Republic)20.426.01.0e5.66e2.5
East Germanyf(German Democratic Republic)18.417.20.1-1.2-12-0.7
Other countriesg519.0623.468.9h104.421.9
World total2,516.02,998.0135.8h482.0 1.8

Egypt In Table 1 the density gain of South Korea stands out as the largest, and average density increased by more than 20 persons also in India, Japan, Pakistan, West Germany, and the Philippines. Some fast-growing countries (e.g., Brazil and Mexico) had smaller density gains than some slow-growing countries of initially high density (e.g., the United Kingdom and Italy). But the measure is summary and can easily deceive. Gains in average density have been slight in the United States and Argentina, while, with rapid metropolitanization, the proportion of those countries’ inhabitants living in high-density zones has markedly increased. Also, average density is unrepresentative of density in those minor portions of China, Indonesia, and Pakistan which contain the majority of those countries’ populations.

The countries in Table 1 can be grouped by 1950–1960 growth rates as follows: (1) 2.5 per cent or higher—Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, Turkey, South Korea (based on 1955–1960 data only), Egypt, the Philippines, and Thailand, totaling 288 million inhabitants in I960; (2) 1.5 to 2.4 per centChina., India, the Soviet Union, the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan (based on 1950 and 1960 official estimates), Poland, Burma, and Argentina, totaling 1,745 million inhabitants in I960; (3) 0.5 to 1.4 per cent—Japan, West Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, totaling 272 million inhabitants in I960; and (4) 0.4 per cent or less—the United Kingdom and East Germany, totaling 70 million inhabitants in 1960.

The above list excludes the 205 less populated countries and territories, but it is evident that the great majority of the world’s population was subjected during 1950–1960 to rates of growth between 1.5 and 2.4 per cent per annum and that growth rates greater than 2.5 per cent were not exceptional. In these respects the 1950s have been unlike any earlier phase in mankind’s history. Except where there occurred settlement of mostly vacant territory, no sizable population has ever before grown at a rate as high as 2.5 per cent. Sustained growth of a large population at a rate as high as 1.5 per cent was relatively exceptional in the decades before 1950.

World population growth up to 1750

If the history of Homo sapiens is counted in hundreds of thousands of years, the present world population could have resulted from an initial small tribe with an annual rate of growth of 0.01 or 0.02 per cent. The notion that any human population would grow so steadily at so minimal a rate is, of course, absurd. Both growth and decline must have occurred at different epochs in different areas, but during some critical epochs growth may have prevailed significantly over decline. Thus, very few million individuals could have subsisted at any time on the earth’s surface with a paleolithic culture, whereas a neolithic technology and social organization might have sustained a substantial number of millions.

The major early metal-using civilizations (those of the Euphrates, Nile, Indus, and Yellow rivers) probably supported several million inhabitants each, all of them dangerously exposed to destructive predatory attack. Establishing large areas of comparative peace and security, the Han empire of China, Asoka’s empire in India, and Roman rule around the Mediterranean basin combined larger populations, between 50 and 100 million each (Durand I960; Russell 1958; Boak 1955). The world’s population at the beginning of the Christian era has been estimated at 300 million.

Undoubtedly there was population decline when these empires crumbled and more still when reliance on military prowess became a substitute for the then irrecoverable social organization that the empires had sustained. Previously sizable populations in Central America, Mesopotamia, and southeast Asia have also vanished at various times, possibly owing to similar cultural changes. But historical demographic research has been focused mainly upon Europe and China. According to J. C. Russell (1958), Europe’s population was 33 million in A.D. 1, had fallen to 18 million by about 600, rose to 70 million after the end of the thirteenth century, and was reduced by the Black Death to possibly little more than 40 million. John Durand (1960) has estimated that China’s population was 71 million in A.D. 2, had fallen to 37 million by 705, rose to more than 120 million in the thirteenth century, and was reduced to 60 million in the fourteenth. Inexplicably, these ups and downs in Europe and China were nearly synchronized. Little is known about population changes elsewhere in the world during the same centuries; if we had more knowledge of such changes, it might be guessed how much the world total had shrunk by the seventh century, how much it had risen by the thirteenth, and how much it decreased again in the fourteenth. These guesses cannot justifiably be made without a prior marshaling of large amounts of relevant evidence, most of it very hard to find.

As estimated by W. F. Willcox (1931) and revised by Alexander Carr-Saunders (1936), world population may have totaled 545 million by 1650, rising to 728 million by 1750; an average annual rate of world population growth of 0.3 per cent is thereby suggested, not impossible for that period or for times such as the rise of the ancient empires or a few of the centuries between A.D. 700 and 1300. Since growth did not occur in every area and probably met with temporary reversals even in the areas of growth, a long-term world average of 0.3 per cent can be consistent with rates two to five times as high within relatively favored areas in undisturbed times, and such rates would have resulted under premodern peacetime levels of fertility and mortality in organized states. Such a rate might have caused the 300 million population of Roman times to increase to the size of the present world population within one millennium instead of two. Actually, severe cutbacks occurred in the first few centuries A.D. and again in the fourteenth century.

Growth in world regions, 1750–1960

Tables 2 and 3 link the world population estimates of Carr-Saunders (1936), used here for 1750–1900, with more-recent estimates, for 1920–1960 (United Nations 1966). Comparable data for 1910 are lacking, but rough figures can be inserted, since the two series are in substantial agreement. The figures are for the traditional continents; hence, Europe includes the Soviet Union up to the Ural Mountains.

It will be seen that, by half centuries, world

Table 2 – Estimates of world population (In millions), for selected periods, 1750–1960
 AsiaeEuropeaAfricaNorth AmericabLatin AmericacOceaniadWorld total
a. Includes portions of Soviet Union and Turkey, as traditionally assigned to Asia and Europe respectively.
b. United States, Canada, Greenland, and minor areas.
c. Caribbean, Middle and South America.
d. Includes Hawaii.
e. Author’s rough conjecture (see text)
Sources: Adapted from Carr-Saunders 1936 (estimates for 1750-1900); United Nations 1966 (estimates for 1920-1960); figures for 1910 are author’s rough conjectures.

population growth accelerated gradually until the late nineteenth century and sharply thereafter. This happened despite a nineteenth-century slowdown in Asia (particularly China) and a twentiethcentury slowdown in Europe. Africa’s population probably languished under the slave raids until pacification caused its renewed growth. The small indigenous populations of North America and Oceania were swamped by European settlers, who arrived at a high rate in relation to initially small numbers; but the growth rates of these two continents decreased as the settlement populations themselves attained larger size. In Latin America an initially substantial indigenous population is believed to have declined severely after the Spanish conquest; the partly mixed population eventually resumed growth, and its present rate of natural increase is of a level unsurpassed by any other population of such size.

If we examine the same data by decades, it becomes clear that the world’s population was, at the turn of the century, already growing at the rate it almost maintained until 1950–in spite of a number of setbacks: World War i and a worldwide influenza epidemic in the decade from 1910 to 1920; the economic depression of the 1930s; and World War ii in the 1940s. Accordingly, an unprecedentedly high rate of growth emerged in the relatively undisturbed 1950s. Europe (including most of the Soviet Union) suffered the heaviest war losses and fell increasingly behind the world average rates of growth, although even here growth

Table 3 – Average annual rates of world population growth (per cent), for selected periods, 1750–1960
 AsiaeEuropeaAfricaNorth AmericabLatin AmericacOceaniadWorld total
a. Includes portions of Soviet Union and Turkey, as traditionally assigned to Asia and Europe respectively.
b. United States, Canada, Greenland, and minor areas.
c. Caribbean, Middle and South America.
d. Includes Hawaii.
e. Author’s rough conjecture (see text).
f. Net decrease due to heavy war losses.
Sources: Adapted from Carr–Saunders 1936 (estimates for 1750–1900); United Nations 1966 (estimates for 1920–1960); figures for 1910 are author’s rough conjectures.
1940-19501.0- 0 . 1f1.

was faster in the 1950s than in any decade since 1910. The manner in which Africa’s population growth has accelerated is guesswork, but there is no doubt that the current rate is high. Immigration has been of decreasing effect in the Americas and in Oceania. A large recovery from the depressed birth rates of the 1930s brought population growth in North America and Oceania back to a high level in the 1950s. Because of decreasing death rates, the rate of natural increase has risen enormously in Latin America, very considerably in Asia, and at least appreciably in Africa.

Projections and forecasts

Methodological considerations

The dynamics of population growth has come to be recognized as a complex subject and far from self-contained. On the scale of decades, potentials for growth depend on the age composition of the population. But changes in age composition occur also as a result of changes in the components of growth: principally, changes in the birth rate; to a minor extent, relative changes in age-specific death risks and also migration, in those instances where this is large and affects particular age groups. Although the crude birth rates and crude death rates roughly reflect fertility and mortality trends, both they and the consequent natural increase are in part a function of varying age composition and should be interpreted accordingly.

A fall (or rise) in mortality affects population growth very directly, especially in high-fertility populations which have age structures such that any considerable change in death risks causes a large change in the crude death rate. The present rapid accelerations of population growth in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are thereby explained.

A change in fertility does not attain its full effect on population growth until the passing of several decades. The effect on the birth rate becomes large when the reduced (or increased) numbers of children reach the ages of parenthood. In the still longer run, the proportions of persons of advanced age can become considerably altered, thereby affecting the level of the crude death rate. The higher proportion of aged persons explains why there are higher death rates in European countries with superior health conditions than in some poorer countries elsewhere.

These few observations do not exhaust the analytic complexity of the subject. It must be added that the fertility, mortality, and migration changes themselves occur in response to changing economic and social conditions, attitudes, and culture.

The future of world population

A population projection (or forecast) is calculated, age group by age group, by applying data and trends in agespecific fertility and mortality rates to an initial set of data or estimates of the population’s age composition. The quality of the basic data is, of course, important and may require detailed analytic appraisal or the construction of estimates corrected for detectable sources of error. Judgment is necessary, furthermore, concerning factors likely to affect levels and trends in fertility, mortality, and migration in the future and concerning the likely nature and extent of those effects. An area of plausible foresight may then become circumscribed that, if sufficiently narrow, can provide a basis for economic and social decision making. Since plausibility of the moment is sensitive to any new item of information, projections intended to have predictive relevance may have to be revised frequently.

Tables 4 and 5 show calculations of future world population, as prepared by the United Nations (1966). The distinction here between “projection” and “forecast” lies in the intended greater predictive relevance of the latter. A projection may show the consequences of given trends, whether these are believed likely or not. The consequences of trends or changes judged to be likely constitute a forecast.

The “constant fertility, no migration” projection shown in Tables 4 and 5 measures the long-range effect of continuance of world-wide population trends which were typical of the 1950s: a continuing tempo in the decline of mortality, maintenance of current levels of fertility, and no migration. The effects of such trends, calculated separately for each region, are then summarized. On these assumptions, population growth in most regions would accelerate much beyond the 1950–1960 rate and the world’s population would total 7,500 million by the century’s end.

Table 4 – Projections and forecasts of world population (in millions), 1960–2000
  Constant fertility, no migration  
a. Without European portions of Soviet Union and Turkey.
b. Includes Hawaii.
c. Excludes Hawaii.
Source: Adapted from United Nations 1966.
South Asia8651,4462,7021,4202,171
East Asia7941,1431,8111,0411,287
Soviet Union214295402278353
Latin America212387756378638
North Americab199272388262354
World total2,9984,5197,5224,3306,130
Table 5Projections and forecasts of average annual rates of growth (per cent) of world population, 1960–2000
  “Constant fertility, no migration”“Medium” forecast
 Estimate 1950–19601960–19801980–20001960–19801980–2000
Source: Adapted from United Nations 1966.
South Asia2.
East Asia1.
Soviet Union1.
Latin America2.
North America151.
World total1.

The forecasts employ varied assumptions, made separately for each region, as to plausible decreases in mortality, some continuance of recent currents of migration, and the possibility that sooner or later substantial decreases in fertility might appear in different parts of the world. Three sets of forecasts were originally calculated: two aiming near the upper and lower margins of probability, and the “medium” set near the center of the range of what present information suggests to be fairly probable. Only the medium forecasts are shown here. The information available at the time the calculations were made suggested as most probable a continuance of world population growth at approximately its recent rate for at least three and possibly several more decades, this being a net outcome of probable acceleration in some regions and slowdown in some others. For the year 2000 the medium forecast leads to a world total of about 6,000 million; the high, to 7,000 million; and the low, to 5,400 million.

It is evident that many decades will have to elapse before ordinary processes can reduce the current tempo of world population growth to a moderate rate. The intervening phase of rapid growth adds human numbers so large as to be difficult to imagine. One may justly wonder whether human ingenuity will suffice either for a sufficiently rapid strengthening of social organization to cope with the increasing tasks or for a sufficiently rapid spread of motivation for and confidence in methods of family limitation throughout the world.

John V. Grauman

[See alsoFertility; Fertility Control; Food, article onworld problems; Mortality; Planning, Economic; and the biography ofWillcox.]


American Assembly 1963 The Population Dilemma. Edited by Philip M. Hauser. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Boak, Arthur E. 1955 Manpower Shortage and the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

Carr-Saunders, Alexander M. 1936 World Population: Past Growth and Present Trends. Oxford: Clarendon.

Demographic Yearbook 1965. 17th ed. 1965 New York: United Nations. → Data in Table 1, copyright © United Nations 1966. Adapted by permission.

Durand, John D. 1960 The Population Statistics of China, A.D. 2–1953. Population Studies 13:209–256.

Eldridge, Hope T. 1959 The Materials of Demography: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography. New York: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

Russell, Josiah C. 1958 Late Ancient and Medieval Population. American Philosophical Society, Transactions, New Series, Vol. 48, part 3. Philadelphia: The Society.

United Nations, Department of Economic and SocialAffairs 1958 The Future Growth of World Population. Population Studies, No. 28. New York: United Nations.

United Nations, Department of Economic and SocialAffairs 1966 World Population Prospects as Assessed in 1963. Population Studies, No. 41. New York: United Nations.

United Nations, Department of Social Affairs, Popu-Lation Division 1953 The Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends: A Summary of the Findings of Studies on the Relationship Between Population Changes and Economic and Social Conditions. Population Studies, No. 17. New York: United Nations.

United Nations, Department of Social Affairs, Popu-Lation Division 1956 Manuals on Methods of Estimating Population: 3. Methods for Population Projections by Sex and Age. Population Studies, No. 25. New York: United Nations.

Willcox, Walter F. 1931 Increase in the Population of the Earth and of the Continents Since 1650. Volume 2, pages 33–82 in National Bureau of Economic Research, International Migrations. New York: The Bureau.


Population policies may be defined as legislative measures, administrative programs, and other governmental action intended to alter or modify existing population trends in the interest of national survival and welfare. Many aspects of public policy and of social change in general have an impact upon demographic trends. Population policy embraces those aspects of public policy that are designed to counteract the unwanted demographic effects of over-all policy and of other social forces. Most frequently, attention is focused upon efforts to maintain, increase, or restrain the rate of growth of a population. Thus, the major purpose is to control population size, but consideration may also be given to influencing its composition and its geographic distribution.

The quantitative aim of population policy is emphasized here, partly because policies now in force are concerned primarily with affecting size and rate of change and partly because the inclusion of nonquantitative, or qualitative, aims would make population policy virtually synonymous with public policy in general. Biological quality, which is the object of measures designed to control the genetic structure of a population, is sometimes regarded as properly the concern of population policy. Although some countries have enacted legislation that authorizes abortion and sterilization on eugenic grounds, the number of such operations is quite small and their effect upon the biological constitution of the population as a whole is probably negligible. Differential fertility, on the other hand, may have some effect, but existing policies do not attempt to control that aspect of demographic change. Current action in this area is largely confined to those sections of immigration policy that are selective as to racial or ethnic origin.

Historical background

Government concern over matters of population is not a new phenomenon. State intervention, in the form of laws or decrees encouraging marriage, taxing the unmarried, subsidizing families with children, regulating immigration and emigration, fixing a legal minimum age for marriage, and the like, have existed since ancient times (Glass 1940, chapter 2). In general these measures represented a populationist philosophy that equated power and prosperity with large numbers.

The expansionist motivation in population policy reached a climax in Germany, Italy, and Japan during the period between the two world wars. Intensive pronatalist propaganda, cash payments to families with children, the rewarding and honoring of motherhood, the repression of birth control, the regulation of emigration, and the enactment of “eugenic” laws, all reflected the drive for larger native and racially “pure” populations, and they were directly associated with the political and territorial ambitions of the Axis powers.

During the same period, policies with a somewhat similar content but a different rationale were taking shape in other countries where very low rates of growth were evoking fears of an impending decline in numbers. Fertility rates were below replacement levels in many of these countries, and although only France and Austria actually recorded an excess of deaths over births, it was considered but a matter of time until most of western Europe would be experiencing a natural decrease of population. At the same time, sustained economic depression was precipitating a new concept of social justice, and governments were taking steps to protect workers against the risks of unemployment and to guarantee a minimum family wage that would take account of the number of dependents supported by each worker.

Although it was not clear to what extent the low birth rates then current were a continuation of the secular trend and to what extent they were a temporary phenomenon, it was thought that low marriage rates and low fertility within marriage had an essentially economic explanation. Consequently, the attempt to sustain or increase the birth rate became linked to the development of social security programs, particularly those aspects of social security that contribute to the economic security of the family. Because of this linkage, it is sometimes difficult to say whether measures favoring the family, maternity, and infancy have a demographic as well as a welfare intent, unless the government concerned specifically so states. Insofar as these programs do have a demographic intent, they are distinguishable from the populationist policies described above, in that they are not expansionist in the imperialist sense but, rather, are animated by a desire to avoid population decline or, at most, to achieve a gently increasing population.

Similar programs have developed in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, as an integral part of the plan to build the socialist state. The populationist overtones of these programs stem in part from the old controversy between Malthus and Marx, in which Marx took the position that “overpopulation” was a misnomer for imperfect social organization, and in part from a felt need, in the Soviet Union at least, for a larger population. But in these countries, as elsewhere, the nature of population policy—and even the question of whether a policy exists—is to some extent a matter of the interpretation a government chooses to make of its actions and programs. Thus, a nation’s stated policy is not necessarily an exact statement of its purposes of the moment. Indeed, the prevailing pattern of social and political organization is such that much of national policy in any area takes form through a series of compromises between contending pressures and hence has elements of ambiguity, not to say of ambivalence.

After World War II, with the emergence of new nations and a growing awareness of the economic problems of underdeveloped countries, population policies that represented a different point of view began to develop. In many of the underdeveloped countries mortality was falling rapidly, as a result of large-scale preventive measures, but fertility remained high and rates of increase as great as 2.5 to 3.0 per cent per annum were either recorded or in prospect. Such rates were without precedent in Western experience. They implied a possible doubling of population within a generation and aroused fears that the effort to raise levels of living would be impeded by the necessity to provide subsistence for the increasing numbers. Policies that favor reducing or stabilizing the rate of population growth have therefore begun to evolve in some of the densely populated underdeveloped countries of the Far East and the Caribbean.

Elements of policy

Ideally, population policy involves the examination of past and current demographic trends and their causes; an appraisal of the future demographic changes implied by these trends; an evaluation of the social and economic consequences of expected patterns of change, in the perspective of what is regarded as the national interest; and finally, the adoption of measures designed to bring about desired changes or prevent undesired ones. Demographic trends are a function of changing relations between the forces of fertility, mortality, and migration, whether in the population as a whole or differentially in its various segments. Policy makers are therefore logically concerned with understanding the factors of change in these three processes and with ways and means of influencing the direction and amount of change in each of them. However, practical considerations are such that most of population policy, as it exists today, is directed at influencing fertility, although the trends and effects of migration and mortality may also be carefully studied, for changes in them can be the precipitating factors that render population a “problem.”


Control of international migration as a means of adjustment between high-density countries and low-density countries holds only limited possibilities, principally because of national feelings, political differences, ethnic preferences, problems of assimilation, and fears of the economic consequences of inundation from abroad. The immigration laws of the so-called countries of immigration (Australia, New Zealand, and most of the countries of western Europe and the Americas) are generally restrictive, setting limitations upon the number and source of immigrants and barring those who, for political, social, or medical reasons, are considered undesirable (International Labor Office 1954). Although some migration from highdensity to low-density countries is encouraged, it is carefully controlled, often through bilateral agreements between the governments concerned. In these programs quantitative aims are present, but nonquantitative considerations usually take precedence.

From the point of view of the densely populated underdeveloped countries, there are, thus, no available outlets that could possibly siphon off the current and prospective increases in numbers. In effect, the solution of what are regarded as demographic problems is almost strictly a national affair. Adjustments of population to resources or to a program of economic development must be effected principally within national borders.

Insofar as the redistribution of population is a demographic process, the regulation of internal migration may be regarded as population policy. This aspect of public policy has not, on the whole, been so regarded, its aims being generally qualitative rather than quantitative; but government action in this area can have great significance and can benefit from demographic analysis and demographic insights. The important internal migrations of the past have, like other demographic processes, been largely unplanned and unguided; chief among them has been the movement from farm to city. Problems of urban congestion and of urban and rural slums exist almost everywhere. Modern programs of resettlement, city planning, urban renewal, relocation of industry, and aid to agriculture are examples of government attempts to cope with such conditions, and some of them utilize a demographic approach and have in mind a partially demographic solution—namely, to influence the redistribution of population. This facet of policy could be increasingly emphasized if social and economic planning should become more prevalent and more sophisticated; it would take on a quantitative character if security considerations were to become a compelling factor. In the underdeveloped countries economic progress will depend in part on the success with which population distribution and redistribution are taken into account and made to contribute to, rather than impede, development.


Broadly defined, population policy includes measures intended to affect the death rate. But the purpose of such measures is to improve the health of the population, not to control the rate or direction of numerical change. To include the totality of such measures would be equivalent to identifying health policy with population policy. Manipulation of the death rate in order to control the rate of growth is not feasible, because there is only one policy in relation to mortality that is socially acceptable—namely, to reduce it. In industrial countries where there is a desire to encourage population growth, death rates are already so low that there is very little to be gained, in the way of growth, from further reductions at most ages. Thus, population policy, as such, does not place a great deal of emphasis on the reduction of mortality, although, of course, other aspects of welfare policy do emphasize it very strongly. Indeed, the concept of public health has been extended in most of these countries, by means of national health insurance schemes or national health service systems, to include individual medical care in the realm of public responsibility.

In the underdeveloped countries where there is a desire to restrict the rate of growth, it might be possible to relax the struggle against mortality and allow death rates to rise. However, such a policy not only is offensive from the humanitarian point of view but would also run the risk of defeating the basic objective of improving the living conditions of the general population. Governments that allowed death rates to rise would soon realize that a competent labor force, essential to economic development, cannot be achieved without some safeguards to health and some positive measures to insure adequate diet and tolerable working conditions. Furthermore, skills require training, practice, and education of some sort. Meeting these requirements would contribute to a fall in the death rate, even if the government, as a matter of population policy, took no positive steps to reduce mortality. And there is the added circumstance that, because of modern technical knowledge and facilities, the basic preventive measures necessary to control the spread of infectious disease–mass inoculation, spraying, and elementary sanitation– are relatively inexpensive and easy to administer.

Control of fertility

Under present political, cultural, and technological circumstances, the principal focus of efforts to influence population trends necessarily centers on the control of fertility. It so happens that, in general, countries wishing to stimulate growth are low-fertility countries and countries wishing to restrain growth are high-fertility countries.

Only three countries can be said to have coherent, carefully constructed, and frankly stated population policies: France, representing a strong pronatalist view; Sweden, representing a more tempered pronatalist view; and India, representing an antinatalist view. A much larger number of countries have taken cognizance of population problems in one way or another: by appointing commissions to study the question and make proposals; by issuing statements of official attitudes; or by enacting legislation which probably has inherent demographic aims, although other objectives may be the only ones acknowledged. A brief description of the policies of France, Sweden, and India, along with some indication of similar or relevant specific measures taken in other countries, should give perspective on how developments in this area are moving in the world in general.


The essentials of French population policy are set out in the Code de la Famille, which came into force in 1940 (“Decret relatif á la famille …” 1939). Its purpose is both to encourage family formation and childbearing in numbers sufficient to maintain a moderate increase in population and to counteract the general aging of the population. Specific provisions to this end include, on the one hand, positive measures for financial aid to marriage and child rearing and, on the other hand, repressive measures restricting the use of induced abortion and contraception. Subsequent legislation has introduced some changes in the program, the general effect of which has been to improve its administration and increase its benefits.

The principal economic measure is the system of family allowances. Monthly cash allowances are payable to all families having two or more children under 15 years of age; in special circumstances the age limit is as high as 20 years. Reflecting pronatalist intent, allowances are higher for the third and subsequent children than for the second child. Furthermore, families with only one wage earner receive allowances beginning with the first child, and the allowance per child is higher. In addition, prenatal and maternity allowances are available to all women. The amount of allowances is based on the current minimum wage of metalworkers, and so it tends to vary with the cost of living. As of 1960, three-child single-wage families received allowances equal to at least 133 per cent of the base wage. The prenatal allowance averaged 21 per cent of the base wage, and the maternity allowance, payable after the birth, was equal to 200 per cent of the base wage for the first birth and 133 per cent for subsequent births occurring within three years of a prior birth.

Further benefits to married couples include government loans for various purposes, tax reductions, and rebates on the costs of public services. Social services in aid of the family have taken the form of subsidies to school canteens, boarding schools, vacation camps, day nurseries, and kindergartens; the provision of household help; and family counseling. Certain benefits, available to persons covered by the social security scheme and contingent upon attachment to the labor force, are regarded as part of France’s program to compensate family expenses and have been regularly included in the computation of the costs of France’s population policy. Principal among these benefits are reimbursement for most of the cost of the medical care of the spouse and children of the insured, including maternity care of insured women and spouses of insured men, paid maternity leave for insured women, and leave with pay for the father at the time of the birth of a child.

On the repressive side, the Code de la Famille re-embodied earlier legislation which made birth control propaganda, sale or advertisement of contraceptives, and incitement to abortion illegal. The condom, considered a prophylactic, may be freely bought and sold, but other devices are forbidden. [For the laws governing abortion in France and other countries, see Fertility control.]

Supplementing the pronatalist policy is the encouragement of immigration of a type that is considered compatible with both manpower and demographic needs. A final aspect of French policy is the existence of the Institut National d’études Demographiques, created in 1945 to conduct research in problems relevant to population, follow studies and developments in other countries, and explore all possible means of increasing the number and improving the quality of the population.


Demographically, Sweden is similar to France and most of the other countries of western Europe. Like France, Sweden has a closely reasoned, highly developed population policy that is oriented toward sustaining the birth rate. But in Swedish policy, consideration of individual welfare and personal freedom have taken precedence over pronatalist aims wherever the two were in conflict. Also, much more emphasis is placed on payments in kind and on the provision of institutional or social services in behalf of the family.

Government action in matters of population began in 1935, with the appointment of a population commission. On the basis of the deliberations and recommendations of that commission and of a second commission, which functioned from 1941 to 1946, Sweden has developed a well-coordinated program, the themes of which are voluntary parenthood and child welfare (Myrdal 1941; Gille 1948). Family allowances are payable in behalf of each child under the age of 16. Reflecting a welfare, rather than a pronatalist, emphasis, this is a flatrate allowance beginning with the first child, and the rate per child does not increase with the number of eligible children. The amount relative to the cost of child care is somewhat lower than that paid in France, but the system of supplementary services and allowances in kind is much more exhaustive. The supplementary aids include marriage loans for the purchase of household equipment, a comprehensive system of maternal and child welfare centers, housing and fuel grants for families of moderate means with two or more children, free school meals, home-help services, holiday travel for mothers and children of families in difficult circumstances, and tax relief. The sickness and maternity insurance scheme covers all resident citizens and registered aliens. Maternity leave is compulsory, and the costs of confinement are borne by the state. Women employees may not be dismissed because of pregnancy or childbirth.

In keeping with the aim of voluntary parenthood, contraceptive advice is given at hospitals and health centers, contraceptives may be purchased at all pharmacies, the laws against induced abortion have been relaxed, and sex education has been made a regular part of the school curriculum. The object of this part of the program is to improve the quality of the population, as well as influence population growth in the direction desired. Abortion has been legalized to the degree that medical boards may authorize the interruption of pregnancy on rather broadly defined therapeutic or eugenic grounds, taking into account the general social, medical, and psychological circumstances of the woman involved. Sterilization may be authorized for similar reasons. It was hoped that the more lenient attitude toward induced abortion would in the end reduce the number of such abortions; however, it is not yet possible to ascertain whether this program has had the desired effect (Gille 1955).


In India, population policy is oriented toward restraining the rate of increase, on behalf of economic development and of raising the level of living of the people. This policy was initiated in 1952, with the first five-year plan, and subsequent action has put increasing emphasis upon the need to reduce the widening gap between a lowering death rate and a persistently high birth rate. The third five-year plan, promulgated in 1961, stated, “The objective of stabilising the growth of population over a reasonable period must be at the very centre of planned development” (India 1961, p 675). The plan calls for a large-scale program of education and motivation for family planning, provision of birth control advice and contraceptive supplies, and government-sponsored research in demographic trends, contraceptive methods, and family-planning motivation. Family-planning clinics have been established in a large number of rural areas, and family-planning services are available at urban medical and health centers. [SeeCommunity, article oncommunity development.]

These activities are steadily expanding, with the government subsidizing the manufacture and distribution of contraceptives. The question of how to make the program more effective is under constant study. At the request of the government, the United Nations sent a team of experts to India in 1965, “to assess the problems involved in accelerating the adoption of family planning by the people and to advise the Government on action that might be taken for this purpose” (United Nations 1965, pp. 9–10).

The law against induced abortion has not been relaxed, and pregnancy may be artificially terminated only to save the life of the mother. Voluntary sterilization, however, is regarded as an acceptable means of preventing births, and the practice seems to be spreading. Another facet of Indian policy has to do with the effort to raise the average age at marriage. In this connection, the third five-year plan places special emphasis on the education of women and on the provision of new employment opportunities for women.

Programs in other countries

In Europe all the rest of the countries have adopted programs that resemble those of France or Sweden in various ways and to varying degrees, but in none of them has population policy been as fully developed or as clearly stated. These countries have family allowance schemes and social insurance or national health service systems that cover all or part of the costs of maternity and the medical care of workers and their dependents.

Measures in the Roman Catholic countries of western and central Europe and in the Netherlands are similar to those in France but less intensive. They may be characterized as favoring natality and as repressing the practices of birth control and abortion. Family allowances are generally of the progressive type; laws regarding birth control propaganda and the sale of contraceptives tend to be restrictive; induced abortion is prohibited. Although pronatalist influences contributed to the enactment of these measures, they do not necessarily have an announced or a sustained pronatalist intent. Two countries—Italy and the Netherlands —have been encouraging emigration.

Programs in the Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, and Finland are similar to those of Sweden. The general attitude is pronatalist, but demographic considerations take second place to considerations of immediate welfare. Family allowances tend to be of the flat-rate type; supplementary aids to the family and institutional services are provided; legislation regarding birth control is permissive. Supplementary aids to the family are especially well developed in the United Kingdom, where the population question was studied in depth by a royal commission and where the program has had the benefit of the commission’s findings and proposals (Great Britain 1949). In the attempt to combat induced abortion, legal strictures against abortion have been relaxed in Denmark, Finland, and Iceland; abortion and sterilization are permitted on medical, social, or eugenic grounds; and family planning is actively encouraged. In Norway only medical and eugenic grounds for abortion are recognized; in the United Kingdom, only medical grounds. Measures in the overseas Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand resemble those of the United Kingdom. In addition, these three countries have, since World War II, instituted policies promoting immigration of a selective type.

Policies in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe since World War II have been pronatalist in tone. Family allowances of the progressive type predominate, and special awards for mothers of large families are a persistent feature. Since 1955, legislation against abortion has been greatly liberalized in most of these countries; in some the operation is obtainable at the woman’s request. The change was made on humanitarian and health grounds and was declared a measure intended to combat the dangers and frequency of induced abortion. The use of contraception, rather than abortion, is strongly advocated. The new policy does not necessarily indicate abandonment of the antiMalthusian point of view, but there have been some expressions of the opinion that rapid population increase may interfere with economic development (Mauldin 1960, p. 197; Brackett & Huyck 1962).

Outside of Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Commonwealth countries mentioned, nationwide family allowance schemes, inclusive health insurance or health service systems, and related measures in favor of the family have not yet developed very far, but programs of limited scope or of an extragovernmental type have begun to grow up in many countries (U.S. Social Security Administration 1961). The European type of program may be seen as a culture trait that is being diffused to all parts of the world. As such, it has no doubt acquired an aura of Tightness that makes it virtually independent of population policy. Changes of policy from pronatalism to antinatalism or indifference are, therefore, unlikely to dislodge it, although they may bring about some alteration of specific provisions.

Policies resembling that of India are emerging in a number of other densely populated underdeveloped countries. Intensive government-sponsored programs to promote family planning have been launched in Pakistan and the Republic of Korea. In Taiwan the government gives informal support to a program that is conducted by private organizations. The first five-year plan of Turkey reversed prior policy and provides for family-planning education. Iran’s third plan mentions the need to popularize family planning. In Tunisia a policy favoring birth control is under study and a family-planning campaign has been started. In the United Arab Republic the charter promulgated by the president in 1962 stated that family planning was one way of alleviating the problem of low per capita production. Official interest has also been demonstrated, by government approval or support of planned parenthood programs, in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Barbados, Ceylon, and the Philippines. China has liberalized its laws on abortion and sterilization and, despite strong commitment to anti-Malthusianism, has begun to encourage birth control and advocate late marriage (United Nations 1964; Nortman 1964; Tien 1963; Studies in Family Planning).

Effects of population policy

Not much can be said about the effects of population policy. As far as the three countries with well-defined policies—France, Sweden, and India— are concerned, evidence that the desired effects are being produced is inconclusive. In France fertility is above prewar levels, and French analysts believe that French policy accounts for that fact. In Sweden, however, the crude birth rate of 1960 was the lowest in Europe and probably the lowest in the world. Growth rates remain high in India. Elsewhere current levels and recent trends in national birth rates appear to bear no consistent relation to the presence, purpose, or content of national policy.

It seems clear that once the majority of a population has recognized at the personal level the desirability of controlling family size, it will act without much regard for the position of the law or official policy. Thus, the secular fall in Western fertility took place over a period when birth control was officially opposed and policy, if any, favored increase. The experience in Japan since World War II is another case in point. Japanese law on abortion and sterilization was liberalized between 1948 and 1954, and at the same time the use of contraception, rather than abortion, was urged upon the population. Recorded abortions increased rapidly and soon were approaching the number of live births. By 1960 the birth rate had fallen to a level comparable with that in Western industrial countries. But the resort to abortion and the fall in the birth rate began before 1948; the practice had undoubtedly existed on a wide scale for some time (Taeuber 1958, p. 278). Legalization may have caused some of the increase in the number of abortions, but the important fact, from the sociological point of view, is that a great many people wanted to limit the size of their families. In other words, when such a conviction has arrived, ways and means of attainment will be found. An antinatalist policy has the problem of instilling that conviction; a pronatalist policy, of dispelling it. The question of whether governments can or will provide incentives strong enough to change behavior in this area is still open.

The period of the 1960s was one of rapid development in the area of population policy, especially among underdeveloped countries. Many influences —social, political, economic, religious—were at work, both in and outside of government and at both national and international levels. For instance, the U.S. Congress, in passing the 1966 Food for Freedom bill, specifically authorized the president to use the local currencies acquired in sales of food under the Food for Freedom program to set up birth control clinics in any nation covered by the program, if its government so requested. In January 1967 President Johnson, in his State of the Union message, formally endorsed the “export” of birth control as a continuing policy. The elements of a domestic population policy also began to emerge, with the deepening involvement of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in birth control activities, and the support of these activities by certain members of the Congress (see U.S. Congress 1966). But the Roman Catholic church, in spite of mounting internal criticism and considerable evidence that many Catholics either were using or wished to use some form of “artificial” contraception, still had not modified its traditional stand by mid-1967. In the meantime, most governments of Latin America—the region with the world’s highest rate of population growth—had yet to evolve population policies, although privately sponsored conferences in 1965 and 1967 allowed, for the first time, some public expression of concern. During the same period, other governments, such as that of the United Arab Republic, whose natural resources seemed inadequate to support their rates of population growth, were undertaking extensive birth control programs for the first time.

But it was impossible to foresee the net impact of these forces upon the content and effectiveness of official policy in matters of population. A contemporary survey of government opinion, covering 53 countries in various stages of economic development, found that while many governments were aware of problems associated with population changes, there were differences between them in the interpretations they gave to such changes and in the policies they considered acceptable for dealing with the problems that are created (United Nations 1964). It must be concluded that knowledge about the interaction between population trends and economic growth is still imperfect and that there is plenty of room for honest disagreement about which population policies will be most effective in securing the general welfare.

Hope T. Eldridge

[See alsoFertility Control; Food, article onworld problems; Population, article onPopulation theories]


For the latest information about population policies, the reader should consult the publications of the Population Council and of Planned Parenthood-World Population, both private nonprofit organizations located in New York City. The New York Times Index is also a useful reference source in this field.

American Assembly 1963 The Population Dilemma. Edited by Philip M. Hauser. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Brackett, James W.; and Huyck, Earl 1962 The Objectives of Government Policy on Fertility Control in Eastern Europe. Population Studies 16:134–146.

Deácret relatif à la famille et a la natalité françaises. 1939 Journal officiel de la Republique Frangaise 71:96079626.

Doublet, Jacques 1949 Des lois dans leur rapports avec la population. Population 4:39–56.

Eldridge, Hope T. 1954 Population Policies: A Survey of Recent Developments. Washington: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

Gille, Halvor 1948 Recent Developments in Swedish Population Policy. Parts 1–2. Population Studies 2:3 70, 129–184.

Gille, Halvor 1955 Demographic Aspects of Scandinavian Family Welfare Policy. Volume 2, pages 883–900 in World Population Conference, 1954, Rome, Proceedings. New York: United Nations.

Glass, David V. 1940 Population Policies and Movements in Europe. Oxford: Clarendon.

Great Britain, Royal Commission On Population 1949 Report. London: H.M. Stationery Office.

India (Republic), Planning Commission 1961 Third

International Labor Office 1954 Analysis of the Immigration Laws and Regulations of Selected Countries. 2 vols. Geneva: The Office.

Mauldin, W. Parker 1960 Fertility Control in Communist Countries: Policy and Practice. Pages 179–215 in Population Trends in Eastern Europe, the Ussr and Mainland China. New York: Milbank Memorial Fund.

Myrdal, Alva (1941) 1945 Nation and Family: The Swedish Experiment in Democratic Family and Population Policy. London: Routledge.

Nortman, Dorothy 1964 Population Policies in Developing Countries and Related International Attitudes. Eugenics Quarterly 11:11–29.

Population. → Published since 1946 by the Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques. This journal maintains a comprehensive coverage of developments in population policy all over the world.

Sauvy, Alfred (1958) 1963 Fertility and Survival: Population Problems From Malthus to Mao Tse-tung. New York: Collier. → First published in French.

Spengler, Joseph J. (1955) 1956 Socioeconomic Theory and Population Policy. Pages 456–461 in Joseph J. Spengler and Otis Dudley Duncan (editors), Population Theory and Policy. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → First published in Volume 61 of the American Journal of Sociology.

Srb, Vladimir 1962 Population Development and Population Policy in Czechoslovakia. Population Studies 16:147–159.

Studies in Family Planning. → Published since 1963 by the Population Council.

Taeuber, Irene B. 1958 The Population of Japan. Princeton Univ. Press.

Thapar, Savitri 1963 Family Planning in India. Population Studies 17:4–19.

Tien, H. Yuan 1963 Birth Control in Mainland China: Ideology and Politics. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 41:269–290.

Tien, H. Yuan 1965 Sterilization, Oral Contraception, and Population Control in China. Population Studies 18:215–235.

United Nations, Economic and Social Council 1964 Inquiry Among Governments on Problems Resulting From the Interaction of Economic Development and Population Changes. Report of the Secretary General, E/3895/Rev. 1. New York: United Nations.

United Nations, Economic and social Council, Population Commission 1965 Regional Demographic Activities. Report by the Secretary General, E/CN.9/192. New York: United Nations.

U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee On Labor and Public welfare 1966 Family Planning Program. Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty, 89th Congress, 2d Session, on S. 2993. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. Social Security Administration, Division of Program Research 1961 Social Security Programs Throughout the World: 1961. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Watson, Cicely 1952a Birth Control and Abortion in France Since 1939. Population Studies 5:261–286.

Watson, Cicely 1952b Recent Developments in French Immigration Policy. Population Studies 6:3–38.

Watson, Cicely 1953 Housing Policy and Population Problems in France. Population Studies7:14–45.

Watson, Cicely 1954 Population Policy in France: Family Allowances and Other Benefits. Parts 1–2. Population Studies 7:263–286; 8:46–73.


views updated May 08 2018


Methodological Uncertainties

Because of the great difficulties in ascertaining human population data in general, and Jewish data in particular, especially in ancient and medieval times, a word of caution is even more necessary here than in most other areas of historical and sociological research. Even the size of the world Jewish population is questionable because the two largest countries of Jewish settlement, the United States and the Soviet Union, were supplying only inadequate estimates, rather than scientifically verifiable facts (see below). The same holds true for many other countries embracing substantial numbers of Jews.

In their report to the International Congress of Historical Sciences in 1950 Carlo Cippola and his associates reported on behalf of their Committee that "in the eyes of demographers bent on scientific precision and certainty all demographic research undertaken for any period before the 18th century runs the risk of appearing as a mere fantasy." Nevertheless, the Committee felt impelled to present some results of their investigations, as have many other scholars dealing with population statistics of past ages. They have felt that the rise or fall of populations, and the concomitant facts relating to natality and mortality rates, sex and age distribution, marriages and divorces, and so forth, are too vital for the understanding of all other socioeconomic, political, and even intellectual developments for scholarship to be satisfied with a resigned ignoramus et ignorabimus. Many demographers and historians are, indeed, convinced, to cite the Spanish sociologist Javier Ruiz Almanza's pithy epigram, that "history without demography is an enigma, just as is demography without history."

Population *censuses were not completely absent in the ancient and medieval worlds. As a matter of fact, an Egyptian record of about 3000 b.c.e., preserved on the so-called Palermo Stone, gives us a fair idea of how the population was counted at that early age. Egyptian censuses were rather frequently conducted during the Middle Kingdom; they went into such details as naming all members of the respective families. In ancient Israel, too, the censuses attributed to Moses and David have a high degree of probability as to fact, if not with respect to the actual results. However, these counts were much too sporadic to serve as reliable guides. Even modern censuses become truly dependable only when they are periodically repeated and employ the same basic methods. If their final results are not absolutely accurate, they at least reveal some fundamental trends in growth or decline and other variations during the intervening periods. Ancient and medieval censuses, even when recorded, were taken too far apart, and used unknown or, at least, variable statistical methods. Hence they furnish almost no guidance for the prevailing trends. The resultant figures, moreover, are frequently available to us only in texts reproduced by successive copyists over many generations, or even centuries. It is a well-known fact that copyists are more likely to err with respect to numbers than in regard to almost any other words, because such changes, as a rule, do not make the meaning of the entire phrase or sentence incomprehensible. It is enough, for example, for a Hebrew copyist to omit a lamed in shalosh to produce the word shesh which immediately doubles the figure. In its abbreviated form a change from a dalet (representing four) to a resh (two hundred), or vice versa, can play havoc with any number intended by the author. Nor does any proofreader or ordinary reader, unless well-informed about the particular situation, notice such changes which, by constant repetition, sometimes assume the appearance of dependability.

Even informed students, moreover, often approach the recorded figures with set presuppositions. Until the 18th century Jewish, as well as general, European opinion believed that ancient times were in all aspects more glorious than the Middle Ages or the modern period. They assumed that ancient populations were far larger than those familiar to them from observation or readings of more recent events. Even so critical a thinker as Montesquieu was convinced that the world population of his day did not total more than one-tenth of what it had been in antiquity. The first scholar to question these assumptions was David Hume. Subsequently, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. As in other areas of life, most scholars were convinced of mankind's gradual progress, despite occasional relapses, and believed that the size of human populations, too, as a rule showed an upward curve. In time, however, more careful studies revealed that there were constant ups and downs, with periods of growth followed by those of decline, and the other way around. Another drawback of the recorded censuses and other population records consisted in their underlying purposes. Ancient and medieval governments rarely, if ever, undertook counting population out of general scientific curiosity. They did it principally in order to secure lists of prospective taxpayers, soldiers, or both. Understandably, since they often served as instruments of greater fiscal oppression and more effective military levies, censuses were heartily disliked by the masses of the population. Thus readily grew the widespread superstition that censuses caused divine wrath and retribution. Even King David's census provoked the biblical writer to observe: "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them, saying: 'Go, number Israel and Judah'" (ii Sam. 24:1). In fact, it is related, the king later repented his irreligious act. As a result of this popular resentment many persons undoubtedly succeeded in evading the count, thus greatly reducing its value. A remarkable talmudic anecdote states that when Persian tax collectors arrived in a city to number the Jews subject to the capitation tax, the latter were forewarned by their leaders to go into hiding until the collectors departed. The community at large had a self-interest in reducing the figures thus obtained because it afterwards had to negotiate with the government for some lump-sum payment to cover the total tax due.

Bearing all these deficiencies in mind, scholarship must nevertheless make concerted efforts to come to grips with the demographic facts of life in both the past and the present. Wherever possible a number of convergent hypotheses, even if by themselves none too reliable, may offer at least some more or less acceptable approximations. Yet in the summary here presented its often extremely tentative nature must never be lost sight of.

Ancient Israel

There are only a few direct pieces of information about the population of ancient Israel. Some of it is quite dubious. The well-known figure of 600,000 adult male Israelites (601,730 men aged 20 or over in addition to 23,000 male levites, including minors, according to Num. 26:51 and 62), who are said to have been counted by Moses after the Exodus from Egypt, has long been discounted by critical scholars. Including the women and minors, this number would have represented a population of about 2,500,000, much too large for the small province of Goshen in northeastern Egypt where the majority of Israelites had lived before their departure. The addition of some non-Israelites of the "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:37–38) who joined the Exodus was undoubtedly more or less balanced by those Israelites who refused to leave the "fleshpots" of Egypt and remained behind. It is to them and their descendants that some Egyptian papyri of the 12th century b.c.e. refer when they speak of some "Hebrew" (apiru) still living in Egypt at the time. Moreover, a mass of 2,500,000 persons crossing the "Red Sea" and migrating through the desert for 40 years staggers the imagination. Even if we accept the extreme emendation by some scholars which reduces the figure to 6,000 adult males, it would still leave a considerable number of 25,000 or more persons finally entering Canaan, where they may have joined some descendants of the ancient Habiru ("Hebrews") who had never left Palestine for Egypt but had slowly been occupying Canaanite territory from the days of the El-Amarna Letters in the 15th and 14th centuries b.c.e.

Much more informative are the figures yielded by the census conducted by Joab at the behest of King David. Here there is a major difficulty in having two apparently contradictory records. The figures given in ii Samuel 24:9, namely that "there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men," seem to be controverted by the report in i Chronicles (21:5) that "all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and a hundred thousand men that drew sword; and Judah was four hundred three-score and ten thousand men that drew sword." Whichever figure is taken – and with some difficulty they can be harmonized – it indicates a population of well over 5,000,000, which is possible, if at all, only if Joab counted the population, including the subject peoples, of the entire Davidic empire from parts of Syria to the border of Egypt. In that case, the Israelite population doubtless formed but a minority of those counted. If, in the following generations, Israel rapidly assimilated some of the subject tribes in its midst, the area under its control had shrunk considerably under Solomon and his successors. Another figure of great interest is given in the Assyrian king Sennacherib's boast that at the time of his siege of Jerusalem in 701 b.c.e. he had deported 200,150 men, women, and children from the Judean kingdom, all of which except the capital had been occupied by the Assyrian troops. This number too, has been subjected to much carping by modern critics. One of them, Karl Ungnad, suggested that it be reduced to 2,150 persons – a number which would have rendered the royal boast entirely meaningless. While Sennacherib's grandiloquent inscription may indeed have exaggerated considerably the number of prisoners taken back to Assyria, it must to some extent have approximated reality.

Some of the figures here quoted are partially supported by the existence in the country of a large number of "cities." As early as the 15th century b.c.e. the famous Egyptian inscription by Thutmoses iii named more than 100 Palestinian cities conquered in an area covering only about one-fourth of what was later to become the land of Israel and Judah, which bears out the development of some 400 "municipalities" under the Israelitic regime indicated by both the ancient Onomastica and modern geographic research. These cities were for the most part very small. Even in Israel's heyday their vast majority embraced only 1,000 inhabitants or less, but from Canaanite times on they had served the purpose of protecting the farming population against raids from hostile outsiders. Most farmers seem indeed to have lived within walled cities while cultivating their soil by "going out" to their fields or vineyards in the morning and returning in the evening. (This is, therefore, the sequence of the well-known biblical phrase.) Incidentally, this situation explains why ancient Palestine did not have any such major cleavage between the urban and rural populations as has characterized the medieval and modern West.

Finally, there is also some interesting data concerning the kingdom of Judah during the Babylonian conquests and its aftermath in the years 597–582 b.c.e. One source reports that 3,023 Judeans had been deported in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, 832 Jerusalemites in the 18th year, 745 Judeans in the 23rd year, together "all the persons were four thousand and six hundred" (Jer. 52:28–30). In contrast, ii Kings (24:14–16) states that the Babylonians "carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths." Somewhat differently, the figure of 7,000 is mentioned in the same context. These contradictory data have been subjected to a variety of interpretations, but with some effort and ingenuity they can be harmonized. In any case, both sets of figures evidently refer only to a small elite of landowners, priests, and craftsmen whose absence would deprive the subject population of leadership and the supply of arms, but the Babylonians must have simultaneously deported a great mass of captives from the lower classes. Archaeological discoveries have confirmed the fact that after 586 b.c.e. the Judean countryside was quite deserted, although the conquerors may have brought in some replacements in addition to maintaining their own garrisons on the spot. This exchange of populations had long been practiced by the Assyrians in order to stem irredentist movements and, a century and a quarter before the fall of Jerusalem, they had deported a great many Northern Israelites before and after the fall of Samaria in 733–719 b.c.e.

In short, on the basis of these and numerous other scattered data, supported by a number of demographic considerations, the present writer ventured to propose the highly tentative Table 1, Ancient Population for the approximate population of ancient Israel and Judah between 1000 and 586 b.c.e.: The decline in the population, here assumed, may well be explained by the general deterioration in the political and economic strength of the two kingdoms in the intervening four centuries. It did not seriously affect, however, the number of "cities" (about 300–400 in the whole country and about 60–70 in Judah alone), the population of which may have been greatly reduced, but which continued to function as more or less autonomous municipalities. These avowedly extremely tentative "guesstimates," made more than 40 years ago, still seen to offer the most acceptable approximations. The enormous amount of additional archaeological and other source material and interpretation which have since been brought forth by biblical scholars has, if anything, helped to support them.

Total Israelite and Judean population1,800,0001,100,000–1,350,000150,000
Per square mile4028–3224

Second Commonwealth

During the restoration period the recovery of Palestine's Jewish population was very slow. At first the Second Commonwealth embraced only an area of some 1,200 square miles in and around Jerusalem. According to Ezra (2:64–65), "the whole congregation [of returning exiles] together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, besides their manservants and their maidservants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven; and they had two hundred singing men and singing women." Even adding to these figures a number of survivors from the pre-Exilic period, the population of the Commonwealth could not have amounted to much more than 60,000–70,000. In time, this population must have increased considerably so that, writing in the third century b.c.e., Pseudo-Hecataeus could estimate the number of Jerusalem's inhabitants alone at 120,000 (Jos., Apion, 1:197). There also were growing Jewish settlements outside the boundaries of the autonomous Jewish province, particularly in Galilee (still called the Gelil Ha-Goyim; "the district of gentiles"), along the coast, and in Transjordan. Yet at the outbreak of the Hasmonean Revolt in 165 b.c.e. the total Jewish population in the country still was very small. It grew by leaps and bounds, however, after the establishment of the sovereign Judean state by Simeon Maccabee in 140 b.c.e. and particularly after the annexation of large territories conquered by his successors, John *Hyrcanus and Alexander *Yannai. It now included a considerable number of Idumeans and others forcibly converted to Judaism by these conquerors, whose amalgamation with the older Jewish inhabitants proceeded apace with great speed. In the days of Jesus and the tannaim Galilee was as Jewish as the environs of Jerusalem. This growth was not stemmed by the occupation of the country by the Romans under Pompey in 63 b.c.e. and the conversion of Judea into a sub-province of the Roman Empire. Only some cities, organized along the lines of a Hellenistic polis along the coast and in Transjordan, were now under the control of their "Greek" city councils, with the Jews often constituting but a tolerated minority.

During the two centuries of Hasmonean and Herodian rule over Palestine the Jewish people expanded numerically to an unprecedented degree not only in Palestine but also in other lands, in part by active proselytization. Curiously, the Phoenician-Carthaginian Diaspora, long a major factor throughout the Mediterranean world, suddenly vanished at the beginning of the Common Era. It has been suggested that, with their ancient kinship to the Canaanite-Hebrew civilization, these offshoots of enterprising Tyre and Sidon were now submerged within the Jewish Dispersion. Be this as it may, unquestionably, many new communities now sprang up as far west as Italy and Tunisia and possibly even Spain and Morocco. Few reliable figures, however, are available for either the total Jewish population of any Roman province or that of individual communities. Not even Palestine has left behind records from which one could derive dependable statistics. Babylonian Jewry fell almost totally silent from the days of Ezra and Nehemiah to the second century c.e., although the presence there of great masses of Jews is not subject to doubt. Josephus' attempt to justify his behavior during the great Roman-Jewish War of 66–70 by first writing his history of that war in Aramaic is definite proof of the importance of those communities outside the Roman Empire. But numerically there are only such vague assertions as Josephus' statement that "myriads upon myriads" of Jews lived in the Euphrates Valley, while admitting that their "number could not be ascertained" (Ant., 11:133). Egypt, next to Palestine harboring the most culturally creative Jewish community of the time, embraced about a million Jews in the first century c.e., according to a casual remark by the well-informed Philo Judaeus. Other sources show that Jews probably predominated in two of the five quarters of Alexandria, that great emporium of trade and cultural activity, the population of which is variously estimated at 500,000 to 1,000,000. They may, indeed, have formed almost 40% of the population, in which case the Alexandrine community may well have exceeded in size that of Jerusalem in its heyday. There are also glimpses of such lesser Egyptian communities as the *Elephantine Jewish colony under the Achaemenids and Apollinopolis Magna or Edfu under the Ptolemies and Romans.

To be sure, certain data reported by the rabbis seem vastly exaggerated. For instance, the figures given for the attendance at the Passover sacrifices at the Temple of Jerusalem shortly before its destruction (Tosef., Pes. 4:3; Pes. 64b) cannot be taken at their face value. The Temple could not possibly have accommodated at any time a bare fraction of that number even if the Jews offered their sacrifices in frequent relays. A little more informative are the reports of the casualties in deaths and prisoners sustained by Jerusalem during the Roman siege. The figures transmitted by such distinguished historians as Josephus and Tacitus ranging between 600,000 fatalities and 1,197,000 dead and captured (Jos., Wars, 6:420; Tacitus, Historiae, 5:13) are not quite so out of line as they appear at first glance. Jerusalem's population before the siege had been swelled by countless numbers of pilgrims from all over the Dispersion and refugees from the provinces previously occupied by the Roman legions.

A new factor was injected into the discussion by the report of Gregory bar Hebraeus, a 12th-century Syrian chronicler of Jewish descent, about a census of the Jewish population taken by Emperor Claudius in 48 c.e. (Historia compendiosa dynastiarum, ed. by E. Pococke, 75, 116; ed. by A. Salhani, 115). According to this report, first brought to the attention of students of ancient Jewish history by Jean Juster, Claudius found no less than 6,944,000 Jews within the confines of the empire. To be sure, some scholars denied the authenticity of this report, or attributed the census to one of Roman citizens, rather than of Jews. However, the weight of evidence still favors the acceptance of that figure as the most likely approximation of the number of Jews living within the empire. To them must be added the numerous Jews of Babylonia, the Iranian Plateau, the Yemen, and Ethiopia. It stands to reason, therefore, that shortly before the fall of Jerusalem the world Jewish population exceeded 8,000,000, of whom probably not more than 2,350,000–2,500,000 lived in Palestine. Other major countries of Jewish settlement included Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and Babylonia, each probably embracing more than 1,000,000 Jews. Even Rome, the capital of the empire, seems to have included a Jewish community of about 40,000 in a total population of some 800,000, if we accept the figure of 8,000 Roman Jews accompanying a Palestinian delegation in the year 4 b.c.e., and 4,000 Jewish youths reputedly deported by Tiberius to the salt mines of Sardinia, as reported by Josephus (Ant., 17:300; 18:84) and Tacitus (Annales, 2, 85). This numerical strength of the Jewish population was important not only for the subsequent destinies of the Jewish people but also for the rise and expansion of Christianity. No less an authority than Adolf Harnack developed the theory that only where Jewish communities existed in the first century were there substantial Christian congregations before Constantine the Great in the early fourth century.

Unfortunately, after the fall of Jerusalem the demographic sources relating to Jews almost completely dried up. Unquestionably, the total number of Jews rapidly declined. As a result of the war ravages in 66–70, during the uprisings against Trajan in 115–117 and the *Bar Kokhba War in 132–35 the population of Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus, and other areas diminished sharply. Jerusalem for a while ceased to be a Jewish city altogether. After Trajan, Egyptian Jewry, though not completely suppressed, became almost totally silent for nearly a century; it never recovered from that mortal blow until centuries after the Muslim conquest. The conversion of some Jews to the new Christian religion was further aggravated by the more or less continuous Roman oppression culminating in the anti-Jewish legislation of the Christian Roman emperors from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Nor could the Jews entirely escape the impact of the biological decline of the empire as a whole from the third century on. Ultimately, in 632 Emperor Heraclius outlawed Judaism altogether. At the same time, through both immigration and natural growth, the Jewish population in Babylonia and elsewhere throughout the resurgent Persian Empire under the Sassanid dynasty (after 226) grew rapidly and, by the fourth century, may have equaled in size that of Rome and Byzantium. But no estimates of any kind, nor even informed guesses, can be made for the actual numbers of Jews inhabiting either empire.

Characteristically, however, the Jewish dispersion continued to expand in all directions. During those centuries some Jews seem to have penetrated India, as well as parts of Africa outside of Rome's control, while, if tradition is to be believed, some individuals even reached China. In the West there is some documentary and epigraphic evidence about Jewish settlements in Gaul, Germany, Hungary (Pannonia), Romania (Dacia), and perhaps even Britain. But these outlying Jewries were, for the most part, very small, and influenced the size of the world Jewish population to but a minor extent.

Medieval Islam and Byzantium

Curiously, for the long medieval period (from 313 or 476 c.e. to 1492) there is no global figure for the Jewish population of any year even comparable to the reconstruction, however uncertain, of the Claudian census in the mid-first century. There are only stray records pertaining to individual communities in different areas and periods which rarely lend themselves to any overall "guesstimates." The following medieval data are, therefore, even more tentative than those for the Ancient period. Palestine Jewry, though greatly decimated by the wars and Roman persecutions, seems nevertheless to have recovered sufficiently to be able to stage several revolts against their oppressive masters. According to one Christian chronicler even 4,000 Jews living in neighboring Tyre were able to start a revolt in 610, with the aid of 20,000 Jewish soldiers assembled from Palestine, Damascus, and Cyprus (Eutychius ibn Baṣrīq, Annales, in J.P. Migne's Patrologia graeca, 111:1084f.; and in Arabic text, ed. by L. Cheikho et al., 1:216). Another large-scale uprising, supported by an invading Persian army, was so successful that for three years the Jews seem to have exercised control over large parts of the country including Jerusalem and Tiberias (614–617). The repression in 629–632, however, was sharp and swift. Yet the total outlawry of Judaism in 632 hardly began to be implemented when five years later the Arab armies overran the country.

Jerusalem, which since the days of Bar Kokhba's defeat had only a sporadic and largely surreptitious Jewish settlement, was gradually reopened to Jewish residents under the Muslim domination. At first, Caliph Omar i admitted only 70 Jewish families. But this number increased considerably in the following generations owing to both Rabbanite and Karaite immigration. Similarly Caesarea, which in the Byzantine period had served as the administrative capital of the province, continued to harbor a substantial Jewish population, although the figures given by Balādhurī (200,000 Jews, 30,000 Samaritans, 700,000 Byzantine soldiers) and Yāqūt (100,000 Jews, 80,000 Samaritans, 100,000 soldiers) are fantastically exaggerated. This evolution was cut short by the bloodbath perpetrated by the conquering Crusaders in 1099 from which the Jewish community but slowly recovered. Some 70 years later the traveler Benjamin of Tudela found in Jerusalem a small community of perhaps 1,000 persons (the extant manuscripts differ between 4 and 200 families), while in 1218 Judah Al-Ḥarizi noted the presence there of three Jewish congregations. A similar divergence may be observed between Benjamin's estimate of 3,000 Jews in Damascus and the 10,000 Jews quoted, a decade later, by another visitor, Pethahiah of Regensburg.

The other great center of Jewish life, Babylonia, seems more successfully to have conserved its biological strength. Despite the numerous sufferings inflicted upon the Jews by the Mazdakite movement during the chaotic fifth century, the figure of 90,000 Jews welcoming the arrival of the Arab general Ali (Iggeret Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 101) is not out of the range of historical probability. Under the Muslim administration the Jews of Babylonia and the neighboring Iranian Plateau continued to expand. The city of Sura, for example, the seat of a famous rabbinic academy, was found by a tenth-century Muslim investigating committee to have a large Jewish majority (Ibn abī Uṣaybiʿa, Ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ, ed. by A. Mueller, 1:221). The original Aramaic name of Mosul, Ḥesna Ebraya ("Hebrew Castle": the Jews themselves called it Ashshur) was undoubtedly deserved before the city grew into a major administrative and economic center. These old communities were speedily overshadowed by Baghdad after 762 when it became the capital of the vast Caliphate. In spite of the empire's dissolution and the chaotic conditions which prevailed there in the tenth century, Benjamin still found in the Baghdad of the 1160s a flourishing Jewish community of perhaps 40,000 persons. According to the Arab writer, Ibn al-Naqqāsh, the Mongolian invaders of Baghdad in 1258 counted there no less than 36,000 Jewish taxpayers – doubtless an exaggeration. In any case Jews constituted but a small segment of a population which at times may have ranged from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 in size.

Egyptian Jewry, too, seems to have gradually recovered from its sharp decline of the second century. Although the glorious community of Alexandria had never recovered its former size and intellectual eminence and, in 414, had suffered from a serious, if unauthorized, expulsion, the conquering Arabs exaggeratingly claimed to have found there in 640 no less than "400,000 poll-tax paying Jews" (Eutychius, Annales, in: PG 111: 1107; in the Arabic text, ed. by Cheikho, 2:26). Here, too, the recovery proceeded apace under the Muslim rule, particularly the friendly Fatimid and Seljuk regimes of the 11th and 12th centuries. In the newly developed capital of Fostat (Old Cairo) Benjamin found 7,000, and in Alexandria, 3,000 Jewish families. He also saw or heard of numerous other Jewish communities throughout the land. Taking these figures as representing persons, rather than families, some careful historians calculated that all of Egypt had a Jewish population of no more than 20,000–40,000, which is probably too conservative a ratio in the country's general population of perhaps 7,000,000–8,000,000. While Benjamin's estimates do not quite tally with the evidence of local sources, particularly those preserved in the Cairo *Genizah, they all give the impression of populous and often flourishing Jewish settlements.

To the west of Egypt there were growing Jewish communities in Kairouan (Tunisia), Morocco, and particularly Muslim Spain. However, no precise data are available on the demographic situation in most of these communities. Only here and there are there some figures, as a rule none too reliable, in the writings of Arab chroniclers and geographers or in rabbinic sources. The famous Moroccan community of Fez, for example, is said to have sustained 6,000 Jewish fatalities during the massacre of 1032–33. In Spain, al-Idrīsī calls the frontier town of Tarragona a "city of Jews" (Description de l'Afrique, ed. and trans. by R. Dozy and M.J. de Goeje, 191 (Ar.) and 231 (Fr.)). In addressing the Jewish leaders of Lucena the ninth-century Babylonian Gaon, Natronai b. Hilai, casually mentions that "there are no gentiles living among you at all" (Responsum, reproduced in B.M. Lewin's Oẓar ha-Ge'onim, vol. 3, 1, 24f. no. 64). Even the celebrated city of Granada is, doubtless for good reason, called by al-Ḥimyarī Ighranāṭat-al-Yahūd ("Jewish Granada"; in La Peninsule Ibérique, ed. by E. Lévi-Provençal, 23, 42f. (Ar.), 29ff., 53ff. (Fr.)). Córdoba, the metropolis of Muslim Spain, also included a very sizable Jewish community. Although these stray data do not allow for any comprehensive estimate of the Jewish population of the whole country, it appears that here, too, Ely Ashtor's estimate of but 50,000–55,000 Jews in the whole Iberian Peninsula around 1050 (in a general population of some 7,000,000–9,000,000) is the result of excessive caution. Even under the intolerant Almohad domination of the 12th century many, perhaps most, Jews continued secretly to profess Judaism. They "rolled with the waves" until the 13th-century reconquest by the Christian Spaniards, when they could once again overtly profess Judaism and resume their demographic as well as socioeconomic and cultural expansion.

Similar uncertainties beset the demographic historian trying to ascertain the size of the Jewish population in the Byzantine Empire. It is a remarkable testimony to the enormous vitality of the Jewish people that, despite four successive total outlawries of Judaism in 632, 722–3, 873–4, and 930, it survived and resumed its historic evolution, without noticeable breaks in its continuity. At any rate, when around 1160 Benjamin of Tudela visited Constantinople, he found there no less than 2,000 Rabbanite and 500 Karaite families. For that time this was an impressive estimate of 12,000–15,000 Jews, although they evidently constituted but a small minority of the capital's population which, ranging between 50,000 and 100,000 persons, by far exceeded that of any Christian city of the period. Some ten to fifteen years later, Pethahiah of Regensburg, on arriving in Byzantium, was so overawed by the number and size of its Jewish communities, which sharply contrasted with the underpopulated cities and Jewish settlements of his German homeland, that he exclaimed: "There are there [in the Byzantine Empire] so many congregations that the land of Israel could not contain them, were they to be settled therein." Nonetheless, there is no way of closely estimating the total Jewish population of the empire, both before or after the Arab expansion of the 630s.

Here, too, much of the demographic information depends on data supplied by Benjamin of Tudela. Regrettably, different manuscript of his travelogue quote figures with considerable variants. The question whether he had in mind persons, taxpayers, or families still is largely unresolved. It is quite possible that some of his figures represented different entities and that he merely reported numbers as they were given to him by local informants in the towns he happened to visit. Though displaying unusual interest in Jewish demography and probably quite accurately transmitting the information he received, he was, needless to say, unable to check it. With all these weaknesses, Benjamin is relatively the most reliable guide. It has been shown that the sum total of his figures was 512,532. Since he did not visit all communities and did not record figures even in many of those he had seen, these numbers must at least be doubled. In short, at the end of the 12th century the world Jewish population may well have embraced 1,000,000, perhaps even close to 2,000,000 persons, the large majority of whom still resided in countries under the domination of Islam. This situation began changing rapidly in the 13th century, when the center of gravity of the Jewish people shifted to the Western lands. With the rest of the population, the Eastern Jewries declined sharply, to be revitalized only under the Ottoman Empire of the late 15th and the 16th centuries.

Medieval West

Despite the availability of much more ample and better-investigated source materials, population studies of medieval Western Jewry are likewise affected by great uncertainties. Apart from the general decline of population during the Barbarian invasions, many Jewish settlements were totally destroyed during the wave of intolerance which, in the seventh century, swept through Visigothic Spain, Merovingian France, and Langobard Italy. Thereafter the total number of Jews in Western Europe, including Germany, must have been very small indeed. The only continuous major settlements carried over from Antiquity were in the Papal States, southern Italy, parts of Spain, and southern France. However, here, too, the general population decline is well illustrated by the city of Rome which, from a metropolis embracing some 1,000,000 inhabitants at the end of the second century, was reduced to but 35,000 eight centuries later. Nonetheless, in the 1160s Benjamin could find substantial Jewish communities in Rome, Naples, Messina, and particularly in Palermo, whose 1,500 Jewish families undoubtedly formed the largest Jewish community under Roman Catholic Christianity. Rome itself may also have embraced at that time about 1,000 Jews.

Relatively, the best information deals with the conditions in medieval England. Owing to the comparatively small number of Jews, the availability of large and well-preserved source material, and untiring research by scholars, Christian and Jewish, over several decades, the evolution of the medieval Anglo-Jewish community has been fairly well elucidated. Its demographic aspects, however, have left many questions open. It appears that, beginning with the Norman Conquest of 1066, the number of Jewish settlers gradually reached about 2,500 persons before the massacres of 1190–91 and the ensuing flight of numerous Jews to the Continent. Within a few years English Jewry recovered its strength, however, and resumed its growth in the first half of the 13th century. Yet the endless fiscal exactions of Henry iii and the general hostility of the population, which found expression in a number of cities securing privileges de non tolerandis Judaeis, before long began taking their toll. Even at the expulsion of 1290 there were probably no more than about 10,000 Jews in a total population of about 3,500,000 in the country. This is avowedly a compromise figure between the decided underestimate by George Caro of no more than 3,000 Jewish residents and the records of contemporary chroniclers, whose reports about the Jews effected by the decree of expulsion of 1290 ranged from 15,000 to 17,500. Even that relatively small number was scattered over 91 cities, of which 21 (at their heyday, 27) were sufficiently important to contain royal archae where records of all Jewish loans were officially kept. In addition, there were more than 100 other localities in which individual Jews were mentioned in the sources. A few individuals seem also to have penetrated Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, though no organized community existed in any of these areas in the Middle Ages.

On the Continent Jewish demography depends for the most part on sporadically preserved tax records. In the case of capitation taxes it is relatively easy to multiply the number of taxpayers by whatever quotient is derived from our knowledge, otherwise obtained, of their ratio to minors, indigents, and other non-paying groups. Of course, here, too, it was in the best interest of the Jewish communities to underestimate the number of taxpayers whereas the government authorities sought to exaggerate them. In addition, there were sporadic censuses of population, including Jews, such as was instituted in Aix-en-Provence in 1341 on orders of King Robert of Anjou. It revealed that, at that time, 1,205 Jews occupied 203 houses and constituted some 10% of the city's population. A Jewish taxpaying "hearth" averaged 5.9 members, while individual households included a membership of up to 30 persons. In contrast, a similar census in Carpentras in 1471 revealed a Jewish average of only 4.3 per "hearth," as against 5.2 persons per Christian "hearth." The latter discrepancy is explainable only by the intervening trials and tribulations of Carpentras Jewry which was always treated more harshly by both the populace and the city council than that of its larger neighbor, Avignon. Here no less than 210 Jewish heads of households were called upon in 1358 to take an oath of allegiance to the pope, which indicates the presence of a Jewish community of well over 1,000 persons. In general, the Jewish population of Provence and the papal possessions in France exceeded the general ratio of Jews in the rest of France and for that matter anywhere in Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees. Already in the days of Benjamin the community of Arles, with its 200 families, seems to have formed some 20% of the city's population. The smaller town of Tarascon embraced 125 Jewish families in 1442, 183 families in 1487. On the other hand, Narbonne, once the leading southern French community and, in Carolingian times, the seat of a "Jewish king," steadily declined and, shortly before the 1306 expulsion, numbered no more than 1,000 Jews among the city's 15,000 inhabitants. Similarly, Toulouse in 1391 had only 15 Jewish families in a population of 25,000–30,000. All of Gascony under English domination apparently never exceeded that total of 1,000 Jews before their banishment in 1288. More remarkably, the "great city" of Paris (Benjamin), where, before the expulsion of 1182, some chroniclers spoke exaggeratingly of Jews forming half the city's population and owning half its real estate, in fact embraced at no time before the final expulsion of 1394many more than the 124 taxpayers (in 86 households) among the 15,200 taxpayers recorded in 1292 in a total population of 80,000 or more counted in 1328.

No house-to-house canvasses are recorded in the Holy Roman Empire. There we depend principally on tax records which, however, are almost invariably incomplete. Even the very significant list of taxpaying Jewish communities in 1241 omits such large Jewish settlements as that of Nuremberg. On the other hand, Germany has preserved a number of examples of the memorbuch which, by recording victims of persecutions by name, are the most dependable, if partial, sources of demographic information. In Nuremberg, for example, 628 such fatalities are recorded as a result of the *Rindfleisch massacres of 1298; despite the community's subsequent recovery, 570 more Jews lost their lives in the massacre of 1349. Wuerzburg sustained in 1298 no less than 900 casualties, of whom 100 are specifically mentioned as nonresidents. Even smaller communities like Weissensee or Ueberlingen could lose 125 and over 300 Jews respectively, in massacres resulting from local *blood libels in 1303 and 1332. However, such incidental records give us but a remote approximation of the total Jewish population in the respective periods. The only conclusion one may draw from these stray references is that, especially after 1350, most German Jewish communities were very small.

In Jewish, as in general West and Central European life, the 14th century was a period of great crisis, both economically and biologically. The recurrent famines (1315–17, etc.) and pestilences – the greatest of the epidemics, the *Black Death of 1348–49, was but one of a series of destructive diseases – resulted in a long-lasting decline in population. During many decades an annual birthrate of 39 per 1,000 population was exceeded by a mortality rate of 41 per 1,000. Hence life expectancy of newly born children in many areas sank as low as 17–20 years. Jews not only fell victim to these widely spreading contaminations, but were often massacred in advance of the plague by their panic-stricken Christian neighbors, as alleged "poisoners of the wells" responsible for the contagion. Not surprisingly, their numbers declined frightfully even in a city like Vienna, which was restrained by its rulers from attacking Jews, despite its daily losses of 500 (occasionally up to 1,200) dead to the plague. Its Jewry, considered by some informed contemporaries the largest Jewish community in the empire, 70 years later had only 92 male and 122 female martyrs during the persecution (the so-called Gezerah) of 1421. The celebrated Jewish community of Augsburg listed only 17 and 21 Jewish taxpayers in 1401 and 1437, and in the following year banished the whole community of 300 persons. Erfurt, which a short time before possessed four or five synagogues and four slaughterhouses for the supply of ritually permissible meat, dwindled to a total of only 50–86 taxpayers in 1357–89. Similarly Frankfurt, which was destined to play so great a role in German Jewish history in the following centuries, embraced only a few Jewish families in the 1360s, and as late as 1462, when its new ghetto was formally established, it counted no more than about 200 inhabitants. If during that period many German Jews found shelter in the neighboring lands of Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary (each destined to occupy an imposing place in the modern history of the Jewish people), before 1500 c.e. their total numbers, even when augmented by the earlier settlers in part stemming from territories further east, still were quite small before the end of the Middle Ages.

The largest agglomerations of Jews under medieval Christendom were to be found on the Iberian and Apennine peninsulas together with the adjacent Balearic Islands and Sicily. Spain, the largest and most influential focus of medieval Judaism, has preserved a great many demographically relevant records, some of which are yet to be explored. However, their evaluation by modern scholars has diverged very greatly. While the first careful investigator of the subject, Isidore Loeb, estimated the Jewish population of Castile at 160,000 around 1300 c.e., Yitzḥak Baer, the outstanding student of Spanish Jewish history, attributes to that kingdom only some 3,600 Jewish families at that time. Together with Navarre and Aragon, he believes, the combined Jewish population did not exceed 40,000. Once again the truth seems to be somewhere in between, and a total of 150,000 would seem to offer a much closer approximation. Remarkably, neither the Jewish nor the general population suffered permanently irretrievable losses as a result of the Black Death of 1348–49, or the subsequent major plagues of 1394–96 and 1490. Despite various setbacks, especially after 1391, the Iberian Jewish population continued to grow, particularly in Castile, and there is somewhat more agreement about the number of Jews affected by the expulsion of 1492. The best approximation was given by Meir Melammed, son-in-law of "Chief Rabbi" Abraham Senior, and another Jew (both of whom preferred conversion to exile) who estimated the number of Jewish families affected by the decree of expulsion at 35,000 in Castile and 6,000 in Aragon (Andrés Bernaldez, Historia de los Reyes Catolicos, cxff.). Not very much higher is the figure of 300,000 Jewish inhabitants of Spain, cited by Isaac Abrabanel, the leader of the departing exiles (Ma'yenei ha-yeshu'ah, introd.). If it be true that some 120,000 of these expatriates proceeded to neighboring Portugal (Abraham Zacuto, Sefer Yuḥasin, 277a), the total Jewish population of the smaller country may have reached 200,000 to be affected by the forced conversion of 1496–97. These large figures lent themselves to easy exaggeration and even such a well-informed and careful 16th-century historian and political theorist as Juan Mariana glibly speaks of 800,000 Spanish Jews affected by the expulsion (Historia general de España, ed. by J.M. Gutiérrez, vol. 5, 440). In the Iberian case, moreover, there is a major problem of estimating the number of Conversos (including numerous secret Judaizers) who lived under the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella and whose number was greatly increased by those Jews who in 1492 preferred baptism to exile. These Conversos were to furnish a considerable number of members to the growing Marrano dispersion in the West, while others found ways of speedily returning to Judaism by settling in Muslim lands.

Somewhat less controversial is the size of the large Jewish population of Sicily and the kingdom of Naples. Sicily alone doubtless had a Jewish population of more than 50,000 in the 15th century, many of whom departed in 1492 for Naples, Rome, and other localities. Combined with refugees from Spain, the Sicilian exiles may well have temporarily doubled the Jewish population of the kingdom of Naples before the expulsion of Jews in 1511 and 1541. At the same time, the resettlement of Jewish communities in Italy north of the Papal States was proceeding rather slowly and the glorious Renaissance republics of Florence, Ferrara, Venice, and others became really important areas of Jewish settlement only in the early modern period.

In short, after considering these and many other complicated factors and in full realization of the perilous nature of any computation, S. Baron has submitted Table 2, Jewish Population in European Countries before 1500 c.e. covering the Jewish population in Western and Central Europe during the last centuries of the Middle Ages.


The three centuries of the early modern period were at first marked by a simultaneous expansion and contraction of Jewish settlement, which of course had an important bearing on Jewish demography as well. On the one hand, the wave of expulsions from England, France, the Iberian Peninsula, and many Italian and German territories of the period from 1290 to 1500 now continued unabated. Jews were ousted permanently from the kingdom of Naples in 1511 and 1541; from the duchy of Milan in 1597; and from the Papal States (except Rome and Ancona) on a more temporary basis, in 1569 and 1593. The banishment of the Jews from Regensburg in 1519 and Rothenburg in 1520 was followed during the early Reformation period by expulsion from Saxony in 1536, Brandenburg (after their readmission in 1540) in 1571, and many other German principalities, bishoprics, and free cities. The result was a greater diffusion of Jews into smaller localities, even villages, in both Italy and Germany – a trend which was reversed only during the Thirty Years' War. At the same time there was not only a great expansion of the Jewish people into Poland-Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire, and other Muslim countries, but through the Marrano dispersion there was the incipient resettlement of Jews, first secret and later overt, in Western Europe. There was also the beginning of Jewish participation in the colonization of the New World, as well as of the Far East and some African territories by the great colonial powers.

If, on balance, the Jewish settlement in the middle of the 17th century extended over a much larger area than that of 1500 c.e., the growth of Jewish population did not keep pace with that geographic expansion. Certainly those New Christians, who by 1660 had formally returned to Judaism, were but a small fraction of the descendants of the original Conversos on the Iberian Peninsula. The small size of the Jewish or Marrano settlements did not prevent, however, unfriendly observers from magnifying the Jewish presence beyond measure. Even a great scholar like Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had had hardly any contacts with living Jews, could exclaim with abandon: "Jews are very numerous in Italy; in Spain there are hardly any Christians. I am afraid that when the occasion arises that pest, formerly suppressed, will raise its head again" (Opus epistolarum, 3:253; 4:114). More recklessly, temperamental Martin Luther once contended that Italy was so full of Jews that, for instance, Cremona had no more than 28 Christians among its inhabitants (Tischreden, 3:369f.; 4:619f.). These comments were made at a time when Italy's most populous areas of Naples and Sicily no longer had any professing Jews. After 1569, moreover, the Papal States, too, but grudgingly admitted Jews outside Rome and Ancona but never in sufficient numbers to justify the maintenance of some 115 synagogues such as had existed before the 1569 expulsion. Similarly, the Jews readmitted to Brandenburg in 1540 formed but tiny communities

Country1300 C.E.1490 C.E.
JewsGeneral populationJewsGeneral population
France (including Avignon)100,00014,000,00020,00020,000,000
Holy Roman Empire (including Switzerland and the Low Countries)100,00012,000,00080,00012,000,000
Spain (Castile, Aragon, and Navarre)150,0005,500,000250,0007,000,000

of eight to ten families in Berlin, Stendal, and Frankfurt on the Oder when they were once again banished 31 years later. It was only in the 17th and particularly the 18th century that the German-speaking Jewry of the Holy Roman Empire, aided by immigration from Eastern Europe and later by the inclusion in Prussia and Austria of formerly Polish territories through the partitions of Poland in 1772–95, started rising significantly throughout the country.

At the same time, the "Golden Age" of both Polish Jewry and Poland as a whole in the 16th and early 17th centuries was largely terminated in the era of the Chmielnicki uprising (1648–49) and the Swedish-Muscovite wars of 1648–56. Not only did Polish Jewry sustain very severe losses in human lives but, combined with the general economic decline of the country, these disturbances set in motion a Jewish mass emigration which kept the growth of the population at a relatively low rate. Nevertheless the Jewish numerical strength continued gaining and the area of what was Poland-Lithuania in 1648 may well have embraced a Jewish population twice as large in 1800. The majority was now included in the Russian Empire which, after many centuries of refusing to admit Jews – as late as 1740 the whole Jewish population of 292 menand 281 women, scattered through 130 manorial estates in the Ukraine and Belorussia, was expelled – thus suddenly became the largest country of Jewish settlement.

Unfortunately, dependable demographic data on Jews are available only in very few areas. Italy, to be sure, often conducted population censuses, and information concerning Jews in various Italian communities of the early modern period is quite illuminating. The emergent Jewish communities in France, England, and particularly Holland can also be estimated with close approximation to the truth. On the other hand, the Holy Roman Empire, until its dissolution in 1806, offers only sporadic insights into the number of its Jewish inhabitants. In Poland-Lithuania the Jewish population in certain cities can be estimated with a fair degree of accuracy, while vast areas in the country are subject to more or less questionable estimates based on the yield of the capitation tax which in 1560 amounted to only 6,186 florins (on an assessment of 1.50 florins per family), but rose to 80,000 florins in 1634 and to 220,000 florins in 1714 (both representing collections of 3 florins per person). There were also a number of regional censuses (so-called lustracje), but only those of 1764–65 shortly before the partitions of Poland have left behind more comprehensive and reliable records; they have also been subjected to closer scrutiny by modern scholars.

In contrast, the enormously important Jewish settlement of the Ottoman Empire, with its western Asiatic and North African provinces, offers an almost hopeless problem to the demographic historian. It stands to reason that, since the empire had seen its glory progressively dimmed from 1600 on and its Jewish subjects suffered serious setbacks several decades later in the era of the Shabbatean movement, the forward motion of both the Jewish and the general populations also greatly slowed down. Yet it appears that, as in Poland, such retardation did not completely halt the numerical expansion of the Jewish masses. However, this assumption cannot be supported by precise statistical data despite the fact that the Ottoman archives have preserved many records of detailed censuses, some of which go back to the 15th century. These records are in many ways far superior to what is preserved in most Western countries of that period. Yet even with the aid of so-called defters, or brief summaries kept in the archival registries, these sources have thus far been scrutinized only to a very slight extent. The few Jewish studies heretofore published relate almost exclusively to Palestine's population under the early Ottoman regime. They have opened up new vistas and whetted the appetite for more information but they have supplied only disjointed fragments which do not add up to a total picture. Equally unsatisfactory is knowledge of Jewish demography in the North-African countries. Only here and there do the sources, often derived from casual observation by foreign visitors, mention figures pertaining to the size of Jewish communities. Yet with some effort and ingenuity Maurice Eisenbeth succeeded in compiling, on the basis of such reports, approximate statistics of Jewish inhabitants in the city of Algiers. His estimates for the 16th century range from 1,000 to 5,000 Jews. About 1600 their number rises to 8,000 or 9,000 persons, while about 1700 it reaches a peak of 10,000–12,000. In the course of the 18th century the Jewish population declines to some 7,000 and is further reduced to but 5,000 by 1818 (M. Eisenbeth, Les Juifs en Algerie et en Tunisie à l'epoque turque (1576–1830), 147ff.).

In the following we can refer, therefore, only to a number of illustrations of Jewish communities which have undergone extraordinary expansion, while others have lagged behind. In Italy the papal capital under the Renaissance popes allowed its Jewry to grow, so that it may have reached the number of 2,500–3,000 Jews before the expulsion from the rest of the Papal States in 1569. Although locked in a formal ghetto since 1555, the Rome community continued to grow because after 1569 it had to absorb a great many refugees from the provinces. It is estimated that in 1592 it embraced 3,500 persons in a total population of 97,000. A century later the Jewish population is said to have reached a peak of 10,000–12,000 persons which was never exceeded thereafter even in the 20th century. In the 18th century the Jewish population dropped back to a median of 3,076 persons, according to the official records of 1775–1800. Venice, after the expulsion of Jews in the Middle Ages, did not tolerate them at all until 1509 and in 1516 shut them off in a ghetto, the first to bear that name. But subsequently it allowed the Jewish community to grow rather speedily so that by the middle of the 17th century it may have reached a total of 5,000 persons. Even more remarkably, Leghorn, which had few Jews before 1593, embraced 114 in 1601, 711 in 1622, and 1,175 in 1642. It continued to grow in the following decades; the official censuses refer to a Jewish population of 3,476 in 1738, 4,327 in 1784, and 4,697 in 1806. Leghorn thus competed with Rome and Venice for the designation of the largest Jewish community in Italy. Even a medium-sized community, such as that of Verona, grew to 400 persons in 1600 and over 1,000 in 1751. In contrast, many cities, including Genoa, never admitted more than a handful of Jews. The constant ups and downs in the size of respective communities are well illustrated by the following estimates for the three neighboring Jewish centers in the duchy of Urbino. In 1628 Pesaro had 610 Jewish inhabitants, Urbino 370, Senigallia 200. By 1700 the respective figures were about 600, 200, 600, Senigallia assuming the cultural, as well as numerical, leadership. Historically, the relatively small Jewish communities of Piedmont (its capital Turin first reached a Jewish population of 500 in 1563) were to play an important role in the 19th century when their country marched in the vanguard of Italian unification. All of Italy embraced some 25,000 Jews in 1638, according to the well-informed apologist Simone Luzzatto (Discorso circa il stato degl' hebrei, 91). At this level Italian Jewry remained more or less stabilized during the following two centuries while the general Italian population grew from about 11,000,000 in the 17th century to 18,125,000 in 1800, and 23,000,000 in 1850.

In Germany, too, some startling increases contrasted with declines or, at best, demographic stagnation. In Frankfurt, which had only 110 Jews at the time when the community moved into its assigned quarter in 1462, the number grew to 250 in 1520, 900 in 1569, 2,200 in 1600. By 1613 the assailants of Jews led by Vincent Fettmilch complained that the 454 Jewish families in the city engaged in too sharp a competition with the Christian artisans and traders. The concentration of about 3,000 Jews within the original quarter throughout the 17th and 18th centuries caused that tremendous overcrowding which made the Frankfurt ghetto a byword in Jewish literature. Hamburg admitted a few New Christians in the 16th century but did not legally recognize the presence of a Jewish community until 1612. Its Jewry, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, grew rapidly (together with the sister communities of Altona and Wandsbeck which jointly formed the single tri-community of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck, abbreviated into ahu according to its Hebrew initials) during the following two centuries, reaching in 1810 the number of 6,299 Jews, according to the official census. It thus was second only to the community of Prague among the Jewish settlements in the empire. The Bohemian capital, a much older community, which had maintained its historic continuity despite several decrees of expulsion in the 16th century and again in 1744 (often not seriously implemented), was throughout the early modern period a major center of Central European Jewish life and learning. By 1729 it embraced, according to an official census, 10,507 persons.

At the same time a great many German Jews of the 16th and early 17th centuries lived scattered through countless hamlets and villages. An investigation conducted in 1541 in the Memmingen district revealed the presence of but 40 Jewish families living in 11 localities. Throughout Germany there were such small Jewish settlements with but one to ten families trying to eke out a meager livelihood and yet instilling in their children a pride in, and knowledge of their Jewish heritage. This great dispersal was largely the result of the preceding wave of expulsions of Jews from the major cities, including their famous medieval settlements of Mainz, Speyer, Cologne, and Regensburg, and their finding shelter, however precariously, under the domination of the petty lords. This trend was reversed, however, during the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) when Jews fleeing before the marching armies and pillaging marauders often had to be admitted to the larger cities, which in turn found that they often benefited greatly from Jewish trade and taxation. Thus was ushered in the era of progressive urbanization of German Jewry, which was to make tremendous strides in the 19th and early 20th centuries. An example of such growing concentration in German metropolitan areas is offered by Prussia of the days of Frederick the Great. While no reliable data for Jews in that rapidly expanding state are available, a well-informed student, Friedrich Wilhelm August Bratring, estimated that in 1750 Berlin had 2,188 Jews (in a population of 133,520), while the rest of the Kurmark accommodated only 1,685 of their coreligionists. Twenty years later the Berlin Jewish community embraced 3,842 persons (an increase of nearly 80%), whereas the provincial communities together totaled only 1,996 persons (an increase of but 20%). In the subsequent three decades, to be sure, Berlin's Jewish inhabitants numerically declined in contrast to both the city's general population and the provincial Jewries, but this was a mere temporary interruption in the process of rapid growth which brought the size of Berlin Jewry up to 172,672 in 1925.

The Netherlands, emerging from the War of Liberation as a forward-looking and relatively liberal state, embraced but a few New Christians in the late 16th century. But, beginning in 1593, the country witnessed a tremendous expansion in the number and size of Jewish settlements which, two centuries later, embraced a population of well over 50,000. Amsterdam alone accommodated in 1795 no less than 21,000 Ashkenazi and 2,400 Sephardi Jews. Its community, often styled the "New Jerusalem," exceeded in size any contemporary or earlier European Jewish community, except perhaps those of ancient Rome and early modern Constantinople.

France's total Jewish population at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789 amounted to less than 40,000. Their majority was concentrated in Alsace – which at the time of its annexation by France after 1648 included a number of older Jewish communities. Lorraine's Metz speedily developed into a major center of some 3,000 Jews, whereas Strasbourg, the metropolis of the area, saw its privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis breached only in the 1780s. A governmental census of 1784, probably incomplete, enumerated 182 Alsatian localities embracing a Jewish population of 3,913 families and 19,707 persons (9,945 males and 9,762 females). The actual figures were a bit higher; Z. Szajkowski estimates the total at between 22,570 and 23,800 persons. It may also be noted that, in contrast to the German areas, Alsace under French domination witnessed a continued dispersal of Jewish settlements from 95 in 1689, to 129 in 1716, and 182 in 1784. Simultaneously, southern France, particularly Bordeaux and Saint Esprit, a suburb of Bayonne, in the 18th century accommodated a total of some 4,500 Jews. Characteristically, Paris, the very heart of French life and culture, barely tolerated 500–800 Jews at the outbreak of the French Revolution.

England's Jewish population, too, still was very small, as was that of the New World. It is estimated that English Jewry embraced some 6,000 persons in 1730, and 12,000 in 1791. Other contemporary estimates raise this figure to 20,000 and more at the end of the 18th century. The large majority was concentrated in London (R.D. Barnett, in: V.D. Lipman (ed.), Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History (1961), 60f.). In contrast, the six known communities in the United States during the American Revolution counted among them only little more than 2,000 Jews. Possibly the same number was scattered through the Caribbean Islands and Surinam; the largest community among them, that of Kingston, Jamaica, numbered some 500 Jews, and thus rivaled New York in continental North America. On the other hand, the community of French Martinique, which was allegedly reinforced by 400 Jewish refugees from Brazil in 1654, was wiped out by the French decree of expulsion of 1683. In Latin America, under its intolerant Spanish and Portuguese regimes, only New Christians were sometimes grudgingly allowed to settle. In some areas they were quite numerous. Out of them subsequently emerged groups of professing Jews who helped populate the Western Hemisphere. The largest of these groups lived in Recife, Brazil; more than 1,000 of them publicly professed Judaism during the short-lived Dutch domination (1630–54). Upon the return of the Portuguese, the majority found refuge in Surinam, the Caribbean Islands, New Amsterdam (later New York, where 23 of them in 1654 laid the foundations for the largest Jewish community in history), as well as Holland.


A new phase of Jewish demography began with the 19th century. More and more countries now conducted regular censuses; many included a column relating to religious faith. The vast majority of Jews unhesitatingly indicated their Jewish allegiance to the census takers. In the early 1800s, to be sure, when censuses were still taken primarily for fiscal and military purposes, numerous Jews hesitated to appear before the enumerators. Their fears of discriminatory treatment were enhanced by the old folkloristic apprehensions, nurtured by the biblical references to the effects of David's census. According to Gustav Adolf Schimmer, one of the early pioneers in Jewish population studies (1873), there were many localities in Eastern Europe, where upon the advent of the census takers the entire Jewish youth vanished from the scene, to reappear only after the enumerators' departure. In time, however, as the censuses became more purely administrative and scholarly undertakings and were periodically repeated, their accuracy usually improved by the use of more refined techniques. Apart from supplying definite figures of the Jewish population and such other relevant information as that of the Jewish birth and mortality rates, sex and age distribution, marriages and divorces, they offered periodic data revealing the prevailing trends.

Regrettably, this practice was not universal. Czarist Russia, where before 1914 almost half of the world Jewry resided, had no such dependable investigations until 1897 when the government and the Alliance Israélite Universelle from its Paris headquarters collaborated in the attempt to obtain more detailed statistical information about the Russian Jews who, because of recurrent pogroms and discriminatory legislation, had attracted world-wide attention. This endeavor was not repeated, however, except for a valiant but incomplete effort by the ort in 1921, until 1926 when the Soviet Union took a comprehensive census of its own. Here the Jews were listed as a national, rather than religious group; however, removing some elements of comparison with the earlier accounts. Even worse was the situation in the Ottoman Empire and the other Muslim lands, where before World War i all population statistics were in a deplorable state.

Not much better was the situation in the United States, the burgeoning world center of the Jewish people, which after World War i became the largest country of Jewish settlement. Because of the constitutional separation of state and church, the governmental censuses conducted every ten years since 1790 did not include a question on the person's religious allegiance. For a time the government collected data on the number of congregations affiliated with each denomination, their membership, and other pertinent factors. After 1890, however, the combination of these inquiries with the official decennial censuses was abandoned and a special "census of religious bodies" was instituted in the middle of each decade following the general census of 1900. The first such specific survey was made in 1906; it was followed by others in 1916, 1926, and 1936. However, the preparation of replies was left to the respective denominations themselves, many of which used different criteria for counting their members. In the case of Jews the religious censuses of 1906 and 1916 by definition counted only Jews who were members of congregations. In 1926 and 1936 a new definition was employed. The instructions given to the agent in charge read: "The Jews… now consider as members all persons of the Jewish faith living in communities in which local congregations are situated" (U.S. Census Bureau, Religious Bodies Summary, 1 (1926), 16). This definition greatly increased the totals from 357,135 in 1906 to 4,081,242 in 1916 and thereby removed the most important element for comparing the new results with the earlier accounts. The census itself admitted it by deleting any reference to Jews in the column recording the membership growth over the preceding two decades. Since the Jewish communities were unable to undertake a house-to-house enumeration, they had to rely upon information supplied by more or less informed local leaders whose estimates, frequently mere "guesstimates," often widely differed. The result was that the compilers of the census had to reach median numbers of such diverse estimates. The general result was that many figures, including the total membership of 4,641,184 in 1936, tended toward exaggeration. When almost simultaneously with the census of 1936 a more detailed canvass of ten important communities was conducted by local leaders under the sponsorship of the Conference on Jewish Relations, it turned out that the resulting more accurate figures ran between 8% and 20% below those suggested in the census. Of course, no one could be sure that the experience of these ten cities was typical of the whole country, particularly of the New York metropolitan area which apparently embraced some 40% of American Jewry.

Even in those Western European countries, such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, or Italy, where the governmental censuses included a query concerning the inhabitants' religious preference, the returns are not completely reassuring. In the first place, all census bureaus (including that of the United States which uses highly refined statistical techniques) count with a margin of error of at least 1–1.5%. In the case of Jewish respondents the difficulty is aggravated by the uncertainty of "who is a Jew." Many persons who considered themselves Jews refused to give the enumerator straight answers about their religious preference, either because they felt that religion should be treated as a "private" concern which no government had any right to probe, or because, for a variety of reasons, they personally tried to hide their Jewishness. There is also the problem of children of mixed marriages who, according to rabbinic law, are automatically considered Jews if their mother is Jewish – a distinction which in practice is often disregarded, positively as well as negatively. Baron has suggested, therefore, that for practical reasons everyone be regarded as a Jew "who (1) is born of Jewish parents and has never been converted to another faith; (2) is born of mixed parentage but declares himself a Jew and is so considered by the majority of his neighbors; and (3) one who by conscious will has adopted Judaism." In view of these largely subjective criteria it has been found doubly imperative to supplement the official census data, wherever such exist, by more searching sample studies.

Another complication has arisen in various countries as a result of the new Jewish national movement. Some Jews, professing no religion, nevertheless counted themselves as belonging to the Jewish "nationality," while others, even if staunchly Orthodox, regarded themselves as members of a different "nationality." Still other Jews who neither professed Judaism nor regarded themselves as nationally Jewish nonetheless thought of themselves as Jews and were thus regarded by their neighbors, Jewish and non-Jewish. The confusion arising from these varying definitions was well illustrated in 1921 in the first Czechoslovakian census. "The official figures showed that there were 336,520 Czechoslovak nationals [in addition to 17,822 foreigners] professing the 'Israelite' religion. Their majority, 180,616, declared themselves to be members of the Jewish nationality (this majority was larger in Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia but it turned into a minority in the main provinces of Moravia, Bohemia, and Silesia). Of the rest, 73,371 signed up as members of the Czech nationality, 49,123 as Germans, 29,473 as Magyars, 3,751 as Russians, 74 as Poles, and 112 as belonging to other nationalities. In addition, there were 100 persons who professed no religion but were members of the Jewish nationality. More astonishingly, there also were some members of the Jewish nationality who professed the Roman Catholic faith (74), Greek Catholicism (23), Greek Orthodoxy (12), Protestantism (19), and one woman, who was an adherent of the new Czechoslovak national faith. Thus the 180,616 members of the Jewish nationality who also professed the Jewish faith were joined by 229 co-nationals who professed other religions or none. There probably were many more thousands of Jews who never signed up as Jews by either nationality or religion and thus did not appear as such in the census" (S.W. Baron, "Who Is a Jew?" in History and Jewish Historians, 16f.).

The matter was far more serious in the Soviet Union. With its anti-religious bias the government eliminated all references to religious preference from the census, leaving only the Jewish nationality as a criterion. While most Jews declared themselves Jews by nationality, in each case the decision depended on the nationality entered in the passports of the respective heads of households. For one example, Leon Trotsky always signed up as a Russian by nationality, whereas Maxim Litvinov, even while serving as Soviet ambassador to the United States or as a Soviet foreign minister, always carried with him a passport marking his membership in the Jewish nationality. There is no way of telling how many Jews thus escaped being counted in the censuses of 1926, 1939, and again, in 1959. If the first Soviet census, even with respect to the territories which had formerly been part of Czarist Russia, was not quite comparable to the 1897 enumeration, the one of 1939 came on the eve of World War ii and the German invasion of Russia. It has been subjected, therefore, to little detailed scrutiny and its Jewish aspects in particular have been inadequately explored.

Nonetheless, the situation was not hopeless. Many countries such as Austria-Hungary and its successor states, Germany, interwar Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, the emergent settlement in Palestine under the Mandate, and others had regular censuses which yielded relatively reliable information also on all aspects of Jewish demography. From these data one may deduce much also concerning the conditions in countries lacking satisfactory official census records. At any rate, quite apart from the accuracy of specific figures, certain major trends in the rise or decline of the Jewish population clearly manifested themselves throughout the Jewish world in the course of the 19th and the first third of the 20th centuries. This period was characterized by a "population explosion" of the Western world. In the relatively peaceful period of 1815–1914 Europe's population more than doubled (from some 190,000,000 to over 400,000,000), while European émigrés helped populate the Western Hemisphere and other continents. The United States alone increased its population from 7,240,000 in 1810 to 91,972,000 in 1910. Growth of this rapidity was owing less to increase in natality than to a sharp decrease in the death rate – a result of the great progress of medical science and the spread of more hygienic ways of life among the European and American masses.

In the Jewish case these factors operated with redoubled intensity. Like their neighbors in Eastern Europe, Jews still married quite early, definitely earlier than the average couples in Central and Western Europe. Marriages of boys aged between 15 and 18 with 14–16-year-old girls were quite common. An 18th-century Polish census mentions a Jewish wife aged eight. (Even in the West the burgomaster of Amsterdam had to prohibit in 1712 a marriage of a Jewish couple under the age of 12.) These conditions prevailed through most of the 19th century. As late as 1891, Arnold White, an English visitor to the Jewish agricultural colonies in the Ukrainian province of Kherson, was told by some Russian landowners who employed Jews that "they have no vice, unless early, improvident, and fruitful marriages can be deemed a vice" (New Review, 5, 98). Moreover, more than their neighbors, East European Jews (and many West Europeans as well) took the rabbinic interpretation of the blessing in Genesis (1:28) "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" as the first commandment in the Bible, rather than a blessing. A great many did not even consider the "moral restraint," propagated by Thomas Robert Malthus, as truly moral and hence shunned any form of birth control. More importantly, while their natality may more or less have equaled that of their equally fruitful East European neighbors, mortality, particularly the most decisive one of infants under one year of age and of children between two and five, was decidedly lower. In Czarist Russia's European provinces, for example, where general mortality per 1,000 inhabitants had declined from 37.1 to 31.2 between 1861–70 and 1895–1904, respectively, of 1,000 newly born children no less than 268 died before reaching their first birthday – a figure practically unchanged for several decades. Suffice it to mention that by 1967 the United States reduced its infant mortality to 22.1 per 1,000 and the U.S.S.R. to 26.3. Nor can these two superpowers boast of leading the world in this respect; they lag far behind Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. The Jewish population of Israel had in 1966 an infant mortality of only 21.6 per 1,000. Among the reasons for the long-term Jewish record of keeping newly born children alive was the extreme rarity of illegitimate births among Jews. As late as 1929 and 1930 among 100 Jewish children born in Vilna only 0.5 and 0.9 were illegitimate, whereas the ratio among the Catholics was 14%. More generally, even in the crowded East European ghettos medical help was much more readily available, while better hygienic conditions prevailed owing to the numerous requirements for religious ablutions and ritual food controls. There also was relatively greater family cohesiveness and devotion of Jewish parents to their children. Moreover, because of the strong sense of responsibility for each member by the community at large and the presence of numerous charitable societies specifically devoted to help the indigent sick, even the destitute groups were rarely deprived of basic nourishment and medical care. The result was that even in New York City, where the gap between Jews and non-Jews was constantly narrowing, Jewish infant mortality in 1915 was only 78 for each 1,000 births, whereas that for the rest of the population amounted to 105.

Similarly favorable, at least between 1800 and 1914, was the Jewish ratio in deaths occasioned by violence, particularly wars. It so happened that even most of the great Napoleonic battles took place outside territories densely inhabited by Jews. The same held true for the rest of the century until World War i. Jewish fatalities among combatants were relatively small because the two large centers of Jewish population, Czarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire, did not begin drafting Jews into the army until 1827 (in Congress Poland, 1845) and 1908, respectively. While in previous centuries Jews had suffered numerous casualties as a result of uprisings and massacres, the period of 1800 to 1914 was relatively quiescent in this respect. The Russian pogroms of 1881, 1891, 1903, and 1905, though highly significant in their psychological impact upon Jews and non-Jews, did not cause enough fatalities significantly to retard the growth of the Russian Jewish population. The situation changed abruptly during World War i when Poland, Galicia, Lithuania, Romania, as well as Salonika, Palestine, and other areas with large Jewish concentrations, were turned into theaters of war. Jewish combatants in the various armies also were quite numerous, probably exceeding 500,000 in the Russian, Austrian, German, and the Western Allied armies. Their high ratio of fatalities was exemplified by the death in battle of about 12,000 German Jewish soldiers. The aftermath of the war, particularly during the Communist Revolution and the civil war in Russia, and the following massacres of Ukrainian Jews, likewise caused much destruction of Jewish lives. However, the biological vitality of the people was still so great that losses thus sustained were quickly made up by the continuous natural increase in the world's Jewish population.

Incipient signs of retardation became noticeable in the Western countries toward the end of the 19th century, however. As is well known, the French population during the first decades of the 20th century had become practically stationary. Germany, England, and the United States also had declining birthrates which progressively narrowed down the surplus of births over deaths. Because of their increased concentration in urban, even metropolitan areas, which revealed these tendencies most pronouncedly, Jews were ahead of their neighbors in reducing their birthrate. At the same time their death rate, which had long declined, began to be stabilized owing to the relatively larger segment of old persons in the Jewish population, the result of the previous decline in Jewish mortality. Even in Polish Lodz, in 1919–29, where Jewish infant mortality of 134–54 contrasted favorably with the corresponding non-Jewish mortality of 171–203 per 1,000 births, the ratios were reversed in the case of persons over 70. At the beginning of the 20th century these trends had become so manifest that in 1908 Felix A. Theilhaber (in Der Untergang der deutschen Juden) warned his German coreligionists that, if these demographic weaknesses were to continue unabated, German Jewry, without the aid of immigration from the outside, would decline rapidly and ultimately die out.

These tendencies became more pronounced during and after World War i. In the years 1911–24 the general Prussian population still had an excess of births over deaths of 3,019,100 persons, but the Jewish population, on the contrary, had an excess mortality of 18,252. In 1925–28 Prussia's general population gained 1,182,056 persons, while the Prussian Jews lost 5,090 through natural causes (H. Silbergleit, Bevoelkerungs…, p. 39). These losses were made up only by the continued influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, as well as from the province of Posen (Poznan), which was allotted by the peace treaties to Poland. These adverse factors gradually unfolded also among the Jews of Western Europe and the United States. For example, a Jewish census taken in Buffalo in 1938 testified to a marked decline of the Jewish birthrate, much larger than that of non-Jews. While in the total population the age group under 15 amounted to 26.4% (1930), in the Jewish population it amounted to only 23.2%. The ratios of children under five were more unfavorable: 8.3 versus 6.3% (U.Z. Engelman, in: S. Robinson's Jewish Population Studies, 40). Most remarkably, these trends began affecting also the main reservoir of Jewish manpower in East-Central Europe. In 1926 the Soviet Jews had a birthrate of only 24.6 per 1,000 (as against 35.9 30 years before, and 43.3 of the 1926 Soviet population as a whole), the lowest of all major nationalities in the Union. Such large cities as Vienna and Budapest actually had an excess of Jewish mortality over natality (2,709 deaths vs. 1,343 births in Vienna in 1929 and a still larger surplus of 1,588 deaths in Budapest in 1932). Even in Warsaw in 1925–29 the Jewish ratio of 15.5 births vs. 11.1 deaths per 1,000 contrasted with that of 22.4:15.4 among the city's Christians. On a world scale these retarding tendencies still were partially made up by an increasing growth of the Jewish population in North Africa and some other Oriental communities. There the introduction of improved sanitary conditions and health services by the colonial powers before and after World War i created conditions similar to those of the European nations in the preceding century. With the speedily declining death rate, particularly among infants and children, and continued high birthrate, the surplus of births over deaths constantly increased. Nonetheless, the disquieting demographic trends in the much larger Ashkenazi communities were so great that in the 1930s sociologists began to warn the Jewish people that, before very long, their world population would become stationary and begin declining at an accelerated pace thereafter.

Other socioreligious factors, especially conversions and mixed marriages, further aggravated the decline in the rate of increase in Jewish population. In the history of the Jewish dispersion both in the East and the West there always existed converts out of Judaism to Christianity and Islam. For the most part this was a one-way street, since conversions from the dominant faiths to Judaism were outlawed, often under the sanction of capital punishment. Such prohibitions continued throughout the 19th century in Czarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Elsewhere, too, social and economic pressures led many more Jews to adopt Christianity than vice versa. Even in Russia, with its staunchly Orthodox Jewish majority, strong conversionist impulses were generated by the Re krutchina (forcible draft for long-term military service, often involving young children) over the three decades of 1827–56 (see *Cantonists). Under these and other pressures the number of baptized Jews increased substantially during the 19th century. According to the Berlin missionary, Johannes de la Roi, a biased but informed student of the missionary movements, no less than 84,500 Russian Jews found their way to the baptismal front in the 1800s ("Judentaufen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert, ein statistischer Versuch," in Nathanael, vol. 15, 65–118). The ratio was understandably higher in such a Western country as Prussia, where the number of Jewish converts to Christianity seems to have reached a peak of 3,771 in the years 1812–14, according to A. Menes' computation.

Elsewhere the statistics are not very good but the number of Jews who left their community often increased threateningly. In Austria-Hungary, before World War i the second-largest center of the Jewish population, most of those who took that step were not necessarily converts. Many of them simply declared themselves persons without religion (konfessionslos). In Vienna alone the number of such losses to the community often amounted to 1,000 annually in the period after World War i. In Prussia, on the other hand, as a result of the Jewish Community Law of 1876 many Jews severed their ties with the existing communities because of real or alleged "religious scruples." While some of these Jews merely wished to separate themselves from the middle-of-the-road communities and to join special Orthodox groupings (the so-called Trennungsorthodoxie), most others did it for financial or other secularist reasons. In other countries, too, conversions to Judaism were relatively rare; they were far outweighed by conversions of Jews to other faiths, or their simple disappearance within the majority without formal action. Many of the konfessionslos persons, particularly in Austria, adopted this status in order to marry out of the faith, since until the interwar period the marriage of a Catholic to a Jew was legally invalid. In Germany, France, and Italy, too, mixed marriages were quite frequent. In one year (1927) 52% of marriages entered into by the Jews of Trieste had a non-Jewish partner. Demographically, intermarriage interfered with the growth of Jewish population in two ways. Unlike in the United States in recent years, European couples, when denominationally divided, as a rule raised their children as Christians rather than as Jews. Secondly, perhaps to avoid further complications, many intermarried couples refrained from having children altogether or were satisfied with but a single child. The end result was a further diminution of the Jewish numbers.

Under these circumstances only tentative estimates can be given for many figures in Table 3, Jewish Population 1820–1939. They relate to the three periods of 1820–25 (rather than 1800, because after the rapid changes during the Napoleonic Wars the frontiers of the countries of Jewish settlement essentially stable until (World War i), 1900 (before World War i), and 1939 (on the eve of World ii).

Jewish populationTotal populationJewish populationTotal populationJewish populationTotal population
(in thousands)
Russia (including Congress Poland)1,600.046,0005,190.0 (1897)126,368
U.S.S.R. (including Asiatic parts)2,825.0132,519
Poland (including Galicia, Posen, etc.)3,250.032,183
Lithuania (1923)155.02,029
Latvia (1935)95.01,951
Estonia (1934)4.561,126
Romania (enlarged after 1918)80.03,335267.05,956850.018,053
Austria–Hungary (before 1918)568.026,0002,069.044,400
Austria (1934)191.06,760
Czechoslovakia (1930)357.014,730
Hungary (1930)445.08,688
Yugoslavia (1931)5.12,49468.013,934
Greece5.82,434 (1896)73.0 (1928)6,205
Turkey (European, 1935)50.01,266
Germany223.026,624520.056,367504.0 (1933)65,988
Switzerland (1837)2.02,19012.53,31518.0 (1930)4,066
Italy25.019,00035.032,44948.0 (1936)42,528
Great Britain and Northern Ireland20.021,130200.041,457300.0 (1931)46,190
France (including Alsace–Lorraine)50.030,000115.0 (A.L.) 35.038,961260.0 (1936)41,906
Netherlands45.02,460104.05,179112.0 (1930)7,936
Belgium2.03,50020.06,69360.0 (1930)8,092
Europe (as a whole)2,730.0190,0008,690.0423,0009,480.0512,849
The Americas United States8.05,3081,000.075,9954,975.0 (1940)131,669
Canada16.04,833155.7.0 (1931)10,377
Mexico1.013,6009.0 (1930)16,523
Argentina30.04,900275.0 (1935)12,958
Brazil2.017,30035.0 (1930)40,273
Uruguay0.984012.0 (1931)1,903
The Americas (as a whole)10.01,175.0144,0005,537.0261,985
Asiatic Turkey300.016,13430.014,935
Syria and Lebanon26.0 (1935)3,630
Yemen and Arabia30.07,00050.0 (1935)1,000
Iran35.09,00050.0 (1935)15,000
India18.2232,00024.0 (1931)352,838
China2.0402,68010.0 (1936)457,835
Asia (as a whole)300.0420.0857,0001,047.01,094,524
Egypt30.79,73470.0 (1937)15,905
Morocco103.7 (1904)5,000162.0 (1936)7,096
Algeria20,000.0 (1851)51.04,729110.0 (1931)7,235
Tunisia62.51,50059.5 (1936)2,608
Ethiopia50.05,00051.0 (1935)10,000
Union of South Africa40.01,10090.7 (1936)9,590
Africa (as a whole)240.0300.0120,000627.5157,650
Australia15.03,03623.6 (1933)6,630
New Zealand1.67732.7 (1936)1,574
Oceania (as a whole)1.017.04,73033.0
World total3,281.01,171,00010,602.51,608,00016,724.02,296,000

From the table's figures, however unreliable in detail, one may obtain an approximation of both the growth and the shifts of the Jewish population over the 120 years from 1820 to 1939. They are largely cited here from the works of Jacob Lestschinsky, notwithstanding serious reservations as to the accuracy of all such computations. The most startling evolution was, of course, that of the Jewish population in the Western Hemisphere which was owing more to Jewish migrations than to natural increase. The United States, in particular, in the half-century preceding World War i became the great magnet for immigrants from Eastern Europe, as well as from almost all other European and Middle Eastern countries. Suffice it to say that in the course of merely 24 years, from 1890 to 1914, some 30% of all East European Jews changed their residence to some overseas country, particularly the United States. In addition, there were major migratory movements of Jews within their countries of settlement. Many Russian Jews moved into the newly annexed neo-Russian territories in the south, including a number of agricultural colonies established for them on the initiative of the Czarist regime. They also spoke in the 1830s of the Jewish "discovery of Volhynia" which brought many new Jewish settlers from the western provinces into that area which had made noteworthy contributions to Jewish culture already in pre-partition Poland. On the other hand, a great many Russian Jews, often simply called Litvaks, settled in Congress Poland in the years before World War i. After the removal of the *Pale of Settlement as a result of that war and the Communist Revolution, there was a great exodus of Jews from the original Pale into the interior of Russia, particularly the two metropolises of Moscow and Leningrad, as well as such newly founded industrial centers as Magnitogorsk in the Urals. There also was a small Jewish movement to Far Eastern *Birobidzhan, more significant ideologically than numerically. Similarly, there was a constant transplantation of Jews from Galicia to other parts of Austria-Hungary, particularly to neighboring Bukovina and Slovakia and the two capitals of Vienna and Budapest. The same holds true for the formerly Polish possessions incorporated into Prussia in the years 1772–95 but subsequently lost to resurrected Poland in 1919. The majority of Jewish residents of that area had been leaving it for other parts of Germany, England, and the United States throughout the 19th century, but their departure was accelerated after 1918.

These migratory movements gave additional stimuli to the process of Jewish urbanization which had long been under way. The settlement of Jews in many major cities and metropolitan areas far exceeded their ratio in the respective populations. The climactic urban and metropolitan concentration of Jews continued in the course of the 20th century.


These three decades belong to the most portentous periods of human history, general and demographic. They also were of decisive historic importance in the destinies of the Jewish people. Begun with the great Holocaust, which destroyed thousands of European Jewish communities and ended eight centuries of European Jewish hegemony, the decade of the 1940s ended with the rise of the State of Israel. This ushered in an entirely new period of Jewish history which has already had demographic effects of enormous importance.

Despite the ever-growing literature on the Holocaust, certain aspects have not yet been sufficiently explored. Among the questions still incompletely resolved is the precise number of victims of the Nazi extermination squads. The accepted figure of 6,000,000 Jews, along with many more millions of non-Jews slain by the Nazis, has often been challenged, especially by some German writers. One of the major difficulties in obtaining definitive and precise figures consists in the fact that, in pursuing their "final solution" of the Jewish question, the Nazi authorities were quite careful in simultaneously destroying human lives and the records pertaining to them. In his oft-quoted Posen speech of Oct. 4, 1943, Heinrich Himmler alluded to the "very grave matter" of exterminating Jews and declared: "Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and yet we shall never speak about it publicly… I mean… the extirpation of the Jewish race. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written."

Yet not only does the partial evidence from various localities confirm the 6,000,000 estimate, but it also emerges as the most likely figure from the demographic changes in European and world Jewish population during the war and postwar periods (see *Holocaust). If on the eve of World War ii the Jewish people numbered some 16,750,000, by 1945 this number was reduced to about 11,000,000. True, in addition to their victimization at the hands of Nazi extermination squads, Jews suffered considerable losses in manpower as combatants in the Soviet, U.S., and other armies, as well as from the numerous other adverse by-products of the great war. But these losses should easily have been made up by the natural growth of the Jewish population during the six war years, especially in the Western Hemisphere and other continents where the war touched only the periphery of Jewish life. Moreover, even the defeated nations of Germany, Italy, and Japan quickly recovered their biological strength and in the two decades of 1940–60 increased their populations by 25–33%. But the Jewish people which, if allowed to continue its population growth of the preceding two decades, by 1960 should have reached a total of 19,000,000–20,000,000 persons, counted instead no more than 12,800,000 persons. Even today, another decade later, it still is very far from returning to its populousness of 1939. As a result of the Holocaust and World War ii there was a complete shift of the center of gravity of the Jewish people from the Old to the New World. With Russian Jewry not only weakened, but subject to a severe antisemitic onslaught especially during the declining years of Stalin's regime in 1948–52, its isolation from the rest of Jewry became even tighter than before. Its influence on the historic progress of the entire people, particularly in the cultural sphere, declined rapidly. The demographic picture, too, of the entire European Continent was affected adversely, although Western Europe, particularly France, has staged a steady recovery in the postwar era: in the French case because of the growing immigration of North African Jews. During the prolonged Algerian uprising the Jewish communities of that country reaching back to antiquity and glorying in a great historic tradition were nearly emptied; their majority found shelter in either France or Israel. So did many refugees from other Arab countries.

In reaction to the rise of the State of Israel in 1948 anti-Jewish pressures on the declining Jewries in all Arab countries became unbearable. With the exception of Morocco and Tunisia where substantial remnants of the Jewish inhabitants have carried on against tremendous odds, the other Arab countries almost totally lost their long-established Jewish populations. On the other hand, the very rise of Israel opened untold new possibilities for the concentration of Jews in that country. By absorbing the majority of Jewish émigrés from the Arab lands, as well as most of the surviving remnants of victims of Nazi persecution in continental Europe located in the displaced persons camps, together with migrants from many other countries, Israel's unparalleled population growth more than redressed the balance as far as the continent of Asia was concerned. But Africa continued to be in the losing column also in many of the newly arisen black republics, where the small Jewish communities were further reduced in size by emigration.

Regrettably, during the 1940–70 period the demographic facts relating to Jews became less rather than more thoroughly investigated. To begin with, such leading European countries as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, and Holland, which before World War ii offered, through their governmental censuses, excellent source material for Jewish demography, became so depopulated of Jews that between them they accommodated but little more than 1% of world Jewry. Their place was taken only by Israel, whose excellent censuses and annual statistical estimates have in many ways become a mainstay of Jewish demographic research. Israel scholarship has even helped to stimulate such investigation in other lands. In the largest country of Jewish settlement, the United States, the situation likewise improved somewhat. Although the governmental censuses still fail to supply adequate information, the awareness of U.S. Jewry of the need to be acquainted with the demographic facts of life had been sufficiently aroused to call forth a number of local surveys in the 1950s and the 1960s. While these were consistently enough pursued so as to furnish successive data from decade to decade, nor conducted with the same methods so as to make them fully comparable with one another, they managed to assemble a substantial body of material from which statistical conclusions of a sort could be derived with somewhat greater assurance. All this was merely a beginning, but it appeared, at least, to be a step in the right direction. Similar hesitant steps were made in Western Europe, Argentina, and most successfully, in Canada, where the governmental censuses help supply many vital statistics relating to Jews.

At the same time figures for the second-largest Jewish community, that of the Soviet Union, were still almost exclusively dependent on foreign Jews analyzing the results of the official censuses. That of 1959 was published by the government in 16 volumes, together with some additional data periodically supplied by the official census bureau in regular bulletins. One of the most puzzling problems concerning that census was the question of the extent to which the figures given for Jewish "nationality" really covered Soviet Jewry. Though every Soviet citizen had to carry a "passport" indicating his "nationality" many Jews could escape registering as members of that nationality in the presence of enumerators, since the census takers were instructed to register only the indications made orally by the inhabitants without checking their documents. A good case was made, therefore, for raising the results of the 1959 census which gave the total number of Jews as 2,267,814 and to postulate that their total really came close to 3,000,000.

On April 17, 1971, the Soviet press published the first summaries of the population census taken on Jan. 15, 1970. According to the figures quoted, the Jewish population fell from 11th to 12th in size among 100 nationalities in the Soviet Union, and the overall number of Jews declined from 2,267,814 (January 1959) to 2,151,000.

Despite all the obscurities and uncertainties, one may perhaps venture to propose the Table: World Population, Jewish, largely based (with all due reservations) upon the estimates annually published in the American Jewish Year Book and the United Nations' Statistical Yearbook.

Regrettably, some of the above data refer to censuses or estimates of populations in the cities proper, while others cover metropolitan districts of a wider area. In the same 1969 edition of The World Almanac (pp. 578f., 604ff., and 651), for example, the number of inhabitants in New York City, according to the census of 1960, was given as 7,781,984, and in Greater New York (embracing an additional 8 New Jersey and 5 New York counties) as 14,114,927. In Los Angeles the respective 1960 figures were 2,479,015 and 6,488,791; in Chicago: 3,550,404 and 6,488,791; in Buenos Aires: 2,966,816 and 6,762,629; in Paris: 2,811,171 and 7,369,387 (1962 census) or 9,811,171 (1968 estimate), and so forth. (Incidentally, the same issue of the Almanac, p. 602, offers somewhat different estimates of the Jewish population by counties and cities, as prepared by Dr. S.H. Linfield.) Jews had fully participated in that postwar movement, some call it flight, from the core cities to the suburbs, making estimates between official censuses or several years after the completion of communal surveys quite hazardous. It is quite evident that in 1970 about one-half of world Jewry lived in the Western Hemisphere, the United States embracing far more Jews than any other country. In 1970, the second- and third-largest concentrations were found in the U.S.S.R. and Israel. Together, the United States, the U.S.S.R., and Israel between them embraced more than 80% of world Jewry.

The progress of Jewish settlement in major cities during the period of 1900–69 proceeded apace at a tempo even more rapid than that of the general population. Already before 1939 about one quarter of the entire Jewish people lived in metropolitan areas of over 1,000,000 each. Another quarter lived in cities with populations of between 100,000 and 1,000,000 inhabitants. Thirty years later the latter ratio still was approximately correct. But the percentage of "metropolitan" Jews had risen to about 40% of the whole people, leaving barely a third for localities, urban and rural, with less than 100,000 inhabitants. In many countries, moreover, the metropolitan ratios were considerably exceeded; for instance, in England, France, and Argentina, the majority of Jews have long lived in the capitals, while in the United States such a majority may be found in a radius of 100 miles from Times Square in New York. This evolution would not have been surprising even under more normal circumstances, since this is indeed a world-wide trend. Even the Soviet Union, which in the 1920s started as an overwhelmingly rural country, had an urban majority. The Holocaust, however, greatly accelerated that trend, inasmuch as it put an end to most of the agricultural colonies and other rural Jewish settlements in Russia, Carpathian Ruthenia (where originally more than one quarter of the Jewish population engaged in agriculture), and elsewhere. It also eliminated most of the hamlets which still accommodated a large segment of the East European Jewish population. Even in the United States postwar developments were not favorable to Jewish agricultural colonization. The same held true for Israel, where the mass immigration of the first 20 years of statehood strengthened the trend toward urban concentration.

The increase in Jewish population from 1948 to 1968 lagged far behind that of the world population as well as that of most environmental peoples. Mankind as a whole increased by around 36% between 1948 and 1968, but world Jewry added less than 20% to its numbers. This is clearly not the result of increased mortality, but rather of a relatively lower birthrate. The phenomenon of the declining Jewish birthrate so manifest in the Western countries in the interwar period gave way to a growing natality in the 1940s and the 1950s. However, this trend seems not to have lasted to the same extent into the 1960s. While conversions to other religions greatly diminished, the relative demographic ravages caused by intermarriage increased, particularly in the U.S.S.R. and Western Europe, where the offspring of mixed marriages were more likely permanently to sever its ties with the Jewish community. Under these circumstances, it was clear that it would take many more years before the Jewish people recovered its population strength of 1939.

For developments in the last third of the 20th century, see *Demography; *Vital Statistics.


J. Jacobs, Studies in Jewish Statistics (1890); A. Nossig, Juedische Statistik (1903), incl. extensive bibl.; U.O. Schmelz (comp.), Jewish Demography and Statistics: Bibliography for 1920–1960 (1961), Heb. and Eng., with R. Shebath, addenda and index of names (1961); Zeitschrift fuer Demographie und Statistik der Juden (1905–1919); ajyb, index; jsos, index; jjs; Baron, Social and Social2; idem, in: L. Feldman (ed.), Ancient and Medieval Essays; E. Ashtor, in: jjs, vols. 18–19 (1967–68); idem, in: Zion, 28 (1963); I.S. Revah, in: rej, 122 (1963); R. Bachi, in: rmi, 12 (1938); idem, in: jjs, 4 (1962); G. Kleczyński and Z. Kluczycki, Licba głów źydowskich w koronie, z taryf roku 1765 (1898); R. Mahler, in: Lodzer Visenshaftlekhe Shriftn, 1 (1938); B. Wasiutyński, Ludność żydowska w Polsce w wiekach xix i xx (1930); J. Unna, Statistik der Frankfurter Juden bis zum Jahre 1866 (1931); A. Ruppin, Soziologie der Juden, 2 vols. (1931–32); idem, Jewish Fate and Future (1940); L. Livi, Ebrei alla luce della statistica (1920); J. Lestschinsky, in: Historishe Shriftn, 1 (1928); idem, in: uje, 10 (1943), s.v.Statistics; idem, Tefuẓot Yisrael Aḥarei ha-Milḥamah (1948); I. Cohen, Contemporary Jewry (1950); A. Tartakower, in: huca, 23 (1950–51); idem, Ha-Ḥevrah ha-Yehudit (1957); Annual of the Institute of Jewish Affairs (1956), 315–44; S. Shaul (ed.), Am Yisrael be-Dorenu (1964); idem, La vie juive dans l'Europe contemporaine (1967, also in Heb.); U.Z. Engelman, in: jsos, 9 (1947); H.S. Linfield, Jews in theUnited States 1927 (1929); S.M. Robinson, Jewish Population Studies (1943), with J. Starr; I. Rosenberg, Canada's Jews (1939); I. Rosenwaite, in: jsos, 22 (1960); M. Friedman (ed.), A Minority in Britain (1955); F. Bosse, Die Verbreitung der Juden im Deutschen Reich… 1880 (1885); H. Silbergleit, Bevoelkerungs – und Berufsverhaeltnisse der Juden im Deutschen Reich, 1 (1930); G.A. Schimmer, Statistik des Judenthums der im Reichsrate vertretenen Koenigreiche und Laender (1873); L. Goldhammer, Die Juden Wiens (1927); B. Blau, in: Yidishe Ekonomik, 3 (1939); I. Schiper, Żydzi w Polsce odrodzonej, 2 vols. (n.d.), with a demographic study by A. Tartakower; I. Canter, Di Yidishe Bafolkerung in Ukraine (Kharkov, 1929); L. Zinger, Dos Banayte Folk (Moscow, 1941); M. Altschuler, in: Gesher, nos. 47–48 (1966); J. Rothenberg, in: jsos, 29 (1967), 234–40; 31 (1969), 37–39; Palestine, Department of Statistics, Vital Statistics, Tables 1929–1945 (1947); Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract of Israel; United Nations, Statistical Office, Statistical Yearbook; U.O. Schmelz and P. Glikson (ed.), Jewish Population Studies 1961–1968 (1970). For the 1970–2005 period, see Bibliography in *Demography.

[Salo W. Baron]


views updated Jun 08 2018


As a topic, population refers to the size and composition of social groupings and the dynamics of change in these characteristics. It extends to the determinants and consequences of levels, differentials, and changes in fertility, mortality, and spatial distribution. Within the social sciences, population study has a broad concern with the cultural, social, economic, and psychological causes and consequences of these characteristics (see Hauser and Duncan 1959; Coleman and Schofield 1986; Stycos 1987; Namboodiri 1988). Within sociology, the main concern is with linkages between social institutions and the dynamics of population change and equilibrium (see Taeuber, Bumpass, and Sweet 1978; Nam 1994; Greenhalgh 1996). Demography is an important component of population study that focuses on data collection, measurement, and description. (Though it would be impossible to cite all articles relevant to the general topic of population, a number of useful articles are cross-referenced at the end of this article.)


A brief overview of major changes in the characteristics of human populations will suggest some of the linkages between social life and these characteristics. (For a more detailed discussion see, for example, Wrigley 1969; Petersen 1975.)

During Neolithic times, hunting and gathering groups probably consisted of only a few dozen individuals. Based on the technology and the area believed to have been populated, it is estimated that in about 8000–6000 b.c. the population of the world was only five million to ten million (Yaukey 1985, p. 38). Probably about half of all children died before age 5. Mainly because of the high mortality of infants and children, life expectancy was probably only about 20 years, although some adults would have survived to advanced ages. Maternal mortality was also high, probably resulting in considerably shorter life expectancy for females than for males (United Nations 1973, p. 115). In such a setting, the social consequences of these fundamental demographic facts would have been enormous. Many of our current social values and institutions have their roots in this harsh environment.

Death was sudden, random, and frequent—at least five times as common, in a population of a given size, as in a developed country today. A major function of religion was to enable people to interpret death as a part of the life course and to surround it with rituals. New births to offset these deaths were essential for the survival of a group. There can be no doubt that many groups, of various sizes, failed in this effort, but the survivors were our ancestors. Children were important to the economy of the household and community from an early age, and young adults were crucial to the welfare of older adults. Practices and institutions to encourage fertility—of humans, as well as of the environment of plants and animals—were essential. Marital unions of some type would have been virtually universal and would have begun at an early age. It is likely that unions would have been arranged by the parents, partly because they occurred at such early ages, as well as because of the social advantages of arranged marriages for strengthening an intergenerational network of social obligations. Thus the social institutions of religion, marriage, and the extended family, among others, had some of their original impetus in the extremely high mortality of human prehistory and the consequent imperative for high fertility and child survivorship. One of the most remarkable functions of social institutions is that they provide valves or mechanisms by which population size can be regulated to be compatible with the prevailing environmental circumstances and the level of technology (Davis 1963). As just mentioned, high mortality must be accompanied by comparably high fertility if a population is to sustain itself. For the most part, it is the level of mortality that drives the level of fertility, through various intervening mechanisms, although mortality (infanticide) has sometimes served as a means of population control. The social regulation of population size usually takes the form of increasing or decreasing the average number of births per woman, to compensate for uncontrollable influences on mortality.

Humans have a much greater capacity to reproduce than is often recognized, and even in situations of very high mortality and fertility there is usually an untapped potential for even higher fertility. There are well-documented "natural fertility" populations in which the average woman who survives the childbearing ages has 10 to 11 children after age 20, and it is estimated that the average after age 15 could be as high as 16 children under some circumstances. (Of course, if maternal mortality is high, many women will not survive the childbearing years.) The potential supply of births is adequate to balance even the most severe conditions; if it were not, the species would not have survived.

Over the long run, there has been a pattern of increased life expectancy with two major transitions. The transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture and larger human settlements produced a net increase in life expectancy, although with some shifts in causes of death. Larger settlements have a higher incidence of infectious diseases because of inadequate sanitation and sources of clean drinking water. The second major transition began in the seventeenth century with industrialization and the progressive reduction of deaths from infectious diseases. Fluctuations in mortality due to transitory influences have been superimposed on these two main transitions (Tilly 1978; Wrigley and Schofield 1981). Some of the short-term increases in mortality, due to wars, famines, and epidemics, have been devastating. For example, the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe eliminated more than one-third of the population in several areas.

During the transition to agriculture and larger settlements, mortality fell and population size increased. It is believed that, starting in roughly 5000 b.c., world population approximately doubled every 1,000 years, reaching 100 million around 500 b.c. It doubled again in the next 1,000 years, reaching 200 million around 500 a.d., and again in the next 1,000 years, reaching 425 million in 1500 a.d. (McEvedy and Jones 1978). Most of the growth was in Europe and the Middle East. This is obviously an extremely low rate of growth by modern standards, around 0.07 percent per year, but it was a marked increase from the hunting and gathering era.

The increase in carrying capacity with a new technology and social organization probably had its principal effect on reproduction at the household level (Laslett and Wall 1972; Goody 1976, 1983). If territory for new settlements is absent or inaccessible, having too many children will lead to excessive division of land and property. Some kind of limitation on reproduction will result.

The most important social mechanism or lever for regulating fertility has probably been limitation of exposure to the risk of conception—in short, regulation of sexual activity. Thus, in preindustrial Europe, the age at marriage was high—on average, in the mid-twenties. The motivation for delaying marriage and the formation of new households probably arose because the parental generation had limited land to pass to their children. Marriage and childbearing were deferred until a viable household could be established. These household-level motives led to a general consensus that marriage at later ages was preferable. Associated with late age at marriage were voluntary rather than arranged marriages, and apprenticeships or domestic service for many young people. Alternatives to married life developed—for example, celibate religious communities. These behaviors can be viewed as mechanisms for fertility limitation, even though they certainly had more direct functions as well. Within marriage there was probably very little use, or even knowledge, of contraception.

When short-term increases in mortality occurred, as with a famine, war, or epidemic, the social response was an increase in the prevalence of marriage and/or a reduction in the mean age at marriage. Again, these motivations operated primarily at the household level, in the sense that when mortality rose, there were increased opportunities for land division and settlement, and new households could be formed more quickly.

The attempt here is to characterize population growth and homeostasis in the broadest terms, up to the beginning of the industrial era in the West. Because of limited space, this description glosses over enormous differences worldwide in the patterns of reproduction and social structure and their linkages. There have several ethnographic and historical analyses of these variations (see, e.g., Hanley and Wolf 1985).

The growth of population that accompanied industrialization is indicated by the following estimates. World population was about 545 million in 1600; 610 million in 1700; 900 million in 1800; 1,625 million in 1900. It is expected to be about 6,100 million in 2000 (McEvedy and Jones 1978; United Nations 1998). The period saw an acceleration in the rate of growth, as well as enormous increases in sheer numbers of people. Prior to 1900, Europe increased most rapidly. In other parts of the world, most of the increase was concentrated in the twentieth century. This period of rapid growth is described as the demographic transition. It is discussed briefly below. (See the end of this article for relevant cross-references.)


The transformation of mortality from a common event, occurring most often to children, to a relatively rare event, occurring most often to the elderly, arose from a confluence of technological and social developments. Most important among these was the control of infectious diseases spread by microorganisms in the air and water. An improved understanding of the etiology of these diseases, together with technical capacity and political support for public health measures, led to childhood vaccinations, clean drinking water, and improved sanitation (McKeown 1976). Standards of personal hygiene and cleanliness of clothing improved. There is little evidence that improvements in diet were important, and curative (as contrasted to preventive) medicine played a relatively small role in the main part of the transformation.

In developed countries, the infant mortality rate has steadily fallen from about 250 deaths (in the first year of life) per 1,000 births to a present level of fewer than 10 per 1,000 births (Mosley and Chen 1984). One consequence of a decline in the risk of infant and child deaths is to increase the sense of parental control over reproduction. It is more rational to develop notions of desired numbers of children when the survivorship of children is less random. Similarly, as survivorship improves, it is more rational to invest in children's future by providing them with formal education. The cost of children, to their parents and to the larger society, increases as child mortality falls and life expectancy improves (see, e.g., Easterlin 1976).

The increase in life expectancy, currently about 73 years in the developed countries, has also resulted in a rise in the mean age of the population, in a substantial increase in the proportion who are elderly or retired, and in a shift to causes of death associated with old age. These trends have broad social implications—for the employment of and advancement in opportunities for young people, the resilience of political structures, and the cost of retirement programs and medical care for the elderly, for example.

Fewer births per woman, together with the now negligible rates of maternal mortality in developed countries, have resulted in a substantially greater life expectancy for women than for men. Although at birth there are about 104 males for every 100 females, there are progressively more females, per male, for every age after about age 30 in the United States. The elderly population consists disproportionately of women. Also, because women tend to be younger than their husbands, they typically experience much longer periods of widowhood than men do.

In today's developing countries, mortality decline has been much more rapid than it was in the developed countries, because an accumulation of Western public health measures could be introduced nearly simultaneously. Most of the decline has occurred since World War II and the ensuing independence of most of these countries from colonial powers, although some of it can be traced back to earlier decades of the twentieth century. The rapidity of the mortality decline and its largely exogenous nature have been factors in the delay of a subsequent fertility decline in many cases (see Preston 1978). (See the end of this article for relevant cross-references.)


Within Europe, the onset of substantial reductions in fertility occurred first in France early in the nineteenth century, and last in Ireland early in the twentieth century. In the earliest cases, the onset of fertility control coincided with mortality decline rather than following it. In general, a lag between the decline in mortality and the decline in fertility resulted in substantial population growth. In the United States and Britain, 1880 is regarded as a watershed year for the widespread initiation of contraception.

With no exceptions, from the cases of France through Ireland, the initiation and the bulk of the modern fertility declines occurred mainly as a result of contraception rather than delayed marriage, and in contexts in which contraception was publicly regarded as immoral, supplies and information were illegal, and methods were primitive by today's standards. As a generalization, births were not intentionally spaced or postponed; rather, attempts were made to terminate childbearing at some earlier parity than would have been the case without intervention. Some married couples appear even to have chosen to have no children or only one child. The main contraceptive method was withdrawal (coitus interruptus). Abstinence was probably not infrequently used as a last resort. Rhythm may have been used, but probably incorrectly; douching was common but was probably ineffective. Sterilization was not available, although it is likely that a high proportion of hysterectomies served the same function. Condoms were not widely available until the twentieth century.

It is clear that the motivation to control fertility was both powerful and personal. It is unfortunate that it is so difficult at this distance to reconstruct the specific strategies that were employed, patterns of communication between couples, and sources of information. However, at least two generalizations can be made. One is that the practice of contraception required an ideational justification, to the effect that individual couples have a personal right to control their family size. From a modern perspective it is easy to overlook the fundamental importance of this concept. It is not just a coincidence that France was the first country to experience contraception on a wide scale, that it was the home of the Enlightenment, and that it was also the first European country to experience a fundamental political revolution. Intervention to prevent a birth rests on the premise that it is legitimate for an individual—or a couple—to make critical choices affecting personal welfare. Contraception can be viewed as a manifestation of a value for personal freedom, even in the face of strong pronatalist pressures from both church and state.

A secondary condition for contraceptive use in the West appears to have been some degree of local development, as evidenced by higher literacy and a higher standard of living. Historical research continues into the importance of specific factors such as the relative status of women, the transition to a wage-earning class, local industrialization, improvements in social security and public welfare, and so on. (For more details on specific countries, see, e.g., Ryder [1969]; Livi Bacci [1977]; Teitelbaum [1984]. For a general discussion of these factors in Europe, see van de Walle and Knodel [1980]. For theoretical discussions, see Caldwell [1976, 1978]. See also Nam [1994].)

Turning to the transition in economically less developed countries, one to two generations of reduced mortality, combined with a traditional high level of fertility, resulted in annual growth rates of 3 percent or more. However, beginning in the late 1960s, some Asian countries, particularly Taiwan and South Korea, began to experience rapid declines in fertility. At present these countries have reached approximate equilibrium between fertility and mortality rates, although they continue to grow because of their youthful age distributions. About a decade later, Thailand, Indonesia, and several Latin American countries such as Colombia and Mexico showed rapid reductions in their fertility rates. By the late 1990s, dramatic fertility declines were under way in nearly all countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa and Pakistan, and even these countries have shown clear declines among better-educated urban couples. The declines are due in small part to delayed marriage, but for the most part to use of contraception—primarily sterilization, and secondarily reversible methods such as intrauterine devices and the pill (see Bulatao and Lee [1983]; Cleland and Hobcraft [1985]; see also the country reports published on the Demographic and Health Surveys Project by Macro International [1985–2000]). The conditions for these fertility declines show both similarities to and differences from the Western declines. It appears critical for couples to accept the idea that it is appropriate to intervene in the procreative process. In Pakistan, for example, it is commonly held that the number of births, as well as their gender and survivorship, is in the hands of Allah, and it would be wrong to interfere with his will. (It must be noted that a stated religious rationale for high fertility often masks other factors, such as a subordinate role for women. In other Islamic countries, such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, and even Iran, family planning is considered to be consistent with Islam.) Contraception tends to be found where the concepts of political and economic self-determination are better established, particularly among women. Female education is the single strongest correlate of fertility change.

In contrast with the Western experience, however, it also appears critical to have institutional support for contraception. The countries that have shown the clearest declines in fertility had national family planning programs with visible support from the highest levels of the government. The most effective programs have integrated family planning services into a general program of maternal and child health, and provide couples with easy access to a range of alternative methods (see Lapham and Mauldin 1987). Many countries are actually passing beyond this phase of the contraceptive transition, beginning in the 1990s, so that government-subsidized programs are being replaced by privatized services, at least for the middle class.

The consequences of population growth for economic development have been much debated (Simon 1977; Birdsall 1980). There have been some cases, such as Japan and South Korea, in which rapid economic expansion occurred simultaneously with rapid increases in population. Virtually all such cases were transitional, and the fertility of those countries is currently at replacement level, so the debate is now of mainly historical interest. There is a general consensus that low growth facilitates development. A growing population has a young age distribution, with many new entrants to the labor force and relatively few old people in need of pensions and health care. These factors may stimulate economic growth, but they must be balanced against the costs of supporting and educating large numbers of children. In several countries, such as the Philippines, the economy is unable to employ large cohorts of young people satisfactorily, especially those who are better educated, and they emigrate in large numbers. In addition, household welfare can be adversely affected by large numbers of children, even in situations of economic expansion at the macro level. The negative consequences of rapid growth extend beyond the economy and into the areas of health, social welfare, political stability, and the environment. (See the end of this article for relevant cross-references.)


Enormous changes in geographical distribution have been superimposed on the major trends in population size described above. Many of the social problems attributed to rapid population growth are more accurately diagnosed as consequences of increasing concentration. Urban areas, in particular the megalopolises of developing countries such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and New Delhi, have been growing during the twentieth century at more than twice the rate of the countries in which they are located. Cities are centers of concentration of economic, intellectual, and political life (see Hawley 1981), but rapid growth has exacerbated the problems of inadequate housing, sanitation, transportation, schooling, unemployment, and the crime associated with urban life. It is estimated that, in the year 2000, 76 percent of the population of developed countries is urban (compared to 26 percent in 1900 and 55 percent in 1950). In the developing countries, 41 percent is urban in 2000 (compared to 7 percent in 1900 and 18 percent in 1950).

The growth of cities has resulted in part from the excess of births over deaths in rural areas. With out-migration serving as one of the household-level valves for population regulation, individuals have been displaced from areas that cannot absorb them and have moved to cities, which are perceived to have better economic opportunities. Often that perception is incorrect. With a few exceptions, fertility is lower in cities than in rural areas.

A second major type of population redistribution in recent centuries has, of course, been across national borders. Movement to the Americas was greatest during the half-century between 1880 and 1930, and continues to the present. There are many streams of both short-term and long-term international migration, for example out of South and Southeast Asia and into the Middle East, Europe, and North America, and from Africa into Europe and North America, and the economies of several sending countries are strengthened by monthly remittances from their emigrants (United Nations 1979, 1997). (See the end of this article for relevant cross-references.)


The United States has a population of approximately 278 million in the year 2000 and a growth rate of somewhat less than 1 percent annually, roughly one-third of which is due to immigration and two-thirds to natural increase. Fertility is slightly below replacement level, but there are more births than deaths because of the large size of the baby boom cohort, born from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. Age-specific fertility rates are increasing gradually for women in their thirties and forties, mainly because of postponed first and second births rather than later births. Otherwise, rates have been remarkably stable since the early 1970s. Rates below age 20 were dropping in the late 1990s but are still higher than in most other developed countries. For several excellent articles on fertility levels, differentials, and trends in the United States, see Casterline and colleagues (1996). See also National Center for Health Statistics (1999) and more recent annual reports in the same series.

Perhaps the most serious issues related to fertility are the large numbers of unplanned births to young women and the high numbers of abortions—about 2 for every 5 births—that could have been averted by contraception. Few developed countries have a range of contraceptive methods as limited as that of the United States. For example, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and progesteronebased pills are the two main nonsurgical methods in the rest of the world, but IUDs are not available in the United States. As mentioned earlier, most of the fertility decline in the West occurred while contraception was considered immoral and was explicitly illegal. Although contraception and even abortion are now legal, deep cultural ambiguities remain in the linkage between sexuality and procreation. A litigious environment has inhibited both the development of new contraceptives by American pharmaceutical companies and the marketing of new contraceptives developed elsewhere, and the U.S. government plays a minimal role in such development.

Life expectancy in the late 1990s was 73 years for males and 79 years for females (PRB 1998). Although life expectancy is increasing for both males and females, the female advantage is also gradually increasing. The female advantage was nearly 3 years at the beginning of the twentieth century, nearly 4 years at the middle, and nearly 7 years at the end of the century (Gelbard et al. 1999). The greatest improvements in mortality are in the highest age groups, especially after age 85. Because of increases in the number of elderly and projected changes in the age distribution of the labor force, the age at receipt of full Social Security benefits is scheduled to increase gradually, from 65 to 66 by the year 2009 and to 67 by the year 2027 (Binstock and George 1990).

Among males, whites have approximately a 5-year advantage over nonwhites, and among females, whites have approximately a 4-year advantage (National Center for Health Statistics 1989; and more recent annual reports in the same series). Life expectancy for black males is falling, due mainly to deaths by homicides to black males in their twenties and a greater prevalence of cardiovascular disease among blacks (Keith and Smith 1988). Infant mortality rates for nonwhite babies are increasing, due to low birth weights and inadequate prenatal care. These reversals of earlier long-term improvements are indicators of worsening conditions among poorer Americans. (For more description of the population of the United States, see Bogue [1985]; Lieberson and Waters [1988]; Sweet and Bumpass [1988]; Nam [1994].) (See the end of this article for cross-references to articles containing more discussions of the population of the United States.)


The overriding concern of world population policy in recent years has been the achievement of a new equilibrium between fertility and mortality, so that growth will be slowed or stopped. Sometimes this policy is stated in terms of enabling couples to have the number of children they want to have, and no more, because surveys in most developing countries indicate that couples desire smaller families than they actually have (see the country reports published by Macro International [1985–2000].).

The concept of replacement fertility is important for understanding population projections. Normally stated in terms of the female population, the reproductive value of a woman of a given age is equal to the number of daughters she will have who will survive to (at least) this same age. If the average reproductive value is exactly 1, then fertility is at replacement level. This occurs when the average woman has about 2.1 births in her lifetime (a little above 2.0, to compensate for children who do not survive). If there has been a history of higher fertility, then the population has been growing and is relatively young, with many women in the peak ages of childbearing. As a result, there can continue to be more births than deaths (i.e., population growth) for a very long time after the net reproduction rate has reached or even fallen below the replacement value of 1.0. However, in the long term, replacement fertility will lead to a no-growth population, and below-replacement fertility will lead to population decline.

Strictly speaking, reproduction is intergenerational, but it is estimated with the net reproduction rate, a synthetic measure calculated from agespecific fertility and survival rates within an interval of time such as one year. If an artificial cohort of women is subjected to these rates and does not replace itself, then current fertility is interpreted to be below replacement.

Projected improvements in mortality would have a relatively low impact on population growth. For reproduction, it is survivorship up to and through the childbearing ages that matters. Improvements in survivorship after age 45 or so have little impact. Projections do require some assumptions about the future of the human immunovirus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and also in South and Southeast Asia.

In the year 2000, world population is estimated to be 6.1 billion, with a growth rate of about 1.8 percent annually. If the current rate were to continue, world population would reach 9.2 billion by the year 2025. Even if reproduction immediately came into balance with mortality, as just described, world population would continue to increase. Population momentum, due to the youthful age distribution, would produce an excess of births over deaths (i.e., growth) for more than a century. World population would reach 7.5 billion by 2025, eventually stabilizing at nearly 10 billion. Substantial future growth is inevitable, but there is a wide range of possible scenarios.

Projections developed by the United Nations (United Nations 1998) for the year 2025 range from a low variant of 7.3 billion to a medium variant of 7.8 billion and a high variant of 8.4 billion, depending on assumptions about about future mortality and (more important) future fertility. By comparison, ten years earlier (United Nations 1988) the low projection for 2025 was 8.5 billion, slightly above the current high projection. This substantial downward revision reflects a general optimism that the threat of a world population explosion has largely receded. (It also implies that little credibility should be attached to longer-term projections, and for that reason this article will not cite projections beyond 2025.)

All the current projection scenarios assume that fertility will decline. The lowest estimate is based on an assumption that it will decline to below-replacement levels very soon, after 2005, and will decline steadily thereafter. This assumption is highly improbable, but even the medium variant assumes that worldwide fertility will be below replacement by 2030. This is a remarkable change from earlier projections, because prior to the late 1990s almost all scenarios assumed that fertility would ultimately converge to replacement level, with uncertainty only about when that would occur. Now that better data are available on actual changes during the 1980s and 1990s, it is considered likely that fertility will fall below replacement level early in the twenty-first century.

The net reproduction rate is currently less than 1.0 (that is, fertility is below the long-term level needed to balance mortality) in virtually all the more developed countries. The one-fifth of the world's population that resides in those countries will increase scarcely at all, and much of that growth will be the result of immigration from developing countries. Around the year 2000, compared to a standard of replacement fertility, Europe is at 68 percent of replacement level and North America is at 93 percent, while Asia is 10 percent above replacement, Latin America is 20 percent above, and Africa is 84 percent above. (These percentages come from estimates and medium-variant projections for 2000 by the United Nations [1998].) It is projected that low growth in Europe will cause the median age to rise to the mid-forties by 2025, with a fifth of the population above 65 years of age, a situation that the United States will approach a few years later. An excellent discussion of the causes and effects of future population change, and of many of the other topics in this article, can be found in Gelbard and colleagues, Haub, and Kent (1999).

Although world growth has been the preoccupation of recent decades, the possibility of population decline has long been acknowledged in Europe. In the United States, fertility has been below replacement since approximately 1970, and if it were not for high levels of immigration, this country would also face the prospect of population decline. Policies directed at increasing fertility in European countries have met with little success (see Calot and Blayo 1982; van de Kaa 1987). In urban settings with a high standard of living, children lose much of their earlier value as a source of economic activity, household wealth, and security in old age. They become increasingly expensive in terms of direct costs such as clothing, housing, and education, and in terms of opportunity costs such as forgone labor force activity by the mother.

In brief, there are probably two main reasons why fertility has not declined even further in the developed countries. One is the adherence to a powerful norm for two children that was consolidated around the middle of the twentieth century. Surveys show an overwhelming preference for exactly two children—preferably one boy and one girl, especially in the United States—with little flexibility either above or below that number. Actual childbearing often departs from the norm, more commonly by being below two children, so that fertility is below replacement. A high proportion of childbearing beyond two children is due to a desire for at least one child of each sex. Reliable methods to achieve the desired sex composition would result in a noticeable reduction of third and later births.

Second, children provide parents with a primary social group. There is no longer an expectation that they will provide support in old age, nor an important concern with carrying on the family name, but children do provide psychic and social rewards. To bear children is to emulate the behavior of one's parents and to replicate the family of orientation. However, this goal can be largely attained with only one child, as is being demonstrated in the lowest-fertility countries of Europe and in urban China. As increasing numbers of women opt for no children or only one child, it is possible that the widespread preference for two will weaken, even in the United States. For further discussion of fertility preferences in the United States, see Schoen and colleagues (1997).

Although the world as a whole is far from experiencing a decline in population, the low reproductivity of some countries and subpopulations raises questions about future mechanisms for restraining an indefinite decline in fertility, and eventually in population (see Teitelbaum and Winter 1985; Davis et al. 1986). It is reasonable to speculate on whether the cultural and social props for replacement fertility will continue to hold, or whether, as in the low and medium UN projections, worldwide fertility will decline to below-replacement levels early in the twenty-first century.

Major reductions in fertility in the past have been the result of delayed marriage and contraception and have been motivated at the level of the household. Maintenance of equilibrium in the future will require an increase in desired family size and less use of contraception. Many household-level factors associated with economic development would seem to support a projection of continued decline in fertility—for example, increased labor-force participation and autonomy for women, declines in marriage rates, increased costs for the education of children, and increased emphasis on consumption and leisure. It is easier to project a continued decline in fertility, rather than a significant upturn, in the absence of major changes or interventions in the microeconomy of the household. However, it also seems plausible that children will take on an increased (noneconomic) value as they become scarcer, or that subpopulations that favor high fertility will come to dominate, in which case the world will return to the previous pattern of long-term homeostasis at some level, or will establish a new pattern of very gradual growth, rather than allowing an inexorable decline.

(see also: Birth and Death Rates; Demographic Transition; Demography; Ethnicity; Family Planning; Infant and Child Mortality; Internal Migration; International Migration; Life Expectancy; Race; Retirement; Urbanization)


Binstock, Robert H., and Linda K. George (eds.) 1990 Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences. London: Academic.

Birdsall, Nancy 1980 "Population Growth and Poverty in the Developing World." Population Bulletin 35 (5).

Bogue, Donald J. 1985 The Population of the United States:Historical Trends and Future Projections. New York: Free Press.

Bulatao, Rodolfo, and Ronald D. Lee 1983 Determinantsof Fertility in Developing Countries. New York: Academic.

Caldwell, John G. 1976 "Toward a Restatement of Demographic Transition Theory." Population and Development Review 2:321–366.

——1978 "A Theory of Fertility: From High Plateau to Destabilization." Population and Development Review 4:553–577.

Calot, G., and Chantal Blayo 1982 "The Recent Course of Fertility in Western Europe." Population Studies 36:349–372.

Casterline, John B., Ronald D. Lee, and Karen A. Foote (eds.) 1996 Fertility in the United States: New Patterns,New Theories. Population and Development Review, a supplement to vol. 22.

Cleland, John, and John Hobcraft (eds.) 1985 Reproductive Change in Developing Countries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coleman, David, and Roger Schofield (eds.) 1986 TheState of Population Theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Davis, Kingsley 1963 "The Theory of Change and Response in Modern Demographic History." Population Index 29:345–366.

——, Mikhail S. Bernstam, and Rita Ricardo-Campbell (eds.) 1986 Below-Replacement Fertility in Industrial Societies: Causes, Consequences, Policies. Populationand Development Review, a supplement to vol. 12.

Easterlin, Richard A. 1976 "The Conflict between Resources and Aspirations." Population and Development Review 2:417–425.

Gelbard, Alene, Carl Haub, and Mary M. Kent 1999 "World Population beyond Six Billion." PopulationBulletin 54(1): Population Reference Bureau.

Goody, Jack 1976 Production and Reproduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

——1983 The Development of the Family and Marriagein Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Greenhalgh, Susan 1996 "The Social Construction of Population Science: An Intellectual, Institutional, and Political Hisory of Twentieth Century Demography." Comparative Studies in Society and History 38:26–66.

Hanley, Susan B., and Arthur P. Wolf (eds.) 1985 Familyand Population in East Asian History. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Hauser, Philip M., and Otis Dudley Duncan (eds.) 1959 The Study of Population. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hawley, Amos H. 1981 Urban Society. New York: John Wiley.

Keith, Verna M., and David P. Smith 1988 "The Current Differential in Black and White Life Expectancy." Demography 25:625–632.

Lapham, Robert J., and W. Parker Mauldin 1987 "The Effects of Family Planning on Fertility: Research Findings." In R. J. Lapham and G. B. Simmons, eds., Organizing for Effective Family Planning Programs. Washington: National Academy Press.

Laslett, Peter, and Richard Wall (eds.) 1972 Householdand Family in Past Time. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Lieberson, Stanley, and Mary C. Waters 1988 Ethnic andRacial Groups in Contemporary America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Livi Bacci, M. 1977 A History of Italian Fertility. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

McEvedy, Colin, and Richard Jones 1978 Atlas of WorldPopulation History. New York: Facts on File.

McKeown, Thomas 1976 The Modern Rise of Population. New York: Academic.

Macro International, Inc. 1985–2000 Country reports from the Demographic and Health Surveys Project, Calverton, Md.

Mosley, W. Henry, and Lincoln C. Chen (eds.) 1984 Child Survival: Strategies for Research. Population andDevelopment Review, a supplement to vol. 10.

Nam, Charles 1994 Understanding Population Change. Itasca, Ill.: F.E. Peacock.

Namboodiri, Krishnan 1988 "Ecological Demography: Its Place in Sociology." American Sociological Review 53:619–633.

National Center for Health Statistics 1999 "Births: Final Data for 1997." National Vital Statistics Reports 47(18). See also more recent annual reports in the same series.

Petersen, William 1975 Population. New York: Macmillan.

Population Reference Bureau (PRB) 1998 World Population Data Sheet. Washington: PRB. See also more recent publications in the same series.

Preston, Samuel H. 1978 Mortality Patterns in NationalPopulations. New York: Academic.

Ryder, Norman B. 1969 "The Emergence of a Modern Fertility Pattern: United States 1917–1966." In S. J. Behrman, ed., Family Planning. A World View. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Schoen, Robert, Young J. Kim, Constance A. Nathanson, Jason Fields, and Nan Marie Astone 1997 "Why Do Americans Want Children?" Population and Development Review 23:333–358.

Simon, Julian 1977 The Economics of Population Growth. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Stycos, J. Mayonne (ed.) 1987 Demography as anInterdiscipline. Sociological Forum 2 (4). Special issue.

Sweet, James A., and Larry L. Bumpass 1988 AmericanFamilies and Households. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Taeuber, Karl E., Larry L. Bumpass, and James A. Sweet (eds.) 1978 Social Demography. New York: Academic.

Teitelbaum, Michael S. 1984 The British Fertility Decline:Demographic Transition in the Crucible of the IndustrialRevolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

——, and Jay M. Winter 1985 The Fear of PopulationDecline. San Diego, Calif.: Academic.

Tilly, Charles (ed.) 1978 Historical Studies of ChangingFertility. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

United Nations 1973 The Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends: New Summary of Findings onInteraction of Demographic, Economic and Social Factors, vol. 1. Population Studies 50. New York: UN.

——1979 Trends and Characteristics of InternationalMigration Since 1950. New York: UN.

——1988 World Demographic Estimates and Projections,1950–2025. New York: UN.

——1997 World Urbanization Prospects: The 1996 Revision. New York: UN.

——1998 World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision. New York: UN.

van de Kaa, Dirk J. 1987 "Europe's Second Demographic Transition." Population Bulletin 42(1).

van de Walle, Etienne, and John Knodel 1980 "Europe's Fertility Transition: New Evidence and Lessons for Today's Developing World." Population Bulletin 34 (6).

World Bank 1990 World Development Report 1990. Washington: Oxford University Press.

Wrigley, E. A. 1969 Population and History. New York: McGraw-Hill.

——, and R. S. Schofield 1981 The Population Historyof England, 1541–1871: A Reconstruction. London: Edward Arnold.

Yaukey, David 1985 Demography: The Study of HumanPopulation. New York: St. Martin's.

Thomas W. Pullum


views updated Jun 11 2018


Audrey Y. Williams

1619–1790 African American Population

Population Growth after 1865

Regional Distribution before 2000

African American Towns and Settlements

Beyond Census 2000

Persons below the Poverty Level


At the beginning of each decade in the United States, a census is taken to determine the nation’s population. In the years between census reports, supplements are prepared with estimated updates. It is projected that by 2010 there will be 61.4 million black people in the United States, representing 15% of the population. Population studies yield valuable data that is used to describe Americans historically by ethnic group, gender, age, income, education, health, and other categories.


Although there is evidence that blacks were in South America before Columbus came to the Caribbean, the earliest record of blacks in what is now the United States is from 1619. A group of African and European indentured servants landed in Jamestown, Virginia, with a small number of British colonists. Historians differ on the exact number, but between 14 and 20 African indentured servants were part of this early settlement. Within a short time, the practice of enslaving Africans began and soon spread throughout the colonies. In 1630, there were 60 enslaved Africans in the American colonies; by 1660, the number increased to 2,920, almost 50 times as many.

By 1680, the colonies were growing and prospering. The thriving agrarian society needed strong workers to till the fertile fields. And thus was born the commerce of human flesh known as the “slave trade.” Within 70 years after the first Africans were brought to the colonies, the slave population in the American colonies had grown to 16,729. By 1740, the slave population reached 150,000; it increased to 575,000 by 1780. Although a free black population did exist, it grew at a slower rate than the enslaved population; in 1780, there was only one free black for every nine slaves.

Fewer than 8% of African Americans lived in the Northeast or Midwest by the time the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863. After the Civil War, the percentage of blacks living in the Northeast declined slightly, and the Midwest percentage rose.

In 1790, the first official American census was taken, listing 757,000 blacks. At that time, African descendants constituted 19.3% of the nation’s population, of which 9%, or 59,527, were not slaves. By 1790, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and the Northwest Territory had enacted legislation providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves. By 1860, there were almost four million persons of African descent in the United States, more than 90% of them in the South; the freed population, most of whom were in the North, numbered under half a million.


The decline and eventual cessation of the slave trade and increased European migration accounted for the population change. In 1900, there were 8.8 million African Americans in the United States, representing 11.6% of the total population. Between 1910 and 1930, the African American population percentage declined, reaching a low point in 1930 when the population was only 9.7% of the U.S. population. Since 1930, the African American population has grown at a rate faster than the national average. The percentage of blacks living in the South continued to decrease until 1970. At that time, about 39% of the African Americans were northerners, 53% were southerners, and about 7.5% lived in the West. Thirty years later, the regional distribution of African Americans changed. According to the 2000 Census Report, the American population numbers approximately 281.4 million with 19% of all Americans living in the South and 22% living in the West. Similar figures for the African American population in 2000 indicate a different settling pattern from the total population; 17.6% are in the Northeast, 18.8% in the Midwest, 54.8% in the South, and 8.9% in the West.

By the year 2000, the population percentages indicated a strong growth trend for the African American population. According to the 1990 census, the African American population constituted 12.1% of the American population, up from 11.7% in 1980.

By 1997, the African American population in the United States had grown to 32.3 million, or 12%, of the nation’s total resident population. In 2000, the African American population increased to 34.7 million, or 12.3%, of the total population.

The growth of the African American population since the 1980 census is largely due to the high birth rates and an increased immigration from countries with black populations. The increase in the number of births over deaths during the past two decades was due mainly to two factors: a larger percentage of African Americans in the childbearing ages, and a reduction in infant mortalities. The African American population has grown from legal and illegal immigration. While streams of Asian and Hispanic migrants to the United States have been more highly publicized, black immigration has also increased. The Caribbean area is one source of black immigration, with immigrants primarily from Haiti and Jamaica entering the United States to find work. The Mariel boatlift in 1980 also brought some blacks from Cuba. In addition, harsh political and economic conditions in Africa have provided many people with the incentive to immigrate to the United States. African students overstaying their student visas and working in

the United States have contributed to the population figures. Estimates of the size and effects of some of these sources of new population growth are speculative. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, legal immigration in 1996 from several Caribbean countries (with the exception of Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuba and African nations) amounted to approximately 170,000.



From 1790 until 1900, approximately 90% of the African American population lived mostly in rural areas of the South. The abolition of slavery after the Civil War had little impact on the Southern rural character of the

African American population. The newly freed slaves were mostly illiterate with agrarian skills. Sharecropping became a way of life for the many who agreed to work for very low wages in return for shelter and a portion of the crop. Share-cropping was not much different from slavery for uneducated African Americans who were easily taken advantage of by dishonest landowners. Once the reconstruction period ended, some African American leaders urged blacks to migrate from the South, particularly since former Confederates were still in control in the post-Civil War era.


The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminole peoples, often called the Five Civilized Nations, were driven from their lands in the South into what is today known as Oklahoma, because the former confederates and white supremacists regained control of most of the Southern states and local governments after Reconstruction. Between 1830 and 1840, this area was called Indian Territory. These Native American groups brought their slaves with them to set up an agricultural way of life. Some slaves were runaways befriended by the Native Americans, and others were personal property. In some instances, Native Americans and African Americans intermarried and had families. After the Civil War, in which both African Americans and Native Americans participated, most of the tribes freed their slaves.

The freedmen and approximately 10,000 African American settlers migrated west to Kansas and Oklahoma, establishing between 25 to 27 towns and settlements in the Indian and Oklahoma Territories. Today, there are no traces of most of those towns and settlements. However, some key towns and settlements in Oklahoma and the South continue to exist.

Nicodemus, Kansas By 1879, thousands of African Americans from the Deep South had heeded the freedom call by moving to the North and West in order to seek a livelihood free from the sharecropping form of slavery. Henry Adams of Louisiana and Pap Singleton of Tennessee were two African American men who encouraged migration to Kansas. Fifty thousand African Americans alone moved to Kansas from southern Louisiana. Nicodemus is the last survivor of the African American communities founded in Kansas after the Civil War. The founding settlers were called “exodusters.” Although the exodusters were poor and lacked sufficient tools and seed money, they managed to survive the first winter, some by selling buffalo bones, others by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis 35 miles away. In 1800, the town consisted of an African American population of more than 400. Hopes that the railroad would come their way and add to the town’s fortune never materialized. In 1974, Nicodemus was designated as a National Historic Landmark District.

On November 12, 1996, Nicodemus was designated as a National Historical site. As an official historical site, the Park Service is responsible for aiding the community in the presentation of historic structures and to interpret the town’s history for the benefit of present and future generations. The Nicodemus Historical Society is the one remaining business in this town. In 2000, the population numbered only 20.

Langston, Oklahoma Edwin and Sarah McCabe established one of the many towns founded by blacks who migrated from the South to northern and western communities. Edwin McCabe was the African American state auditor in Kansas who wanted to make Oklahoma an

all-African American state as a way of escaping the anti-black discrimination that prevailed. McCabe named the town Langston in honor of John Mercer Langston, who was a black member of the 51st U.S. Congress from Virginia. McCabe was unsuccessful in his efforts to make Oklahoma an African American state. By 1897, Langston had a population of more than 2,000 residents, and the Oklahoma territorial legislature granted the settlement enough land to establish the Colored Agricultural and Normal University, the first African American agricultural and mechanical college. The institution still exists and is the most western of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Two other interesting places in Langston are the Beulah Land Cemetery, a place that has markers and graves of former slaves and city founders, and the Melvin B. Tolson Heritage Center, which holds African and African American history and heritage exhibits, an art collection, and multimedia resources. The current population in Langston is less than 2,000 people, 93% of whom are black.

Boley, Oklahoma Boley, Oklahoma, was founded in 1903 and incorporated in 1905 as Boley, Creek Nation, Indian Territory. The name was changed to Boley, Oklahoma, when the State of Oklahoma was formed in 1907. Oklahoma was formed without any federal guarantees that African Americans would have full citizenship and not be harassed. The town consisted of 160 acres that belonged to Abigail Burnett McCormick. She had inherited the land from the government as the daughter of James Burnett, a Creek Freedman. Booker T. Washington, the most prominent African American leader of that period, encouraged African Americans to migrate to Boley to develop an all-African American town. Washington believed that it was important for African Americans to be self-sufficient and learn crafts and skills to take care of their communities. By 1911, the town had a population of 4,000, with five grocery stores, five hotels, seven restaurants, four cotton gins, three drug stores, one jewelry store, four department stores, two livery stables, two insurance agencies, one funeral home, one lumber yard, two photographers, and an ice plant. Boley had the first black-owned electric company and one of the first black-owned banks.

Migration to Boley came to a halt during the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and many residents left. Currently, Boley offers both possibilities and challenges. The current population is less than a thousand with blacks making up approximately 60% of the group. The current businesses include a manufacturing company, a funeral home, three boarding houses, two gas stations, two grocery stores, one hardware store, a community center, a swimming pool, six churches, an elementary school, and a high school.

Eatonville, Florida Located approximately 10 miles northeast of downtown Orlando, Eatonville, Florida, is the oldest African American municipality in the United States. In the late 1980s, a civic group called Preserve the Eatonville Community was formed to protect and maintain the historic African American community. Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance writer and anthropologist, whose father served three terms as mayor, mentioned Eatonville in several of her books. Hurston, who studied at Howard University, was the first African American woman to graduate from Barnard College. The combination of community pride and the support of literary artists like Alice Walker and Maya Angelou prevented a major highway from cutting through the center of the town. The town now has historic landmark status and holds a “Zora” festival annually. Eatonville has a population of more than 2,000 blacks and a little less than 200 whites.

American Beach, Florida American Beach, which is about 20 acres of land on Amelia Island, Florida, was given its name by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who purchased the land in 1935. At the time that Lewis bought the land, Jim Crow laws were prevalent in the South. The beaches and resorts were for whites only and did not allow blacks, even millionaires like Lewis, to use the facilities. Lewis planned to encourage other well-to-do African Americans to follow his example and eventually build an area for African Americans to enjoy. American Beach, like many small American towns, has had to deter aggressive developers who want to buy up the land for malls and franchises, erasing the town’s original character. There were 2,432 people in American Beach, according to the 2000 census, of which 89.31% are African American, 7.52% are white, 0.49% are Native American, and 1.85% are from other races.


In the 2002 census supplement, African Americans, or blacks, made up 13% of the U.S. population. That percentage represents 36 million people. By 2004, the black population was estimated to be 39.2 million, or 13.4%. In 2004, the percentages of blacks living in specific regions were similar to the 2002 figures, which show the majority of the African Americans (55%) lived in the South. The remainder of the black population had 15% in the Northeast and the Midwest and 9% in the West. In comparison, 69% (194.8 million) of the U.S. population is non-Hispanic white. Of that number, 33% of the non-Hispanic white population lived in the South, 27% lived in the Midwest, 21% in the Northeast, and 19% in the West. New York (3.5 million), Florida (2.9 million), and Texas (2.7 million) are the states with the largest black populations.

Blacks are concentrated primarily in the cities. More than half (52%) of all blacks live in a central city within a metropolitan area, compared to 21% of non-Hispanic whites. Approximately 57% of the whites live outside the central city, but within the metropolitan area, compared with 36% of blacks.

A significant portion of the black population is represented by young people. In 2002, 33% of all blacks were under 18, compared with 23% of whites. A larger proportion of black males than white males were under 18 years old (35% compared with 24%). In contrast, 7% of black males and 12% of white males were 65 or older. Only 8% of all blacks were 65 and older, compared with 14% of whites. A higher percentage of black females (30%) were under 18, compared to white females of which 21% were under age 18. Black females had a lower percentage of women 65 years or older, 9% for black females compared to 22% for white females.


In 2004, the median income for all U.S. households was $44,389. The median income for blacks was $30,134, more than $10,000 less than the national median. Since the 2000 Census, the median income for blacks has

Table 1.
Racial income gap in Queens, New York (2005)
 Head of household is native bornHead of household is foreign bornMarried couple household
source: Analysis of census data by Andrew A. Beveridge, Queens College Department of Sociology. Published in The New York Times, October 1, 2006.
Black, non-Hispanic45,86461,15178,070
White, non-Hispanic53,71145,86474,503
Hispanic (may be of any race)50,65441,68550,960

continued to lag about $10,000 less than the national median. Recently, Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College SUNY, who has analyzed the 2005 census population data, reported that in one of New York City’s boroughs, Queens, the median income for blacks is almost $52,000, and has surpassed the median income of whites in the borough. No other county in the nation with a population of more than 65,000 has a black median income surpassing the income of whites. Black household income is higher than that of whites in Mount Vernon, New York; Westchester, New York; Pembroke Pines, Florida; Brocton, Massachusetts; and Rialto, California, all of which have populations smaller than Queens. The report notes that Queens has a number of two-parent families, many of whom are immigrants from the Caribbean. Analysis of the black group showed that the foreign-born black heads of household earned more than the native-born black heads of household.


Poverty in the United States is measured by comparing family income with one of 48 thresholds. The thresholds vary according to the family size. The poverty level designation is for families who have limited incomes and are not financially able to afford some things that are often taken for granted such as good housing, good schools, and health insurance. From 1975 until 2004, there has been a negligible change in the percentage of black people who are below the poverty level (see table 2).

In 1974, there were nationally 12.3% of Americans at the poverty level. In the same year, 31.3% of the black

Table 2.
Persons below poverty level, 1975–2005
[In thousands]
YearAll personsPercentWhitePercentBlackPercentHispanic origin1PercentAsian and Pacific IslandPercent
Note: n.a. = not available
1Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
2 For years 2002 and 2003, figures refer to people who reported Asian and did not report any other race category.
3 The 2003 Current Population Survey allowed respondents to choose more than one race. White alone refers to people who reported White and did not report any other race category.
4 Black alone refers to people who reported Black and did not report any other race.
5 Asian alone refers to people who reported Asian and did not report any other race.
source: U.S. Bureau of the Census. Web: www.census.gov.

population was below the poverty level, which was more than twice the national percentage. Over the years, the differences remained almost the same until 1994 when the national percentage was 11.2% and the black percentage had decreased to 29.3%. By 2004, the below-poverty percentage for the nation was 12.7%, while for blacks the poverty percentage had dropped to 24.7% (see table 2).


Education is the way for most people to improve or retain their economic status. Education has played a key role in the experience of African Americans. During the time that people of African descent were enslaved in the United States, it was against the law to teach enslaved people to read or write. But the history of the United States is sprinkled with the stories of how the enslaved people hungered for education and how some were able to learn to read and write.

The earliest census records show that in 1940, 10.9% of the white population had less than five years of elementary school, compared to 41.8% of the black population. Fifty years later, the percentages for both groups were reduced to 1.1% for whites and 5.1% for blacks. In 1990, 23.1% of whites had four or more years of college, and of the black group 11.3% had four or

Table 3.
Educational attainment by race and Hispanic origin, 1940–2005 [Percent of population age 25 and older, by years of school completed]
Age and YearLess than 5 years of elementary schoolHigh shcool completion or higher24 or more years of college3Less than 5 years of elementary schoolHigh shcool completion or higher24 or more years of college3Less than 5 years of elementary schoolHigh shcool completion or higher24 or more years of college3
Note: (-) = not avaliable
1 Inculdes persons of Hispanic origin for years prior to 1980.
2Data for years prior to 1993 inculde all persons with at least 4 years of high school.
3Data for 1993 and later years are for persons with a bachelor’s or higher degree.
source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Population, 1960, Vol. 1, part 1; Current Population Reports, Series P-20 and unpublished data; and 1960 Census Monograph, “Education of the American Population,” by John K. Folger and Charles B. Nam. From U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2003, and U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March 2005.
April 194010.9%26.1%4.9%41.8%7.7%1.3%
April 19508.936.46.632.613.72.2
April 19606.743.28.123.521.73.5
March 19704.257.411.614.736.16.1
March 19801.971.918.
March 19851.477.520.86.159.911.113.547.98.5
March 19901.181.423.
March 19920.983.423.23.967.711.911.852.69.3
March 19930.884.123.83.770.512.211.853.19.0
March 19940.884.924.32.773.012.910.853.39.1
March 19950.785.923.42.573.813.310.653.49.3
March 19960.686.
March 19970.686.326.22.075.313.39.454.710.3
March 19980.687.126.61.776.414.89.355.511.0
March 19990.687.727.71.877.415.
March 20000.588.428.11.678.916.68.757.010.6
March 20010.588.728.61.379.516.19.356.511.2
March 20020.588.729.41.679.217.28.757.011.1
March 20040.490.030.61.381.
March 20050.590.130.51.581.517.77.958.512.0

more years of college. By 2005, 30.5% of the white population had completed four or more years of college, compared to 17.7% of the black population (see table 3).

The black population in the United States represents a group of Americans who have contributed to the history and development of the world’s most influential nation in the twenty-first century.

Population by Race and Hispanic Origin for the United States: 2000
Race and Hispanic or LatinoNumberPercent of total population
source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Redistricting (Public Law 94-171) Summary File, Tables PL1 and PL2.
Total population281,421,906100.0
One race274,595,67897.6
Black or African American34,658,19012.3
American Indian and Alaska Native2,475,9560.9
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander398,8350.1
Some other race15,359,0735.5
Two or more races6,826,2282.4
Total population281,421,906100.0
Hispanic or Latino35,305,81812.5
Not Hispanic or Latino246,116,08887.5
Black or African American Population: 2000 (For information on confidentiality protection, nonsampling error, and definitions, see www.census.gov/prod/cen2000/doc/pl94-171.pdf)
source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File, Table PL1.
RaceNumberPercent of total population
Total population281,421,906100.0
Black or African American alone or in combination with one or more other races36,419,43412.9
Black or African American alone34,658,19012.3
Black or African American in combination with one or more other races1,761,2440.6
Black or African American; White784,7640.3
Black or African American; Some other race417,2490.1
Black or African American; American Indian and Alaska Native182,4940.1
Black or African American; White; American Indian and Alaska Native112,207-
All other combinations including Black or African American264,5300.1
Not Black or African American alone or in combination with one or more other races245,002,47287.1
- Percentage rounds to 0.0.  


views updated May 11 2018


Demography is crucial to an understanding of economic, social, and political life in the Middle East.

Until the nineteenth century, the Middle East experienced a typical Malthusian demographic system: high fertility outpaced high mortality, but there was occasional extraordinary mortality from warfare, famine, or epidemic disease, particularly bubonic plague. The population grew slowly until one of these demographic crises occurred, dipped sharply, then
began to grow slowly once again. This pattern ended in much of the Middle East during the nineteenth century. Despite minor outbreaks, truly catastrophic epidemics ended with the cholera epidemic of 1865. The increase in central government control facilitated security, trade, and delivery of food to famine regions. Egypt's population began to grow early in the century, as did that of Anatolia and the coastal provinces of Ottoman Syria during the 1870s. Iraq, Arabia, and Iran took little part in either the improvement in civil conditions or population growth.

The period of World War I (and the wars in Anatolia that followed it) was a demographic water-shed in the Middle East, a period of great mortality and forced migration unequalled in the previous millennium. After the war, the Middle East began a new period of population growth, erasing the wartime population losses within a decade. Turkey's population began to expand fairly rapidly, from 14.6 million in 1927 to 18 million in 1940. Egypt's population grew from 13 million inhabitants in 1917 to 16 million in 1937. Other countries grew less quickly, but population increased markedly across the region. Nevertheless, the Middle East can be described as underpopulated before World War II. Large areas of potentially fertile lands were uncultivated. Population density was low, due to high mortality and lack of developed resources. By modern standards, mortality had declined only slowly. In late Ottoman times, mortality had averaged more than 3.5 percent per year. This condition only gradually improved between the two world wars. However, Egypt, Palestine, and Turkey managed to lower mortality through irrigation, public sanitation, and by ending conditions of civil unrest that had diminished the distribution of crops and goods. Medical improvement was a minor factor.

population of the middle east, 1800 to 2025, in millions*
* including the areas of today's bahrain, egypt, gaza, iran, iraq, israel,jordan, kuwait, lebanon, oman, qatar, saudi arabia, syria, turkey, united arab emirates, west bank, and yemen.
source: projections to 2000 and 2025 from united nations, world population prospects, 2000. (medium-fertility variant)
Table by GGS Information Services, The Gale Group.

After World War II, as in much of the world, the Middle Eastern population began to increase rapidly. Fertility, always high, remained so, while introduction of modern medicine greatly lowered mortality. Modern agricultural techniques and the new crops of the green revolution increased the ability of Middle Eastern economies to feed larger populations. The result was a population boom. From 1950 to 1990 the population of the Middle East increased threefold. By the 1960s the rate of population increase meant that, if the high rates continued, future populations would double every twenty-five years. These rates of increase put great strain on the economies of the region. The results have included rapid and unplanned urbanization

life expectancy at birth*
 19502000 19502000
* "1950" is actually for the years 19501955
** 1950 is average for north and south yemen
source: united nations, world population prospects, 1990; world bank, world development indicators, 2002.
Ttable by GGS Information Services, The Gale Group.
iraq4461saudi arabia4073

and unemployment, as well as overuse of fertilizers and poor agricultural techniques that temporarily yield large crop increases but eventually exhaust the soil.


The average fertility of Middle Eastern women changed little for centuries. Women who lived through their childbearing years (many did not) could expect to have six to seven children (the total fertility rate). Since the late 1970s fertility decreased in most countries. By 1999 the average woman in Turkey had 2.4 children, in Egypt 3.3, in Iran 2.7. However, in Syria and Saudi Arabia, the average remained very high, at 4.6 per woman. Women in Yemen and Oman had 6.2 children on average. Contraceptive usage varies greatly: in 1999, more than 60 percent of Turkish women used some form of contraception at some time in their lives; in Jordan, 27 percent. In some other countries the figures were much lower. Despite recent reductions, the Middle East remains one of the highest fertility regions in the world.

The history of high fertility has strained the capacity of the Middle Eastern economies. Nearly one-half of the population in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen is children under age fifteen. Even Middle Eastern countries with lower fertility, such as Turkey, have populations in which one-third are under fifteen. (This compares with 21 percent in the United States and 20 percent in Western Europe.)

If present fertility trends continue, future Middle Eastern populations will divide into two very different patterns. Israel is already nearing a European pattern of low fertility. Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, the Emirates, and Turkey are approaching that standard. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and others still retain high fertility. The demographics of the latter countries will in fifty years look very different from those of the former, with very large numbers of children and a fast-growing population. For example, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia taken together had a slightly smaller population than Turkey. If trends continue, in fifty years they will together have twice as many people as Turkey.

fertility and mortality, 19801999
 total fertility rates (births per woman)mortality rates (crude death rate/1000 people)
source: World Bank, Development Indicators, 2001.
Table by GGS Information Services, The Gale Group.
egypt5.13.313 7
iran6.72.711 6
saudi arabia7.35.594
united arab emirates5.43.353


In the absence of extraordinary causes, fertility would have always outstripped mortality in the traditional Middle East. The population would have risen at approximately 1 percent per year. In fact, epidemics, wars, and famines meant that mortality equaled fertility. The most common causes of death were gastrointestinal diseases. Infant mortality was particularly high, with more than 40 percent of children dying before their first birthday, more than half before age five. Epidemics of plague and cholera caused temporary high mortality. In Egypt, for example, cholera took more than 100,000 lives in each of the epidemics of 1855 and 1865 and almost 200,000 in 1831. Bubonic plague took 500,000 lives in 1835 alone.

Warfare also caused great mortality in the nineteenth century. The Ottoman wars with Russia were particularly deadly for both military and civilian populations. From the beginning of the Balkan Wars in 1912 to the end of fighting in the Turkish War of Independence in 1922, the region suffered some of the worst wartime mortality in history. The highest death rates were found in eastern Anatoliathe result of war between the Ottomans and Russians and conflict between Muslims and Armenians in western Anatolia after the Greek invasion and in Palestine. In Anatolia, 3.8 million died (22 percent), and in Palestine 50,000 (6 percent). In all those conflicts, starvation and disease took a higher toll than did actual battle. Lebanon also suffered mass starvation during the war.

After World War II, the rapid introduction of modern medicine, public sanitation techniques, and agricultural improvements reduced mortality rates sharply. In 1950 the Middle East had a high crude death rate (deaths divided by total population) of more than 2.3 percent a year, but by 1999 it had fallen to less than 0.6 percent a year. Some countries, such as Egypt (0.7 percent in 1999) and Yemen (1.2 percent in 1999) lagged behind. A major part of the postwar improvement came in infant mortality. In 1950 one in five Middle Eastern children died before age five; in 1999 only one in nineteen died before age five, compared to a world average of one in thirteen.

The IranIraq War of 19801988 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranian and
Iraqi soldiers, with consequent effects on the size and gender structure of both populations. In addition, it is estimated that the Baʿthist regime in Iraq killed some three hundred thousand of its own citizens during campaigns against the Kurds in the north of the country and against the Shiʿa in the south.

The United Nations has lowered its projections of the region's population growth to 2025 as a result of the faster than expected decline in fertility. This has translated into slower population growth rates starting in Egypt and spreading east. The absolute increases in population are still growing in many countries because of past fast growth rates, and it will take ten to twenty years for slower growth rates to translate into smaller absolute increases.


Refugee migrations have been a major demographic factor during the past two centuries. Only the most prominent population transfers can be mentioned here: During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, great population movements took place as direct results of Russian imperial expansion in the Crimea and Caucasus and of nationalistic movements among the Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire. Russia expelled or caused the migration of approximately 1.2 million Circassian, Abhazian, and Laz Muslims from the lands of the Eastern Black Sea. Of these, 800,000 survived and most eventually settled in what today is Turkey, as did the 300,000 Crimean Tatars forced to emigrate during the 1850s and 1860s. A sizable group of the Circassians were settled in the Arab world. Russian expansion also fostered a century-long population exchange, with much attendant mortality, between the Turks and Kurds of Russian Transcaucasia and the Armenians of Ottoman Anatolia and Iran. Between the 1820s and 1920s, 500,000 Armenians and 400,000 Muslims (not including the Circassians and Abhazians) crossed the borders. During World War I, an estimated one million Muslims were internal refugees in Eastern Anatolia; an estimated 275,000 Armenians were deported to or were refugees in the Arab world, and 135,000 were refugees in Europe and the Americas.

Nearly 600,000 Turks (40 percent of its Turkish population) were surviving refugees from the new state of Bulgaria after the RussianOttoman Wars of 18771878. Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro expelled to Anatolia and Eastern Thrace 414,000 Turks during and immediately after the Balkan Wars of 19121913. During World War I, the Turkish War of Independence, and the Greek-Turkish population exchange that followed, more than one million Greeks from Anatolia and eastern Thrace went to Greece and 360,000 Turks from Greece to Turkey. Up to 1.5 million Turks were internal refugees within Anatolia and eastern Thrace during the Greek-Turkish war.

Before World War II a major immigration of primarily European Jews swelled the Jewish population of Palestine from 60,000 in 1918 to 600,000 in 1946. More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were refugees in the Arab-Israel War of 1948. Between 1948 and 1975, 1.6 million Jews came to Israel. Half of these were from the Middle East and North Africa, another third from Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans. Immigration to Israel has continued recently with nearly one million Jews from Russia and successor states.

The only Middle Eastern country to be heavily affected by refugees from the Afghan War was Iran, which accepted more than two million Afghan refugees. Turkey took in 300,000 ethnic Turkish refugees from Bulgaria, as well as Iranian refugees after the Iranian revolution and Kurdish refugees after the Gulf War. Many of the refugees to Iran and Turkey have been repatriated or have moved to other countries. A significant number of the refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bulgaria have returned home at least once, only to leave once again when economic and political conditions changed.

The quest for employment has been a major cause of migration into and from the Middle East. In Ottoman times, 175,000 Turkish emigrants went to the United States from 1869 to 1914. More recently,
the International Labor Organization estimated that 1.8 million Turks were working in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium in 1988. During the same year, 20,000 Koreans, 50,000 Indonesians, and 90,000 from the Philippines worked in the Gulf states. Before the Gulf War, up to two million foreign workers, mainly Egyptians, worked in Iraq.

Urbanization has been the most significant factor in internal migration in the modern Middle East. Driven by population pressure in rural areas, the urban population increased from twenty-one million (27 percent urban) in 1950 to 185 million (60 percent urban) in 1999. There is considerable variance between countries: In 1990, Syria's population was only half urban, Egypt's less than half urban, while the populations of Iraq and Turkey were more than 60 percent urban. Istanbul was one of the twenty largest cities in the world. Smaller countries such as Israel and Lebanon were as urbanized as Europe or North America.

Censuses and Population Data

A census by definition registers the entire population at one time. Prior to 1882 no real census was taken in the Middle East. In the place of censuses, the Ottoman and Egyptian governments made compilations of registration data. The registers were lists of inhabitants by household in each village, taken by government officials. These often produced surprisingly accurate counts of the population, especially in areas that were under close governmental control. On occasion, the central governments of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire ordered general updates and compilations of the registers. During the 1860s the Ottoman government began to publish population numbers in the salname s (yearbooks) of its provinces. The Ottoman compilations usually listed data by sex and religion only, even though age-specific figures were kept and are available in archives. The 1313 Istatistik-i Umumi ("1895 General Statistics") was the only Ottoman publication to include data by age group. Population data was collected sporadically in Iran, but was not published officially.

The first real census in the Middle East was taken by the khedival government in Egypt just prior to the British occupation in 1882. Under British statistical influence, Egypt published censuses in 1897, 1907, 1917, 1927, and 1937. The British also undertook a limited form of census in Aden (later People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) in 1881, then published other counts of Aden, as part of the censuses of India, in 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921, and 1931. The Turkish republic began a modern census

middle eastern censuses after world war ii
Table by GGS Information Services, The Gale Group.
n. yemen1975,1986      
saudi arabia1962/63,1974,1992     
s. yemen1946,1955,1973,1988    

program with censuses in 1927 and 1935, followed by censuses every five years. The British Mandate government in Palestine took fairly accurate and very detailed censuses in 1922 and 1931, and with limited success updated the census data through birth and death records and published the data in the Palestine Blue Books. The French collected data in Syria and Lebanon, but only published brief summaries that indicate poor recording. An incomplete census was taken in Lebanon in 19421943.

Modern Middle Eastern censuses have routinely been supplemented by publications of detailed information on marriage, divorce, birth, and death, although these often have been accurate only for urban areas. Sample surveys of the population, often supported by the United Nations or other international bodies, have also been published.


Karpat, Kemal H. Ottoman Population, 18301914: Demographic and Social Characteristics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

McCarthy, Justin. The Arab World, Turkey, and the Balkans (18781914): A Handbook of Historical Statistics. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.

United Nations. Demographic Yearbook. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistical Office, 1948.

United Nations. World Population Monitoring. New York: United Nations, Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, 1989.

United Nations. World Population Prospects. New York: United Nations, 1900s. 2000 edition available from <http://www.un.org/esa/population>.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Sex and Age Distributions of Population. New York: United Nations, 19901996.

justin mccarthy
updated by paul rivlin


views updated May 14 2018


Perceptions of the meaning, implications, and control of reproduction and sexuality, at both the individual and community levels, are among the most important, but also the most challenging, in the history of ideas. Changes in human population helped shape the twentieth century and are creating new tensions in the twenty-first, but, despite the profound significance of childbearing to individuals and the impact of population change on economics, politics, maternal and infant health, the environment, and national security, the intellectual history of population is oddly fractured and frequently uninformative. There are still divisions on the exact mix of factors, such as vaccination and socioeconomic change, driving the dramatic fall in death rates that pushed the global population from 1,650 million in 1900 to 6,071 million in 2000, and there is no consensus on the factors driving falling birth rates in recent decades. Many societies have made pragmatic decisions about their citizens' access to modern contraception and safe abortion, but bitter and painful differences on ethics persist. The two most important shifts in the intellectual history of populationthe Papal encyclical Humanae vitae and the Chinese "one-child" policyrepresent diametrically opposed responses to population change.

An understanding of population must draw on reproductive biology, anthropology, economics, political science, and demography, as well as knowledge of cultural and religious beliefs, but cross-disciplinary progress has been slow. As Charles Darwin (18091882) acknowledged, Thomas Robert Malthus's (17661834) An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1798, was the intellectual trigger for The Origin of Species (1851). In the second half of the twentieth century, biological perspectives began to influence ideas about population change. Anthropologists reconstructed the demographic history of preliterate communities, which have been characteristic of the hunter-gatherer way of life for more than 95 percent of the time Homo sapiens has been a distinct species. In such societies, women sometimes do not menstruate until they are eighteen or even twenty years old, and pregnancies are well spaced by natural endocrine changes associated with breast-feeding. The average woman has six to eight pregnancies, half of which usually die, with the consequence that hunter-gatherer populations grow slowly.

The second half of the twentieth century saw unprecedented and unrepeatable changes in the growth of the global population. Rising potential fertility, as a result of changes in breast-feeding and the age of puberty, together with a rapid fall in death rates, pushed population growth rates up. The highest absolute growth in global population occurred in the mid-1980s, with more than 85 million more births than deaths per annum. During the same period, developed countries finally gained wide access to contraception and safe abortion, and in some regions average family size fell below two. In parts of Asia, which formerly had large families, the birth rate also fell to replacement level or below, although elsewhere in Asia and in Africa birth rates remain high. The implications for the health of women and children, for economic prosperity, social stability, and the environment of these changes are profound, yet some of the most important population changes were not predicted by most demographers.

The standard theory of the demographic transition was that a fall in the birth rate would lag behind any decline in the death rate and that birth and death rates would slowly stabilize as couples grew richer, became more educated, and made a rational decision to have smaller families. Frank Notestein, the distinguished American demographer, gave articulate expression to the theory. As the volume of empirical data on family planning has increased, so demographers have defined the proximal determinants of family size with increasing accuracy. These are the age at commencing intercourse, the prevalence of pathological causes of infertility, the suppression of ovulation associated with lactation, and use of contraception and abortion. However, the more distal determinants that make birth rates decline continue to be debated. The Office of Population Research at Princeton University explored the history of fertility decline in various parts of Europe and found that ideas about family planning spread by diffusion in homogeneous political and religious groups.

Clash of Ideas

The United States led the way in research that produced oral contraceptives and a new generation of intrauterine devices (IUDs) in the 1960s, although restrictive contraceptive laws remained in place in many states until the 1965 Supreme Court case Griswald v. Connecticut. Eastern Europe and parts of Scandinavia reformed their abortion laws in the 1960s and England followed in 1967. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws forbidding abortion in Roe v. Wade. Advocates for family planning were often led by physicians, such as Alan Guttmacher, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of the United States, and Fernando Tamayo, leader of Profamilia in Colombia.

In the 1960s, demographers and economists warned of adverse effects of rapid population growth on development. Paul Erhlich captured public attention with The Population Bomb (1968). The Rockefeller and other foundations began to fund family planning. The Swedish government offered international support for family planning, and in the United States General William Draper Jr. persuaded Congress to follow suit.

However, other demographers, such as Kingsley Davis, continued to emphasize socioeconomic development as a prerequisite for smaller families. Gary Becker and others framed decisions about family size as economic decisions based on a rational analysis of costs and benefits of having children. However, given the frequency of human intercourse in relation to conception, the issue is not to decide when to have a child, but how to turn off the possibility of conception, something that can only be done when a couple has ready access to contraception, backed up by safe abortion. Everywhere poor families had more children than rich ones, but the question remained: was this a choice, or did poor people find it more difficult to access contraception and safe abortion?

Those working in the front lines of family planning, led by Reimert T. Ravenholt, the principal administrator in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), believed improving access to fertility-regulating choices was the key to smaller families. He began to implement large-scale programs offering oral contraceptives, IUDs, condoms, and voluntary sterilization as well as initiating surveys of the family planning knowledge, attitudes, and practices of women in developing countries. These surveys have been broadened into Demographic and Health Surveys, and they remain the largest social science surveys ever conducted. Virtually every survey has demonstrated that women are having more children than they intend, and everywhere that realistic family choices were made available, as in South Korea, Thailand, or Mexico, family size fell. Nevertheless, several schools of thought about population continue to compete for intellectual dominance. All are influential in discussions about population, although only those specifically concerned with family planning have put population center stage.


Economists have always played an important, although sometimes contradictory, role in establishing intellectual and public policy related to population. Macroeconomic concerns that the investment required to keep pace with rapid population growth would undermine the economic development of poor countries supported family planning policies in the 1960s and 1970s. In a much-quoted article, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett Hardin saw rapid population growth exceeding the carrying capacity of the land. But, accepting then-current ideas about the demographic transition, Hardin concluded that voluntary family planning would not ameliorate the threat. Other experts saw the relationship between population and the environment as so complex that they were reluctant to provide clear-cut conclusions. Julian Simon, Ben Wattenberg, and others argued that increasing population would drive technical ingenuity to substitute new materials for declining resources. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration free-market policies trumped any adverse effects of rapid growth. In the 1990s, the pendulum began to swing back when it was shown that countries that had undergone a rapid fall in birth rates had reaped a "demographic dividend" benefiting their economies.

Equity group.

A politically influential group in population research has been those who argue that attention to population takes attention away from the excessive consumption of the first world, reflecting economic inequity, which is the primary injustice needing remedy. This school of thought was influential at the Rio Conference on population and development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and in certain circumstances it is a valid conclusion. In other situations, however, there is little doubt that population growth per se is the key factor. For example, in 2000, 179 million people in Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia depended on the Nile, which is almost depleted by the time it reaches the Mediterranean. In 2050, 385 million people will compete for the same amount of water.

Women's groups.

Since the mid-1960s, women's groups have played an increasingly important role in discussions of population. In Europe and North America, they were forceful advocates for access to family planning as essential to female equality and empowerment. However, a subgroup of feminists opposed hormonal contraceptives as unnatural and feminists in India have prevented the use of the popular injectable contraceptive, DepoProvera, and objected to the use of a low-cost, nonsurgical method of voluntary sterilization.

National security.

Rapid population growth is associated with a high ratio of younger to older men, and analysts in both academia and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency found a relationship between this ratio and civil disturbances, warfare, and terrorism. It is a theme that was taken up in a secret National Security Study Memorandum requested by President Nixon in 1974, which recommended additional support to international family planning. As can happen in a field permeated with emotions and religious beliefs, and thinking that has no evidential basis, lobbying by Catholic bishops successfully blocked implementation of this memorandum, which was only declassified in 1989.

The Vatican.

The Judeo-Christian association of sex with sin goes back to the Adam and Eve myth, but it was St. Augustine's assertion that coitus can be justified only for procreation that underlies Vatican teaching. In the 1960s, many leading theologians, including the commission the pope himself established, argued that sex had a dual purposeto express love and to procreateand that contraception could be used to separate the two. The Catholic physician John Rock, who had played a leading role in developing oral contraceptives, argued in The Time Has Come that the pill was morally acceptable because it imitated the natural suppression of ovulation during pregnancy and lactation. However, Pope Paul IV provided the most wrenching twist in the intellectual history of population of the second half of the twentieth century by reiterating the Augustinian interpretation of sexuality in his 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae. In its wake, priests and communicants left the Catholic Church, and those who remained adopted contraception and safe abortion at the same rate as non-Catholics. While the Holy See continues to oppose family planning on the international stage, Italy voted in two referenda for contraception and safe abortion.

Changing Paradigms and Uncertain Policies

The lack of consensus in intellectual thinking, the strength of faith-based assertions about human reproduction, and competition over limited funds have all fed large and sometimes contradictory swings in domestic and international policies. The first of three landmark decennial international conferences on population in Bucharest in 1974 was summed up by the aphorism that "development is the best contraceptive." Shortly afterward, however, China instituted a one-child policy and India passed (although it was never implemented) a compulsory sterilization law. By the 1984 conference in Mexico City, the developing countries were asking for mainline family support but the Reagan administration proclaimed that free markets trumped the population explosion.

The 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) saw yet another policy change. Some in the women's movement began to portray organized family planning as intrinsically coercive and sought to secure the transfer of international resources to broader aspects of women's health. The ideological shift altered the vocabulary in revealing ways, as gender was substituted for sex and reproductive health replaced family planning. For many, Cairo was an intellectual turning point, but shortfalls in funding have stymied large-scale implementation of the Cairo Program of Action.

The ICPD occurred as the number of AIDS infections was growing exponentially, although calls for action in this area were buried in a plethora of less important issues. In the early twenty-first century AIDS has reached catastrophic levels in some countries, but it will not change the trajectory of global population by much. It has, however, taken priority away from family planning in foreign aid budgets and, as a result, in parts of Africa the trend toward lower birth rates stalled or has been reversed.

In the 1990s, as access to contraception and safe abortion increased in Europe, birth rates fell to below replacement level, while in the rest of the world increases in population fed internal and cross-border migrations, with more and more people crowding into big cities. In 1975, 40 percent of four billion people lived in cities (twenty-six cities had more than five million people); it is estimated that in 2025, of almost eight billion people, 60 percent will live in cities (seventy cities with more five million people). Migration between countries is driven by economic pressures, long exposed borders between high-and low-income regions in North America and Europe, and the relatively low cost of air travel. In Europe, the right of citizens from the British Commonwealth or former French colonies to enter the mother country broke down because of the scale of the populations seeking to migrate. In the United States, policy differences between employers and free-market economists, both endorsing a free flow of labor, and those concerned with the environment remain unresolved.

In the history of ideas about population, abortion has proved the single most divisive topic. Abortion is one way women can limit the number of children they have and an important variable in family size. Globally, it is estimated that, on average, every woman now alive will have one abortion in her reproductive lifetime. Intellectually, the abortion debate has been framed in two ways: either as fetal rights or the mother's right to control her bodya dichotomy that preempts further debateor as an ethical question of "when life begins." The U.S. Supreme Court, however, concluded "that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interest in regulation." The abortion debate deeply divides the United States, both because of strongly held religious views and because the Supreme Court, Congress, and state legislators can all set policy. In 1973, Jesse Helms, a conservative U.S. senator from North Carolina, amended the Foreign Assistance Act to exclude any support of abortion, forcing U.S. international family-planning policies into a more conservative mode.

The two most important responses to population growth occurred far outside the Western intellectual tradition. The first was the Chinese one-child policy of 1979, which was driven by intellectual analysis of demographic projections, but the policy encountered much external criticism. Yet, however the policy is viewed, without it, the economic growth in China from the 1990s on could not have happened. The second occurred in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the average number of children in a family fell from 5.5 in the late 1980s to 2.0, a decline equal to that of China's, but without a one-child policy. The driving force in the Iranian transition was not socioeconomic change, but a national policy to make all methods of family planning widely available. Iran's demographers noticed that their population was growing faster than the economy, and if average family size did not decline, poverty would increase. The country's religious leadership, whose intellectual framework for policymaking in the 1990s was profoundly different from that of Chinese Communism in the 1980s, and totally unlike the Vatican in the 1970s, agreed to family planning if it was for the woman's health.

On the whole, the intellectual history of population in North America and Europe has been disappointing. There has been increasing methodological sophistication combined with an inability to produce an acceptable paradigm of human reproductive behavior. At the end of the twentieth century, discussion of population growth was pushed off the debating table by competing schools of thought. Yet, serious problems remain. Despite well-publicized declines in birth rates, globally there are one million more births than deaths every 110 hours. India has one million more births than deaths every twenty-three days and China (even with its one-child policy) adds one million people every thirty days.

In the history of ideas, interpretations of population change, appreciation of the consequences, and evidence-based rational responses have a long way to go.

See also Antifeminism ; Demography ; Economics ; Family Planning ; Feminism ; Motherhood and Maternity ; Poverty ; Religion and Science .


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Malcolm Potts

Martha M. Campbell


views updated May 29 2018


The systematic study of population has assumed growing importance in recent decades consequent to the maturing of demography as a scientific discipline and the increasingly evident implications of population trends for individuals, society, and the Church. Within the Church cognizance has been taken of population questions by the papacy under Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI. A number of participating fathers of Vatican Council II expressed themselves as concerned about practical and ethical aspects of population growth. This concern is reflected in portions of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Nevertheless, a full doctrinal appraisal of questions relating to population was not forthcoming during the council sessions but was referred for further study.

Inasmuch as the Church, by divine mission, is concerned with the salvation and spiritual well-being of the individual persons who compose human populations, it necessarily gives attention to their numbers, location, age-sex composition, and social characteristics, as well as to the impact of population trends and movement upon personal and societal behavior. It is not incorrect to say that the Church officially was interested in certain practical aspects of demographic analysis well before the science of demography as such developed. The Council of Trent (154563) made a great step forward in insisting that births, deaths, marriages, etc., be recorded in the respective parishes. The Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917 is quite explicit about the obligation of keeping accurate records on the parish and diocesan levels (canon 470). On the international level, each year the Annuario Pontificio (Vatican Polyglot Press) publishes summary ecclesiastical statistics for the many dioceses and other circumscriptions of the world.

Doctrinal and Moral Aspects

Man is under moral obligation to use both the resources of the material universe and his own powers and abilities in a manner befitting a rational being. Moreover, rights of the individual, whether directly from the nature of man or by acquisition, have corresponding duties, including that to respect the rights of others and the legitimate claims of society. These broad principles apply in various areas of human activity and extend to the use of the procreative faculty.

The interrelation of population and the means of subsistence can occasion misunderstandings on both the dogmatic and the moral levels. Continuing analysis of this relation by competent scholars, without compromise of traditional doctrine, is called for in view of recent population trends, as well as of the mounting complexity of modern society and the valid findings of science. In his address to participants in the World Population Conference in Rome (Sept. 8, 1954), Pius XII indicated the timeliness of such study, also emphasizing the importance of maintaining doctrinal integrity.

Some Misconceptions. In the past, a misconceived belief held that Divine Providence would always see that human beings brought into the world are adequately provided for. If they are not, it was argued, the deficiency is traceable largely to social injustice, inefficient distribution systems, or both. This line of thought was pursued by some 18th-century French authors and by various advocates of social reform. Analogously, English critics of Malthus charged him on occasion with ignoring or minimizing the role of Providence. The truth is that Divine Providence always presupposes in rational beings the exercise of human providence and of prudence in using the goods of this world. Institutional change, then, is no substitute for needed personal reform or individual responsibility, as Pius XI pointed out in the encyclical letter quadragesimo anno (1931). History testifies to the many natural disasters that overtake even prudent men, and the Apocalypse suggests distress to come. It would, therefore, be improper to overlook the necessity of personal responsibility in entering marriage and using the same, or to exclude the implications thereof in economic life and for society.

Another incorrect interpretation concerns the relation of population to subsistence viewed in the light of the finality of creation. Some have proposed that since man is the one who consciously gives glory to God, it is incumbent upon individuals who marry to reproduce to the maximum extent possible or at least close to it. It is argued that in this way more individuals will come into existence and give glory to the Creator. As sometimes expressed, this position is doctrinally ambiguous. It seemingly implies, however, that the world should be populated as quickly as biologically possible, even though the process becomes disorderly and hardship results. If the position implies that no regard need be had for the welfare and education of children or for the family as a social institution, it is in contradiction of traditional Catholic teaching, which links procreation and education as the primary end of marriage (1917 Codex iuris canonici c.1013.1). Procreation without concern for the prospects of education (upbringing in the full sense), as well as willful neglect in actual upbringing of offspring, is not adequately rational and hence involves some moral defect.

If the argument set forth does not go quite that far but nevertheless suggests that only the welfare and education (upbringing) of the individual family need be taken into account, then it falls short of proper social responsibility. It would, in a sense, make of the family a fully autonomous social entity, which it is not. On the one hand, the family is composed of individuals with a personal destiny, and on the other, the society must look to the common good of all.

Another extreme of misunderstanding revolves around the idea that society has special claims upon individual members to the extent that they must subordinate their personal interests and welfare to the transcending interests of the body social. Pushed to the limit, this readily becomes a totalitarian position. Population policies based thereon can become grossly immoral, as became clear before and during World War II, when various minorities were systematically liquidated in the name of social policy.

Even in its more moderate form this position seemingly implies that society's claims have a priority that ordinarily supersedes those of its members. For example, some mercantilists of the pre-Malthusian era urged marriage and reproduction as social goals and social goods, going so far as to penalize celibates and bachelors. Such an approach involves infringement of personal freedom in the interests of social policy. As a general principle, individuals have a right not to marry should they so choose.

If, on the other hand, the position set forth merely means that man is by nature social and therefore should behave with the needs and legitimate claims of society in mind, it is in conformity with the traditional teaching of the Church and the conclusions of the perennial philosophy. It should not be overlooked, however, that society exists to enable individuals the better to fulfill their destiny to life. Society is not an absolute end in itself.

Necessity of Economic Development. The development of natural resources and of the local and regional economies whereby the material needs of men are met is not a convenience or luxury but a true necessity as population trends continue upward. If expansion of output in goods and services is insufficient to cover the requirements of the human numbers added annually, levels of living inevitably will decline. Where improved levels of living are soughtas is especially fitting in the less developed regions with low income and unsatisfactory conditions of health, nutrition, and educationthe respective economies must expand at a rate significantly above that of population. Among other things, this means that those in positions of leadership or decision making have a responsibility to foster and facilitate such development. This responsibility, however, is shared by all to some degree, especially the more educated, in line with established principles and legal and distributive justice. Necessary economic growth and social improvement do not come to pass simply by good intentions or by attempting to implement schemes of redistribution of property or income. Economic progress is impossible without appropriate motivation, pride of achievement, acquisition of skills, and the kind and amount of investment calculated to raise output and job opportunities.

Furthermore, educational institutions, both public and nonpublic, have special responsibility to society to foster and facilitate the needed training and skills, according to their capacity and type of educational programming. In the developing regions especially, an adequate supply of individuals with the appropriate skills and motivation must be forthcoming if progress is to be genuine. It is noteworthy that for many decades, and even centuries, pioneering work in education on all levels has been done by Christian mission groups. With population growing at recent rates, the need for such educational effort is greater than heretofore.

Resource development and economic expansion cannot resolve all problems associated with the populationsubsistence relation. As indicated in the demographic analysis of world and regional trends, populations have been increasing at rates unprecedented in history. These trends are likely to continue so long as the recent patterns of marriage and reproduction prevail. This increases the likelihood that in some instances, at least, famines, epidemics, and even wars will be instrumental in bringing births and deaths more nearly into balance.

Since, if long continued, such population growth eventually will exhaust space and meanwhile outstrip capacities for food production, the reduction of birth rates has been deemed necessary by a number of informed demographers and economists. Others point out that even if science and technology can multiply many times over the possibilities of food production, there still remains a problem in achieving economic expansion while populations multiply at such rapid rates. The reduction of birth rates that has been suggested involves ramifications for normative values as regards sex and marriage. Accordingly, a review of the authoritative teaching of the Church on sexuality, marriage, and reproduction is given here in summary form.

Applications of Sexual Morality. As a rational animal possessed of free will, man in his human acts is necessarily subject to moral law as ordained by the Creator. He therefore is obliged to use his capacities in accordance with properly ordered reason and his human nature. In the case of sexuality and the implementation of the reproductive capacity, this means acting both reasonably and responsibly, and not merely in line with passion or instinct.

It is the perennial teaching of the Church that concupiscence, in this case sex urge, is not fully subject to reason. Although God originally gave man the gift of bodily integrity, voluntary control over sexual appetite was not restored to mankind after the fall of Adam and Eve. Accordingly, in the present order of grace (that is, of man fallen but redeemed), it is not uncommon to experience conflict between moral duty and sexual passion. Hence it is the obligation of man to avoid deliberate actions that are prohibited and to develop self-control to the greatest extent possible.

Cultivation of the virtue of chastity is incumbent on the married and the single, each according to their state. In both the unmarried and the married there normally is recurring tension between reason and impulse, between instinctual response and moral norms. In view of man's composite nature of body and spirit this is not surprising. The difficulty of such spiritual development presupposes that one will avail himself of supernatural grace in attaining chastity. For believing and practicing Christians the acquisition of such grace is facilitated through the Sacraments, particularly those of penance and the Eucharist. The Church has always taught that habitual resolution of problems associated with sexuality cannot adequately be achieved apart from these supernatural aids. This teaching is stated in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (Roman Catechism, 1572), more especially the parts on sex in marriage (part 3, ch. 7). Recent popes, in addresses and statements, repeatedly have made the same point.

Traditional teaching, through the ordinary magisterium of the Church, and more explicitly in the Council of Trent (session 5, decree on original sin), has been that concupiscence in itself is not a sin. Sexual passion and impulse become sinful only when, and to the extent that, man deliberately arouses or indulges sex contrary to moral law. Thus the true Christian position is at variance with views on the integral sinfulness of sexual urges, as proposed over the centuries by manichaeism, illuminati of various types, and some reformers of the 16th century and after. The doctrinal errors indicated by Trent with regard to original sin, concupiscence, grace, and the sacramental system should not be revived or repeated.

Periodic Continence. As for use of sex by the married, the Church has not taught, nor does it teach, that intercourse is permissible only when conception is possible and intended. It permits the marriage of those beyond reproductive age and does not prohibit natural intercourse to a couple unintentionally infertile. Whereas the Code of Canon Law notes appropriately that antecedent and perpetual impotence "invalidates marriage by the law of nature itself" (c.1068.1), it then clearly states that of itself "sterility neither invalidates marriage nor renders it illicit" (c.1068.3). Among humans conjugal society manifestly is more than an ad hoc mating procedure for reproducing the species. At very least, appropriate human upbringing of offspring is implied. Accordingly, canon law indicates that "mutual aid and the allaying of concupiscence" constitute a secondary end of marriage (c.1013.1). The same is the underlying assumption of the discussion in the Roman Catechism of the reasons why people marry (part 2, ch. 8). Additional light was thrown on the subject by Pius XI in casti connubii (2225), the monumental encyclical on chaste wedlock (1930).

The use of marriage for its secondary ends has at times been misconstrued, so as allegedly to justify direct intervention in the reproductive process. Ignoring for the moment the question of abortion, feticide, or other intervention after conception has occurred, it is noteworthy that the Roman Catechism expressly rejects the direct prevention of conception. On the other hand, the authentic position of the Church always has been that regulation of offspring may licitly be accomplished by abstinence from intercourse. The implications of this position were not fully recognized until the basic facts about the female cycle were established scientifically in the 1840s. It then became evident that during much of the cycle conception is objectively impossible whatever the intentions of the spouses, and that it would be possible to avoid conception by confining marriage relations to the infertile days.

The question as to whether marriage might licitly be used on both the fertile and infertile days was substantially answered by traditional teaching and practice, including canonical acceptance of the validity of marriages among the overaged and sterile. The question as to whether marriage relations might licitly be restricted to days known or thought to be infertile was up for discussion. Queried at an early date about the matter by the bishop of Amiens, the Sacred Penitentiary replied (March 2, 1853) that "those mentioned in the petition should not be disturbed, so long as they do nothing to prevent conception."

Although some Catholics have questioned the legitimacy of periodic continence, the majority of moral theologians have taught that the practice is in itself lawful. Inasmuch as there is no specific obligation to have marital relations with any given frequency, periodic abstinence is then justifiable for a reasonable cause. This was pointed out by Pius XII in his address to the Italian midwives (Oct. 29, 1951): "Serious reasons, such as those often found in medical, eugenic, economic and social 'indications,' can exempt for a long time, perhaps even for the whole duration of the marriage, from this positive duty. From this it follows that the observance of the nonfertile periods can be morally licit, and under the conditions mentioned it is really so" (Vegliari con sollecitudine, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 43 [1951] 846).

Abortion. Direct intervention in the development of human life has always been reprobated by the teaching Church. Once conception has occurred, special malice attaches to any intervention that not only stops the reproductive process but also destroys the product of conception at whatever stage of development. Over the years the essential immorality of abortion, or feticide, as a means of controlling number of offspring, or of avoiding them altogether, has been stressed repeatedly. For example, on March 4, 1679, the Holy Office condemned the notion that the unborn fetus may be killed to escape personal or social complications. In the Casti connubii Pius XI referred to direct abortion as a "very grave crime" and repudiated the idea that it can be justified by "medical and therapeutic indications" or eugenic reasons. The same standard was applied by Pius XII in his address to the midwives and in other statements and addresses.

Sterilization. Direct sterilization, that is, the deliberate rendering sterile of the reproductive organs or processes, in order to avoid conception, is intrinsically immoral. This is the perennial teaching of the Church. The question is not a new one, as evidenced by discussions in centuries past as to when and under what circumstances surgical castration is permissible. In the period between World War I and World War II, however, the morality of sterilization became specially relevant, in view of various legislative enactments compelling sterilization for eugenic or social reasons. In Casti connubii (6871) reference is made to eugenic sterilization, and the practice is rejected as immoral. Specific reference was made to laws enacted by the Nazis and other totalitarians in statements of Pius XI in 1933 and 1935. In 1936 the Holy Office was quite specific in discussing the enactments and in condemning the underlying assumptions.

In a specially noteworthy decree of Feb. 24, 1940, the Holy Office stated that "direct sterilization of man or woman, either perpetual or temporary," is illicit and "is forbidden by the law of nature." Pius XII was cognizant of the proposed condemnation and ordered its publication. The implications are far-reaching, since by that time experiments were under way with temporary (reversible) sterilization by biochemical as well as surgical means. Subsequently, in a series of addresses to professional groups, Pius XII clarified particular points as to what is and is not permissible in suppressing functions that relate to reproduction. It is clear that direct suppression of either ovulation or spermatogenesis, in order to avoid conception, cannot be approved morally.

Contraception. Artificial contraception, which is to be distinguished from both sterilization and destruction of the product of conception, is immoral. This is the perennial teaching of the Church, and problems of excess fertility do not and cannot render it permissible. Perhaps the best-known condemnation of the practice is that by Pius XI in Casti connubii (55): "No reason, however grave, can be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious." The teaching of the Church in this matter has not changed, as was indicated several times during 1964 and 1965 by Paul VI, amid ill-advised demands by some for change.

The Church is not unaware of the fact that many persons outside her membership do not perceive, at least clearly, the grave immorality of artificial contraception. She does not condemn their good faith or perhaps confusion of thought in the matter. But she rightly insists, and will continue to insist, that those calling themselves Catholics recognize her teaching authority in this regard.

The population trends of recent years make it clear that both research and instruction are needed on a continuing basis, in order to render periodic abstinence increasingly effective. Moreover, the doctrinal and pastoral aspects of the practice of periodic continence merit continuing attention. The values of chaste celibacy must not be minimized, and the prudent delay of marriage is quite properly to be encouraged for those who realize that the conjugal relationship does not resolve all the moral problems associated with sexuality.

Bibliography: Council of Trent, Session 6, On Justification (1547); Session 24, On Matrimony (1563). The Catechism of the Council of Trent (The Roman Catechism), tr. j. a. mchugh and c.a. callan (New York 1923), esp. pt. 2, ch. 7, 8. Vatican Council I, Session 2, Profession of Faith (1870); Session 3, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (1870); Session 4, Dogmatic Constitution I on the Church of Christ (1870). Vatican Council II, Session 4, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965). pius xi, "Casti connubii" (Encyclical, Dec. 31, 1930) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 22 (1930) 539592. pius xii, "Sacra virginitas" (Encyclical, March 25, 1954) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46 (1954) 161191; "Vegliare con sollecitudine" (Address, Oct. 29, 1951) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 43 (1951) 835854, to Ital. midwives; "Nell'ordine della" (Address, Nov. 26, 1951) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 43 (1951) 855860, to the National Congress of the Family Front; "Et maintenant" (Address, Sept. 8, 1954), Eng. The Pope Speaks 1 (Oct.1954) 625; Catholic Mind 53 (April 1955) 256, to participants in the World Population Conference. john xxiii, Mat Magis; PacTerr. Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta (Bologna-Freiburg 1962).

[w. j. gibbons]


views updated May 21 2018

population. Despite the work of John Graunt, whose Observations on the London bills of mortality came out in 1662, and his friend Sir William Petty, whose Political Arithmetick was published in 1690, little was known for certain in the 18th cent. of the size of the population of Britain or even whether it was increasing or diminishing. Dr Richard Price in 1779, at a time when population growth was accelerating, argued that the population of England and Wales had decreased since the Glorious Revolution. Since the country was at war with France and Price concluded that the French population was rising, this caused much alarm. In the absence of accurate statistics, the debate which followed was bound to be inconclusive. In Parliament it was argued that a census would provide Britain's enemies with valuable information but John Rickman in the 1790s lobbied with success and the first census for England, Wales, and Scotland was held in 1801. In 1821 the first complete census for Ireland was made. Though the census methods were crude by modern standards, the institution of decennial censuses offered a systematic basis for estimates and one which Rickman helped to refine and improve. The publication of Malthus's Essay on Population in 1798, revised and expanded in 1803, ensured that the subject received great attention for many years. The study of population in all its aspects has become an important branch of historical investigation, particularly since the Second World War, with the foundation of the journal Population Studies in 1947 and the establishment of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure in 1964.

Three broad generalizations may be offered. First, that the population history of the four peoples of the British Isles has been different and that there have been marked divergencies and changes within each group. Second, that until the late 18th cent. the population was small, with considerable fluctuations dependent upon the birth and death rates, harvests and famines, plague and warfare, immigration and emigration. From the late 18th cent., there was a sudden acceleration of growth until parts of England, the central region of Scotland, and parts of south Wales became among the most densely populated areas of Europe. Third, that in England, the growth of London from Tudor times was so rapid that it forms, in itself, a special factor.

Very few conclusions have been agreed about the population of the British Isles before the Norman Conquest. Large-scale migrations of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Norsemen, and substantial movements between Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, make estimates very hazardous. The population of Roman Britain remains highly conjectural with a disturbing divergence of scholarly opinion between 1 million and 6 million for the later 2nd cent. It has been suggested that London may have had 30,000 inhabitants, Colchester and Cirencester 15,000, Lincoln and Gloucester 5,000, and the remaining towns between 2,000 and 3,000. A figure of 20,000 has been proposed for Wales, though there is no way of checking it. Nor is it easier to offer figures for the subsequent Saxon period, since we cannot be sure to what extent devastation and warfare were offset by new arrivals. The consensus puts the figure for England towards the end of the Saxon period at about 1½ million, which would suggest a substantial decrease from later Roman times, and the towns significantly smaller—London at 12,000, York 8,000, Norwich and Lincoln 5,000. The most prudent historians of Ireland and Scotland refuse to suggest or endorse any estimates for those countries.

There is little disagreement that the population of England increased greatly between 1066 and the plague disasters of the mid-14th cent., though much less agreement about the exact figures. If the estimates for William I's reign, based on Domesday Book returns, are correct, the population was about 1½ million and had more than doubled by 1300 to about 4 million. This was part of a general European pattern, assisted in England after the Conquest by the absence of major invasions and a lessening of internal conflict. The increase had almost certainly slowed by the time the Black Death struck, since the early 14th cent. saw adverse climatic changes and a pressure on subsistence which produced periodic famine. Plague then struck four times between 1349 and 1375 with devastating consequences. Estimates of mortality may be inferred from the death of clerics, which is recorded, and by information from particular villages or estates. But each source of evidence is open to hazard. The clergy as a profession might be unduly at risk from their obligation to visit and succour victims and therefore the 50 per cent death rate in the dioceses of Exeter, Winchester, Norwich, and Ely may not have been replicated in the country at large. Similarly, though all twelve of the bishop's villeins at Cuxham in Oxfordshire perished from plague in 1349, there were other villages and areas comparatively little affected. In short, it seems that over 40 per cent of the population died, with profound political and economic consequences. The Black Death also visited Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Only in Scotland does the mortality seem to have been significantly lower, perhaps because the plague was at its most deadly in crowded towns and ports.

Recovery from the Black Death and its later visitations was slow. The population of England may have been reduced to about 2½ million. The poll-tax returns for 1377 have been employed to suggest total numbers, with the usual difficulties, but at least offer evidence on population distribution: East Anglia and the east midlands were most densely populated, the north and west much less so. Not until the middle of the 15th cent. did the rate of increase pick up and even then it was patchy. But during Tudor times, the population reached its pre-plague position and by the end of the 16th cent. stood at just over 4 million. Rickman, in an analysis of parish register returns, printed a preface to the 1841 census suggesting a figure of 4.3 million for 1600. The population of Ireland was about 1 million, that of Scotland perhaps a little less, with more than half of the inhabitants north of the Tay. Wales was still very thinly populated with about 350,000 people: Carmarthen, the largest town, had no more than 2,000 people—less than one-hundredth of the size of London—and followed by Brecon with 1,750. Elsewhere the size of towns was beginning to increase. At over 200,000 London was already the largest town in western Europe and outstripping all its rivals. The population of Norwich was about 15,000, Bristol and York about 12,000, Newcastle and Exeter, around 10,000—all of them important provincial centres and with good water communications.

From the 17th cent. the sources for demographic study improve. Thomas Cromwell ordered the keeping of parish registers from 1538, but many incumbents did not at first do so, and some registers have been destroyed by fire, flood, wars, and mice. They are augmented from 1629 onwards by the regular London bills of mortality. The high Tudor growth rate was not sustained throughout the whole 17th cent., when emigration, civil war, and plague dampened the increase. The population of England and Wales rose to about 5.4 million by 1656 and then steadied, or even declined slightly. The population of Wales cannot have increased greatly and by 1700 may have been 400,000. Scotland was affected by plague in the 1640s, heavy emigration to Ulster, and by severe famine in the 1690s. Its population in 1700 was probably little higher than in 1600: Edinburgh, by far the largest town, had between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Despite heavy warfare, the Irish population may have doubled by 1687 and reached well over 2 million by 1700, with Dublin beginning to grow rapidly. London continued to grow disproportionately, had reached half a million by 1700, and was larger than all the other urban centres together. Of great political importance for the future was the expansion of the American colonies, at about 250,000 by 1700, of whom some 10 per cent were negroes: New York, Boston, and Philadelphia were already sizeable towns, edging towards 10,000.

There were few indications at the beginning of the 18th cent. that the British Isles were on the threshhold of a population explosion. Population increase had, if anything, slowed down, though the country had recovered from the ravages of the Black Death. The causes of the acceleration have been extensively debated. The establishment of voluntary hospitals and improved methods of combating smallpox were bound to be slow in their effect since they did not operate much outside urban areas. Plague at last disappeared, though contemporaries could not be certain that it would not return. Agricultural yields were improving and the development of turnpike roads and canals later in the century enabled food to be transported more quickly to areas of shortage. But any explanation must have a European dimension since the increase was a general one. The early view that the population rise was largely due to a falling death rate has been increasingly challenged, partly because the increase accompanied widespread urbanization and 18th-cent. cities were by no means healthy places. More emphasis is now placed upon a significant rise in fertility rates, as a result of people marrying earlier, and because a smaller proportion of the population remained unmarried. The move to towns may have freed young men to marry, since their labour was no longer needed on the family farm which could not support several households.

Though the causes of the great acceleration are still far from agreed, the consequences are clear. From the 1740s onwards, the population began to rise, not to fall again as it had so often in the past, but a sustained and incremental growth. From 5.7 million in 1750, the population of England reached 8.6 million by 1800 and 16.5 million by 1850. The Scottish population also grew, particularly in the industrial and trading towns of the central region, though less rapidly than that of England—from 1.2 million in 1750 to 1.6 million by 1800 and 2.8 million by 1850. But the most startling increase was in Ireland, where from about 3 million in 1750, it reached 5 million by 1800, and in 1845, on the brink of the famine, stood at well over 8 million, dangerously dependent on the potato harvest.

The Irish famine, from 1845 to 1848, was a unique event in modern European demography and its effects comparable to those of the Black Death. One million people died of starvation and disease, the birth rate fell, and there was a large-scale exodus, mainly of younger people, in the decades after the disaster. Well over a million people left Ireland in the 1840s, another million in the 1850s, and 850,000 in the 1860s—mainly for North America, and especially from Munster and Ulster. Co. Clare, with 286,000 people in 1841, had 85,000 100 years later. The Irish population was down to 6.5 million by 1851, 5.8 million by 1861, 4.4 million by 1901. A hundred years after the famine, it stood at 4.3 million, just over half what it had been in 1845.

In the rest of Britain, the sustained growth was felt in every part of public life. Internationally, it changed Britain's relative position. In 1550 the population of Spain and Portugal was double that of the British Isles: by 1914 the position was reversed. Just before 1914 the population of the United Kingdom passed that of France. But of greater long-term significance was the transformation brought about from the 17th cent. onwards by emigration, which brought into being the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and effected a fundamental shift in world power. At home, despite Malthus's fears of extra mouths to feed, agricultural improvements meant that fewer farm labourers could support more and more factory workers. The increase provided labour for the industrial expansion and purchasing power to sustain it. The internal balance of England shifted as the great industrial towns of the north developed. In Scotland, Glasgow rose from a town of 10,000 in 1688 to a conurbation of a million in 1901: in Wales, the balance of population moved to the mining areas of the south and Cardiff, a town of 1,800 people in 1801, had 128,000 inhabitants by 1901. The old electoral system, with its little Wiltshire and Cornish boroughs, looked increasingly absurd after 1801, when the census revealed that three of the six largest English towns—Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds—had no MPs at all. The shift of power to the north after the Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 gave vast influence to the dissenters, who dominated towns like Bradford, Leeds, Manchester, and Halifax. The churches found their urban parishes swelling out of control, and there were massive building efforts by the dissenters in the earlier 19th cent. and the Anglicans in the later.

The population of England and Wales continued to rise in the 20th cent., though at a reduced rate. By 1996, England and Wales totalled 50 million, Scotland 5 million, Northern Ireland 1½ million, and Eire 3½ million. England became by far the most densely populated of the major European powers—four times the density of France, and on a par with Holland and Belgium. From this stemmed many social problems: of law and order, bearing in mind that a second-division football match in the 1990s might well attract a crowd twice the size of the second largest city of Stuart England; of traffic jams, road rage, and general transport policy; of noise pollution and broader environmental questions. The slowing down of the birth rate after the Second World War meant an ageing population, with heavy demands on medical care and for pensions. The general movement out of older towns led to the problem of decaying city centres. Substantial immigration from the Commonwealth in the 1950s and 1960s produced suburbs and, in some cases, whole towns where the character of the community had changed. Though demography is a rarefied and demanding discipline, its implications are profound.

J. A. Cannon


Connell, K. H. , The Population of Ireland, 1750–1845 (1950);
Flinn, M. W. (ed.), Scottish Population from the Seventeenth Century to the 1930s (Cambridge, 1977);
Houston, R. A. , The Population History of Britain and Ireland, 1500–1750 (1992);
Vaughan, W. E., and Fitzpatrick, A. J. (eds.), Irish Historical Statistics: Population 1821–1971 (Dublin, 1978);
Wrigley, E. A., and and Schofield, R. S. , The Population History of England, 1541–1871 (Cambridge, Mass., 1981).


views updated Jun 08 2018


Throughout most of human history, the world's population has grown gradually. It took thousands of years for the global population to reach one billion people (around 1800). Then, in a little more than a century, the population jumped to two billion (by 1960), and to three billion by 1980. In just twenty yearsbetween 1980 and 2000the world's human population doubled from three billion to six billion people.

The human population explosion during the past century was the result of several factors. Fertility rates remained high, while medical and agricultural advances such as antibiotics, immunizations, clean water, and improved food availability reduced mortality ratesespecially among infants and children.

It is difficult to predict how rapidly the human population will continue to increase, due to the many factors that affect population growth. Another important question that scholars ask is "How many people can the earth support?" While the human population grows, the earth's size and resources remain the same. Technology can increase the amount of food that can be produced on a piece of land, but it cannot increase the amount of land and water on the planet. Many people regard population growth as the single most serious global issue, because population size is closely linked to environmental and human health conditions.

Environmental problems are aggravated by population explosions. More people means more resources and energy are consumed and more pollution is created and more waste is sent to landfills. More land is needed to grow crops and build houses. More trees are cut down for new homes. More cars are built, more fossil fuels are used, and more gases are released into the environment. More natural wilderness areas or beautiful landscapes are destroyed to provide resources and cropland. In short, population growth makes other environmental problems harder to solve.

Projecting Population Change

Scholars have spent centuries trying to find reliable ways to predict population change. One of the most famous population researchers was Thomas Malthus, a British clergyman who studied population growth in the 1770s. In his famous 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus argued that human populations tend to grow exponentially, while food production is limited by land available for agriculture. In short, human populations tend to increase faster than food supply, leading to an imbalance.

Malthus projected that population increases in England would quickly outstrip the available food supplies, leading to famine and misery. Malthus's predictions for England never occurred in his lifetime. England's population did increase, but advances in science and technology enhanced food production. Malthus's theory also failed to take into account colonial growth as a result of other factors. Still, scholars use Malthus's concepts of geometric population growth today, though new models of population change are far more complex.

Researchers who study population change consider many factors for each country. Population change for any group of people is determined by fertility, mortality, and migration rates. What is the average number of children per family? What is the life expectancy? Are people migrating into or out of a country? Each of these is, in turn, affected by other factors.

It is important to remember that population projections are just estimates based on past information; they do not account for unknowns such as future wars, epidemics, or the effects of climate change. However, the scholars who make the projections attempt to improve their accuracy by revising projections as new information is collected. The United Nations Population Division is one of the organizations responsible for making population projections. After considering the potential impact of the current AIDS epidemic, the United Nations recently lowered its population projection for 2050 by more than one billion people.

United Nations Projections

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the world population is still growing at a rate of 1.2 percent annually. This is the same as adding 77 million people (roughly the population of France) to the world each year. A world population projection published by the United Nations in 2002 estimates that the world's human population will reach 8.9 billion by 2050.

This population increase is not expected to occur evenly across the globe. The populations of some nations are shrinking while those of other nations are swelling. During the past few decades, reproduction rates have decreased in countries where the standard of living has improved; these improved living standards are generally associated with higher education levels across a population and access to birth control. Today, as many as thirty-three countries are witnessing population declines due to lower birthrates. Japan, Bulgaria, Italy, Bulgaria, Estonia, and the Russian Federation are among the countries that have achieved negative population growth.

Population explosions tend to occur in regions already struggling with hunger. Africa is expected to undergo the most rapid growth, increasing from 784 million people in 2000 to nearly 1.8 billion in 2050. Eight countriesIndia, Pakistan, Nigeria, the United States, China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congoare expected to account for half of the world's population increase during the next fifty years. India may overtake China as the most populous country, rising from just over one billion to more than 1.5 billion between 2000 and 2050. Birthrates are not the only reason for the anticipated rises. The United States has a low birthrate, but a high immigration rate.

How Many People Can the Earth Support?

Is there a limit to the number of people the world can support? Some people contend that new technologies will make it possible for the earth to support ever-larger human populations. They describe the earth's resources as virtually inexhaustible, due to the potential of technology. They point to the scientific advances that helped increase crop yields across India and China as an example of the human ability to adapt through technology.

Other scholars believe that there are limits to how much technology can accomplish. They argue that the earth's capacity to support human population growth is finitebecause natural resources can be damaged or depleted. For example, India's increased crop production has not keep pace with its growing population. India's per-person food production is actually dropping as the food supply is shared among more and more people.

Water shortages may be the most insurmountable obstacles for human survival, as populations continue to grow. On every continent (including North America), rising demands for water are already causing water tables to drop to dangerously low levels, depleting future water supplies. Several of the world's major rivers are being drained dry before running their courses. Most of this water is used for irrigation (to grow food); less is used for industry and domestic use.

Water scarcity is already a serious survival problem for people living in the more populous and arid regions of the world. Scholars predict that most of the world will face water scarcity as human demands on the earth's resources continue to rise. Despite hope for technologies such as desalinization to solve the world's water shortages, the prospects to solve global problems are unlikely. So far, desalinization is too expensive for most nations.

A second challenge the world faces is food production. There is hope that breakthroughs in plant genetics and other sciences will continue to improve food production. Yet many scholars argue that even the most remarkable advances in agricultural technology, aquaculture, and ranching could not raise food production enough to meet the world's growing needs. Food production is also limited by the availability of fresh water and land that can be farmedtwo finite resources.

Malnutrition is already a growing problem in many regions that depend on grains. Likewise, countries that depend on fish as a primary protein source are also faced with shrinking food supplies as the world's fish populations are further depleted.

Impact on Human Health and the Environment

Population growth affects almost every element of human health and the environment by exacerbating preexisting problems. For example, if a nation is already struggling to provide food, education, and healthcare to its people, the needs of an even larger population may exhaust the nation's ability to provide for anyone. As a result, the rate of poverty, homelessness, and disease are likely to rise. In most cases, rapid population growth results in a decline in human living standards.

The impact of human population on the environment is complex. A popular theory is that the degree of human impact on the environment is determined by three factors: population size, how much each person consumes, and how much waste each person produces. India may have a much larger population than the United States, but people in United States tend to consume and waste far more goods than people in any other part of the world. According to this theory, a rise in the U.S. population would have a greater impact on the environment than would a similar increase in India's population.

What Is Being Done?

There are many views on what to do about global population growth. Several advocacy groups, such as Negative Population Growth, Zero Population Growth, Planned Parenthood, and the Carrying Capacity Network, focus on raising public awareness about birth control and the need to lower fertility rates. At least one group (Negative Population Growth) advocates that the U.S. government should provide incentives for smaller families and should limit immigration in the United States. The world's most populous country, China, has been exploring a variety of laws and incentives to limit urban families to one child per family, with the goal of reversing the country's unsustainable population growth. However, due to the government's inability to restrict family size in rural areas, where the overwhelming majority of China's population lives, and other factors, China's population growth is not expected to turn around until at least 2020.

Slowing population growth is also a priority for many environmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Most of these groups have policy statements and/or education programs that deal with population issues.

see also Earth Summit; Ehrlich, Paul; History; Lifestyle; Malthus, Thomas; Popular Culture; Poverty; Zero Population Growth.


brown, lester r.; gardner, gary; and halweil, brian. (1999). beyond malthus: nineteen dimensions of the population challenge. new york: norton.

cohen, joel e. (1995). how many people can the earth support? new york: norton.

internet resources

united nations population division. world population prospects: the 2002 revision population database. available from http://esa.un.org/unpp/sources.html.

Corliss Karasov

Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, (1798)">

"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second."

Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, (1798)


views updated May 21 2018


Population often is said to be the biggest problem facing the world. However, precisely what this problem is varies, depending on whether the issue is meeting basic human needs, the stress placed on the natural environment by increased consumption, changes in family structures, or demographic transitions within nations. Population is at once a conceptual, scientific, technological, ethical, and political issue.


The simple definition of population as the total number of persons in a geographic area indicates the relativity of population to sometimes arbitrary boundaries. Other relevant factors in population studies are fertility, mortality, and mobility; empirical studies of those factors are often difficult to pursue and are subject to contentious interpretative frameworks. Scientific theories of population growth and its relationship to social stability or economic development often rely on intuitive or "commonsense" views that have not proved reliable. The influence of technologies on population growth or delimitation similarly is lacking in specificity.

Indicative of the complexity of this issue, the entry "Population Ethics" in the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics is the largest single composite, with more companion pieces than any other entry. Under the general title there are three entries on the elements of population ethics, an analysis of normative approaches, and eight entries describing the perspectives of different religious traditions. In this entry a brief review of how population became an issue is followed by an overview analysis of major ethical assessments that emphasize science and technology.

Population Issues

What is experienced directly is not population but people. Before the modern period there were only informal political-philosophical discussions of how different numbers of people in a state can affect its character, and Christian traditions sometimes highlight the biblical injunction to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:27). For population to become a subject of debate and inquiry the modern techniques of political economics had to be brought to bear on issues related to both aggregate production and consumption, a process that began in seventeenth-century England and reached its first peak in the work of the economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834) (Glass 1973).

Before Malthus most early modern population theorists argued for the simple stimulation of population growth (the political philosophers Baron de Montesquieu [1689–1755] and Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712–1778]) or predicted that in the near future, because of good health and long life, human commitments to procreation would be moderated in favor of more liberal pursuits (the political philosophers William Godwin [1756–1836] and the Marquis de Condorcet [1743–1794]). Malthus attacked both views in his Essay on the Principle of Population, which appeared anonymously in 1798 and was revised with acknowledged authorship in 1803 and given the subtitle "Or a View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness; with an Inquiry into Our Prospects Respecting the Removal or Mitigation of the Evils Which It Occasions." Malthus continued to revise this work, with five more editions appearing during his lifetime.

It was Malthus who formulated what may be considered the classical form of the population problem. Malthus's argument was that population, by increasing when unchecked at a geometric rate (2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), outruns food supply, which grows only at an arithmetic rate (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). What is known as a Malthusian catastrophe occurs when this happens and starvation forces some of the population back to a subsistence level. For Malthus this catastrophe can be prevented only through self-restraint or technology, meaning contraception or abortion. In later editions of his Essay Malthus further noted that increased wealth was correlated with reductions not only in mortality but also in fertility; this suggested that technological development could meliorate the problem more indirectly. However, Malthus did not foresee the ways in which advances in science and technology might alter growth in the food supply.

The central problem for the classical Malthusian view may be described as the extent to which human population increase becomes unchecked through scientific progress. For thousands of years the human population remained relatively stable, checked largely by the vicissitudes of nature. Over the course of the agricultural revolution (roughly 10,000 to 5000 b.c.e.) the human population rose to about 150 million worldwide. Only very slowly, over the next 1,500 years, did it increase to over 300 million. However, by 1700 world population had risen to 600 million, by 1800 to 900 million, and by 1900 to 1.6 billion (see Figure 1). These dramatic increases resulted from decreases in infant and adult mortality brought about by advances in public health technology and medicine as well as in scientific agriculture. In 2000 world population reached more than 6 billion. Food production was able to keep up with population growth as a result of radical developments in agriculture, from the industrialization of agriculture to the Green Revolution.

A second form of the population problem arose in the 1960s in association with the environmental movement. The first population problem was based on doubts that people could extract enough from the earth to support themselves. The second population problem arose from the concern that they would be so successful that they would alter the character of the natural world. The first problem focused primarily on whether humans would be able to sustain themselves, and the second on whether the earth was sustainable in the face of human abilities, through science and technology, to transform the world. The possibility that destruction of the earth might rebound on humans was, of course, a supporting worry.

Central to articulating the second form of the population problem, and thus playing a role similar to that of Malthus in regard to the first form, was the Club of Rome's study The Limits to Growth (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, and Behrens 1972). According to the limits to growth argument, which has been argued in equally dramatic fashion in Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (1968) and Garrett Hardin's Living within Limits (1993), high-affluence industrial societies cannot indefinitely expand the exploitation of inherently limited natural sources such as oil and fresh water or pour wastes into inherently limited ecological sinks such as the oceans and the atmosphere. At some point the resources will run out, the ecological sinks will be full or destroyed, and the societies based on their consumption and pollution will collapse.

In response to this limitationist argument, Julian Simon and other expansionists have argued that science and technology are capable of expanding the resource base indefinitely and transforming pollution into raw materials that can be used for further productive activity. Simon's argument in The Ultimate Resource (1980) is that population itself and the human ingenuity manifested in the individuals who make up a free society are a more important resource than is any combination of minerals or vegetables on the planet. Under conditions of economic and political liberty human beings, through science and technology, can create the resources necessary for their indefinite expansion.

Population Ethics

According to Donald Warwick, "Those stating that there is a population problem base their assertions on three elements: perceived threats to social, moral, or political values; factual evidence; and theories explaining how population creates the conditions that threaten values" (Warwick 2004, p. 2035). For Warwick the primary need in population ethics is to distinguish these values, evidence, and theories and carefully adjudicate their interactions. Population ethics depends on an ethics of analyzing population issues that would eschew quick ideological appeals and emotional rhetoric. Those who argue for particular interpretations of population as a problem should state their values, sources of evidence, and theories explicitly. Conclusions and policy recommendations should follow from the careful analytic interrelation of those different elements.

With regard to overarching values Warwick further proposes respect for four fundamental rights: the rights to life, freedom, welfare, and fairness. As for evidence, many people would argue that scientific knowledge should trump other ideas about what should count as data. Theories about the relationships between values and evidence remain fundamentally problematic in relation to population,astheyareinmanyotherareas.Whatisimportantis to acknowledge the problematics even when conclusions and policy recommendations cannot be avoided because failure to reach a conclusion or make a recommendation will function as a conclusion or recommendation.

Against this background it is nevertheless useful to highlight at least three basic ethical arguments regarding population: what may, for want of better terms, be called limitationist ethics, libertarian ethics, and management ethics. The first two grow out of the limitationist and expansionist interpretations of the problem. The third is more the consensus view of the international development community.

LIMITATIONIST ETHICS. Garrett Hardin (1974) devised the term lifeboat ethics, suggesting that because the planet has limited resources, humanity should be thought of as having been cast adrift in space like survivors in a lifeboat. If there are too many passengers, the lifeboat will run out of supplies for those passengers. Using this logic, Hardin states that providing food aid to countries in crisis does not address the problems that created the need for such aid. Hardin's limitationist thesis is that people in poor countries should be allowed to starve because the net result of helping them would be negative for the planet as a whole. In his opinion, extensive food aid would court disaster. Another version of limitationist ethics would argue for limitations on consumption and the practice of voluntary simplicity in the lifestyles of people in wealthy countries.

LIBERTARIAN ETHICS. Julian Simon (1980) argued that the population problem has been fundamentally misperceived. Population growth is a good thing as long as you allow individuals freedom of choice, and grant them the economic and political freedoms to be creative in their uses of science and technology. "Human beings," he wrote, "are not just more mouths to feed, but are productive and inventive minds that help find creative solutions to man's problems, thus leaving us better off over the long run." For Libertarians like Simon, population is not the cause of our problems but the generator of solutions to all of our problems. The more people addressing problems the quicker they will be solved. Thus, population growth is a resource and not a threat to our future. Arne Naess referred to this view as the Cornucopian position.

MANAGEMENT ETHICS. Between the limitationist and libertarian positions is the Management ethics viewpoint. Proponents of this position, like the World Bank, are not as pessimistic as Hardin and the limitationists, nor as optimistic as Simon and the libertarians. The view that population is more of a two edge sword. Managed properly it can be a resource, a boon to the world. Left uncontrolled, it can have disastrous effects.

In a radically different take on the issue Barbara Duden (1992) questions the concept of population as a variable for economic problem solving. For Duden population is such an abstract concept that it creates situations in which human beings are deprived of their humanity as they are transformed into statistics to be manipulated by others. The problem of population is not its role in issues involving environmental resources (the limitationist perspective) or in fostering major misperceptions of problems (the libertarian perspective) but the tendency to lose sight of people in their existential reality as models are created to manage problems.


SEE ALSO Consumerism;Chinese Perspectives:Population Policy;Social Darwinism.


Duden, Barbara. (1992). "Population." In The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, ed. Wolfgang Sachs. London: Zed Books.

Ehrlich, Paul R. (1968). The Population Bomb. New York: Ballantine. Revised edition, 1971. Rewritten, with Anne H. Ehrlich, as The Population Explosion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990).

Glass, David Victor. (1973). The Population Controversy: A Collective Reprint of Material Concerning the 18th Century Controversy on the Trend of Population in England and Wales. Compiled With an Introduction By D. V. Glass. Farnborough, UK: Gregg International.

Hardin, Garrett. (1974). "Living on a Lifeboat." BioScience 24(10): 561–68.

Hardin, Garrett. (1993). Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meadows, Donella H.; Dennis L. Meadows; Jürgen Randers; and Williams H. Behrens. (1972). The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books. This book has been revised or extended as Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future (Post Mills, VT: Chelsea Green, 1992) and The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2004).

Simon, Julian L. (1980). The Ultimate Resource. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Revised and enlarged as The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Simon, Julian, and Herman Kahn. (1984). The Resourceful Earth. New York: Basil Blackwell.

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