Unit 6

Human Population:

Growth, Economic Development and Environmental Impact

Gayl D. Ness


Unit 6. Human Population: Trends, Appropriations and Health - GN
6.1 Population and the Demographic Transition
6.2 Growth and Economic Development
6.3 Human Appropriation of the World's Food and Fisheries
6.4 The World’s Freshwater Supply
6.5 Infectious Diseases and Human Health


6.1.     World Population Growth in History


Over the past half century the world’s population grew from 2.5 to 6.1 billion.  Growth rates peaked at over 2 percent per year in 1965-70, and have now slowed but are still about 1.25 percent per year.  The population size and growth rates of the past half century are unprecedented in human history.  That history has been marked by millennia of small populations growing very slowly, sometimes collapsing, with only a very recent exponential growth in both numbers and rates.  Figure 1 shows this pattern for the past 1000 years.  The graph could be extended backwards for two hundred thousand years, roughly the age of our species, with no discernible change.


Figure 1

World Population Growth


Now consider a comparable graph of environmental change in Figure 2: the emission of Carbon Dioxide, a major trace gas that is related to global warming.  (The same pattern can be seen for Methane or other trace gases as well.) Here we have the same slow growth in the past followed by only very recent exponential growth.  Comparing these two graphs would make it appear that current rapid population growth is causing the environmental degradation reflected in rising Carbon Dioxide. 





Figure 2

World Carbon Emissions



This perspective has led observes to speak of the Population Bomb, in which rapid population growth is a major force for environmental degradation.  But consider now Figure 3, showing a more detailed picture of population growth and other changes over the same past 1000 years.


Figure 3

World Population Growth

And Social Change



This makes clear that our modern pattern of rapid population growth is part of a larger technological and socio-economic change:  the rise of urban industrial society based on fossil fuels. 


Note that human history shows a pattern of urbanization that goes far back in time.  The first towns or cities rose some 3,000 years ago and by the beginning of the Christian era there were cities of some hundreds of thousands, reaching even as large as a million inhabitants.  Most of these ancient cities were concentrated in East and South Asia or around the Mediterranean during the height of the Roman Empire.  Though there were some large cities, however, they comprised only a small percent of a country’s total population.  For the world as a whole these urban populations usually constituted only about 5 or 6 percent of the total.


That began to change with the age of Western sail from the 15th century, which transformed the entire earth into one ecosystem in which humans became a major source of environmental impact.  With the rise of fossil fuel technology in the 19th century, the process was further accelerated.  Fossil fuels greatly reduced transportation costs and   increased human productivity, making it possible for more and more people to live in cities fed by an increasingly efficient rural food producing system. 


Over the past three centuries the world has been involved in a major social transformation.  Since the beginning of our species, people have lived in rural, or low density, areas engaging primarily in a subsistence form of living.  They produced most or all of what they consumed and they consumed most or all of what they produced.  This changed for a few with the rise of agriculture perhaps ten thousand years ago, and even more with the rise of urban centers, but not for the great majority.  They lived in rural areas and they engaged in primary forms of food production – fishing, hunting and agriculture. 


In the 18th century the new forms of social organization emerged.  More and more people lived in urban areas, or areas of high population density, and they engaged in forms of production driven by fossil fuels, producing goods and services that others would consume.  As we shall see shortly, this happened first in what we have come to call the Western World: Europe and North America.  The transformation is now spreading rapidly to all parts of the world.


This set of observations leads us to a basic principle of population – environment relationships, or of human ecology.  There is no direct link between population and the environment.  All population impacts on the environment are made through some form of social organization or technology.  All environmental impacts on population are made through some form of human social organization or technology.  Figure 4 provides a graphic representation of this principle.  The important arrow here is the one that is not there!


Figure 4.

A Human Ecology Perspective




6.2.  The Demographic Transition


Let us get back to the observation in Figure 3, the transformation from rural agrarian to urban industrial society, and ask a few critical questions.  What drove the rise in population?  Has it happened everywhere at the same time?  Have the forces for population change themselves undergone any change?  These questions take us to the heart of recent population changes and the manner in which those changes are affecting, and affected by, the environment.  To understand them more fully, we introduce the concept of the Demographic Transition.  This is a very simple concept, more an observation than a theory, but one on which we can hang many other observations.


The demographic transition is

the transition from high to low birth and death rates.


Throughout human history, both death rates and birth rates have been relatively high.  This began to change with the modern urban-industrial transition.  Death rates first fell while birth rates remained high, producing relatively high rates of population growth.  Then birth rates fell to come in line with the lower death rates.  Thus the transition has three stages:  1. declining mortality; 2. rapid population growth with low mortality and high fertility; 3. declining fertility to come in line with lower mortality, which brings a reduction in the rate of population growth.


This transition began in the West as early as the first half of the 18th century and was largely completed by about 1950.  It is now occurring throughout the rest of the world, though at different paces in different regions.  Latin America and East and Southeast Asia are near completion of the transition; Africa and South and West Asia lag behind but they are moving in the same direction.  In effect there have been two demographic transitions, one in the past and one occurring today. Figure 5 provides a summary picture of this two-fold transition, showing clearly the differences between the differences between them.



Figure 5

Two Demographic Transitions



We use the experience of England and Wales to illustrate the past transition.  There we saw the beginning of a gradual and relatively steady mortality decline in the early 18th century.  Prior to 1700, the death rate had sometimes been above the birth rate, as during the great plagues of the 14th century, when the population declined by dearly half.  Around 1700 the death rate was about 25 per 1000 and the birth rate about 30 per 1000.[1]  This implied a natural increase of 50 per thousand or 0.5 percent and a doubling of the population every 140 years.  From about 1700, however, the death rate declined slowly but steadily for about 200 years to its current low level of 10 or below.


The cause of this mortality decline lay in a series of revolutions that gradually raised the standard of living in the country.  First there was the trade revolution with the opening of new sea routes to the Americas and Asia beginning in the late 15th century.  This brought new crops from the Americas and tea and coffee from Asia and the Middle East, which raised the carrying capacity of the land, increasing human nutrition.  Next came a scientific and agricultural revolution, applying the new science to agriculture and increasing food output.  This, too, raised human nutrition.  The 19th century saw the industrial revolution, which made things like washable cotton clothing and soap readily available, increasing human hygiene. Finally, there was the end of what has come to known as The Little Ice Age, which lasted from roughly 1400 to 1700. When the world came out of this little ice age, after 1700, temperatures rose about one degree above the long term average of the past three centuries.  This shortened winters and reduced their severity, also increasing agricultural output.  The process was gradual and it reduced mortality by increasing the average standard of living.  It is important to note that there were virtually no major medical breakthroughs until the end of this period.  A Smallpox vaccine was discovered around 1800, but was not widely used until about 1900.


While mortality declined, fertility remained high and possibly increased slightly.  .The explanation for this lies in the long history of human behavioral ecology.  The human species is highly vulnerable in a number of ways.  The infant is quite helpless and requires two years to be able to walk and talk, and one to two decades to become productive and reproductive.  There is a relatively short period of reproduction, roughly from 15 to 45 years, and a relatively long period of gestation, nine months.  Moreover most births produce only one child.  Given these conditions, the species had to develop mechanisms to promote and sustain fertility, or the species would have disappeared.  Two such mechanisms can be identified both of which have been powerful.  One is primarily social, the emergence of kinship.  Every society has some form of cross-blood ties among adults, one of whose major functions is to promote fertility and protect the infant to maturity.  This implies a set of powerful values promoting fertility and powerful social structures to protect its products.  The second mechanism is somewhat more physiological, the sex drive.  This, too, is a powerful drive, so powerful that all societies and religions have had to work hard to control it.  At the point of sexual arousal, the individual experiences a greatly reduced level of rational foresight.  Given these mechanisms, it is easy to understand how fertility, a positive value, would remain high in the face of declining mortality, a negative value.  We would not expect a change in fertility until the human population experienced a major change in its way of life.


That is precisely what the urban industrial transition provided.  There are many theories of declining fertility and much debate about what drives the process. There is also, however, widespread agreement that the changing value of children is a major force.  In rural agrarian societies children have considerable economic value.  They can work and be productive relatively early and, most importantly, support their aged parents as time goes by.  In urban industrial societies, on the other hand, children must be supported and schooled, often into their second or third decade of life.  Moreover, urban industrial society has developed a series of values and institutions to separate fertility from individual survival of the parents.  Pension and social security schemes make parents independent of the support of their children.  These societies often express specific values, such as “not wishing to be a burden on my children,” that further separates fertility from individual survival in old age.


A leading Australian demographer, Jack Caldwell, has given this process a specific title:  changing the net intergenerational capital transfer pattern.”  In all societies there is a two way intergenerational capital transfer:  parents provide some downward capital to children and children provide some upward capital to parents.  In traditional rural agrarian societies the net transfer is upwards from children to parents.  In modern urban industrial society the net transfer is downward, from parents to children.  A common phrase captures this difference.  In rural agrarian societies, children are an economic asset; in urban industrial societies they are an economic liability.  Moreover, in traditional, rural agrarian societies, fertility is considered to be “natural;” in modern urban industrial societies fertility is said to be “controlled.”  Thus the demographic transition implies a movement from natural to controlled fertility.


It is this change in the value of children that helps us understand why fertility began to decline in England and Wales toward the end of the 19th century and came into line with lower mortality by the middle of the 20th century.  Note that like the mortality transition, there was no major medical breakthrough to facilitate fertility control.  Fertility control employed the same technology that has been used throughout human history:  withdrawal, abstinence and abortion.  Note, too, that these are demanding technologies in that to be operative the user must overcome both the power of the sex drive and the power of the value to protect life.


What happened in England and Wales has happened throughout the Western urban industrial world, and Japan, the one Asian nation that went through this Past Demographic Transition. 


The current Demographic Transition (DT) is now taking place in what has been called the Less Developed World, or Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Figure 5 shows significant differences between the past and present demographic transitions.  Note first the time frame.  The past DT took two and a half centuries; the current appears it will require less than a century.  Next note the different initial levels of crude birth and death rates.  They have been substantially higher in the less developed world than they were in England and Wales at the beginning of the Past transition.  The reasons for this are still much debated, but probably revolve around patterns of land holding and kinship.  Perhaps most important is the differences in the rate of mortality decline in the two transitions.  What took two centuries in the past can now be accomplished in less than half a century.  We shall also see shortly that patterns of fertility decline can be much more rapid now than they were in the past.


A major cause of the increased speed of mortality and fertility decline lies in new technology, accompanied by developments in policy formation and modern organizations.  Medical advances in the technology for treating infectious diseases grew rapidly in the 20th century.  They were greatly accelerated by World War II, from which came a new set of chemicals to attack germs and the vectors that transmitted them.  A wide spectrum of anti-biotic drugs controlled the germs of infectious diseases, and DDT controlled the mosquitoes that transmitted malaria.  A significant social fact of this new technology was that it did not require major changes in human behavior.  It could be placed in large scale organizations and applied in roughly bureaucratic fashion to many people and many places in a short period of time.  It was a technology that was bureaucratically portable.  The same can be said for fertility control.  By about 1965 the world had available a new set of contraceptive technologies that could control fertility.  Most important was that these were “non-coitally specific contraceptives.”  They did not have to be used at the time of sexual intercourse, when human passions are aroused and rational calculation is somewhat suppressed.  Moreover, like the new mortality controlling technology, this was also bureaucratically portable.  It cold be placed in large scale organizations and applied to massive populations almost simultaneously throughout the world.


Along with the new technologies came new organizational and policy changes.  Out of World War II, the United Nations emerged, with global agencies, like the World Health Organization, with a capacity to mobilize human and financial resources to attack infectious diseases on a near global scale.  Anti-Malaria campaigns, for example, were organized in many countries in an almost military fashion, to spray DDT, killing mosquitoes and halting the spread of malaria.  That these campaigns often looked like military operations emphasizes that the new mortality controlling technology was what we have called “bureaucratically portable.” 


The policy changes were as important, as the world embarked on a program to increase health and welfare for all throughout the world.  Health was no longer the responsibility of the individual or family, governments now assumed a major portion of the responsibility.  This was, of course, a logical extension of the social and political changes going on in the Western Democracies for the past century and more.


In fertility control the policy changes were more dramatic and revolutionary.  Throughout human history governments have been pro-natalist, that is, they have supported birth and human reproduction.  Governments have usually recognized that people are power: they can be worked, taxed, and sent to war for the greater glory of government.  Governments have also found that the easiest, safest and surest way to have more people is to encourage natural human reproductive urges.  Thus they have typically been pro-natalist.  We have seen dramatic reflections of this tendency in national pro-natalist policies in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and wartime Japan.  We have also seen birth control advocates like Margaret Sanger in the U.S. and Mrs. Kato in Japan jailed for promoting birth control.


This all changed in 1952, when India became the first country officially to adopt a policy to reduce population growth by reducing fertility in marriage.  This was part of a much larger movement to use government to stimulate economic development and raise the standard of living of all its people (Ness Ando 1984).  To activate this policy, India created a national family planning program, a bureaucratic carrier, to provide education in methods of birth control throughout the country.  Unfortunately at that time the new contraceptive technology was not yet available.  Thus the program had little to offer.  It would take another decade before that technology would be available, and before the national program could show much in the way of progress. Nonetheless, the policy decision had been made, and India was in a position to lead other countries to this revolutionary change.


India’s leadership was exercised through the new United Nations and its subsidiary organizations.  In 1948 the United Nations created a regional Economic Commission for Europe to assist in the rebuilding the Continent after the war.  Asians asked for a similar Commission to be established in Asia, to assist in promoting economic development.  Although the Western powers resisted this request, China was a member of the Security Council and it pressed for a regional Commission.  It gained the support of the Latin American countries and the UN created the Economic Commission for the Asia and Far East (ECAFE).[2]  It was in meetings of this regional commission that India exercised considerable influence, leading other Asian countries to adopt similar fertility limiting, or anti-natalist, policies.  Over the next three decades most of the countries of the Less Developed World adopted similar policies to reduce population growth by controlling fertility.  Asia led the way, followed by Latin America and then Africa. 


In the control of both mortality and fertility there has been a virtual explosion of international organizations working on a broad agenda of issues.  Universities, government agencies, private Foundations and private pharmaceutical companies have engaged in extensive research to understand diseases and processes of fertility decline.  They have also done extensive work on organizational development to discover how best to provide the information, services and goods to control mortality, morbidity and fertility.  There has been much attention focused as well on processes of policy formation and implementation.  Finally, the movement of private marketing companies into the global market with these new technologies has hastened their dispersion throughout the world. 


The above discussion can help us understand the great speed with which the current demographic transition is taking place.  Now let us examine more closely that speed, and the magnitude, to see more fully how this aspect of population change affects the global environment.


Figure 6 provides a comparison of the Demographic Transition in Sweden and in China.  To chart mortality and fertility, we use crude birth and death rates again.  Here we see two important aspects of mortality decline.  The gradual decline in Sweden illustrates what is called the epidemiological transition, from high to low death rates. But it also shows that the transition is from high and variable to low and stable mortality.  In the past, mortality fluctuated dramatically form year to year due to changes in the weather. An especially severe and long winter pushed mortality to a high peak; a gentle winter and good growing season brought it to a low level.  In this “traditional,” or pre-industrial,  period, the environment had considerable impact on human life.  With urbanization and industrialization that impact diminished; people gained greater control over both food production and distribution, mitigating the impact of variable weather patterns. 




















Figure 6

The Demographic Transition

 in Sweden and China


For China the rapid mortality decline came with the end of a bloody war and civil war. It also owed much to a Communist victory that launched a massive new health program, bringing the new mortality controlling technologies especially to the rural areas.  This program, “The Barefoot Doctors Program,” trained many village women in the provision of basic individual and public health techniques, and sent the new mortality controlling drugs widely into the rural areas.  This brought down the death rate very quickly.  The jump in the death rate at 1960 shows a downside of the Chinese effective mass mobilization.  In this case a disastrously ill-conceived economic program, “The Great Leap Forward,” was followed by famine that killed perhaps 30 million people.


The same dramatic differences can be seen in fertility.  Sweden’s fertility decline took about a century; it took less than three decades in China.  Sweden’s decline came about with major changes in human social organization:  urbanization brought people to the cities and to industrial work where children were less valuable.  Schooling was increased for both girls and boys, contributing to a rise in the age of marriage and first birth.  Modern contraceptives were unknown, and government encouraged marriage and birth.  It also encouraged people not to migrate to the new world, as a wave of emigration took productive young people away especially to the United States. 


China’s rapid fertility decline came in part from economic pressures on individual families, but also from a powerful new fertility control program that was introduced in the early 1970s.  This required a radical change in policy, since the early Maoist doctrine followed Marx in proclaiming that rapid population growth was a problem only for Capitalist countries, and under Communism it would cause no problem.  That change did come with Mao’s death and the recognition that rapid population growth would obstruct the economic growth that the government wanted.  When China finally did make the major policy decision for an anti-natalist program, it used the same organizational mechanism and powerful mass control it had used to promote health.  The national family planning program came to exercise powerful and extensive control over reproductive behavior, dictating the number of births to be allowed, extending the use of all contraceptives, and even forcing abortions where government birth targets would be exceeded.  This was in part a coercive policy for which China has been much criticized.  It is fair to note, however, that without the extensive health care network the government had established in the 1950s, both the individual demand for and government promotion of fertility limitation would probably have been considerably weaker.


The impact of the new national family planning program can be clearly seen in the use of modern contraceptives.  This is estimated by the statistic, Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR), or the proportion of married women of reproductive age (MWRA) who are actively using contraceptives.  At the beginning of the Demographic Transition in the less developed countries, about 1950, the CPR was normally about 10 percent.  When it rises to 70 percent, it is assumed that virtually all people who wish to use contraceptives are using them, and a society is said to be a “Contracepting Society,” or one that controls fertility.


            Total fertility Rate


To understand fertility and fertility decline more fully, we turn to another statistic:  the Total Fertility Rate (TFR).  This is an estimate of the number of children a woman will bear in her reductive life.[3]  This is an instructive ratio because it tells us much about “normal” reproductive behavior.  The theoretical maximum could be in the high teens and low twenties.  If we consider nine months for gestation, and another six to nine months when breastfeeding reduces ovulation, the 30 years between 15 and 45, normally considered the reproductive years, a woman could bear 20 children.  There have been times when the TFR has been near that.  In early French Canada it is estimated to have been about 16.  In fact, however, the widespread average for the TFR in traditional societies is only about 6 to 8.  When a society reaches a TFR of 2.1, it is said to be “at replacement level.”  That is, if a society were to experience a TFR of 2.1 for about 40 years, births would roughly equal deaths and the population size would be stable.  As we shall see later, when the TFR falls from natural to controlled levels, it does not usually stop at 2.1, but continues to levels that are below replacement level.  This implies that in time the population will actually begin to decline.


Figure 7 provides a general picture of recent fertility declines in Thailand and China, and in Latin America and Africa.  This shows clearly the near universal 6-8 level of the TFR in traditional, or non-contracepting, societies.  We can see that both Thailand and China made the transition from natural to controlled fertility in just a few decades.  Behind this rapid change was a series of other changes that greatly reduced the economic value of children and gave families the information and supplies needed to control their fertility with considerable ease.  Both promoted and quickly achieved universal primary education, increased secondary education and saw an increase in the age of marriage.  Both also promoted primary health care, especially in the rural areas, especially reducing infant mortality rates.  Thus families could see they did not need 6 children to assure that two would live to maturity.  All of these changes increased individual demand for fertility limitation and also increased the supply of fertility limitation information and technology.  There is an important difference in the two countries, however.  China used considerable coercion to promote fertility limitation; Thailand used none.


Figure 7


Latin America has experienced moderate fertility limitation; it is now down to about three children per woman and is expected to continue declining to or below replacement level.  East Africa has show higher levels of natural TFR and now shows only a beginning of the decline that is expected to continue.  Both regional figures conceal considerable difference within each region.  In Latin America countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are now virtually fully contracepting societies; Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay have much further to go.  In all cases environmental and economic conditions interact with government policies and programs to affect the outcome.



            Population Pyramids


Population pyramids provide a useful tool for visualizing the process described above.  The pyramid is constructed of horizontal bars, one for each five year cohort of the population.  The length of each bar represented the percent (or sometimes the number) of the population:  usually the left side is males and the right side is females.  The three pyramids in Figures 8, 9, and 10 (UN 2002) use major groups of countries to illustrate three of the stages of the demographic transition.  The country groups are those commonly used by the United Nations in its population reports.  First is what are called the Least Developed Regions.  These are the world’s poorest countries, primarily located in Sub-Saharan Africa, some of South Asia (e.g.Afghanistan) and a few others, such as Haiti.  Next are what are called the other Less Developed Regions.  These are poorer countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Finally are the More Developed Regions.  These are the wealthy urban-industrialized nations of the world.  The list includes all of Europe and North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.



Figure 8

Population Pyramid for the

Least developed Countries

Here we see the impact of reduced mortality and continued high fertility.  The broad base shows a large proportion of very young children.  As we shall see later, this poses an important challenge doe poor countries trying to promote economic development.











Figure 10

Population Pyramid for the

Other Less Developed Regions


The Less Developed Regions are at the point where fertility has begun to decline.  The seven or eight percent aged 0 to 4 have fallen to only five percent.  There is also a larger bulge in the ages 20 to 50, or the working ages.  These are cohorts that have moved up in age from the earlier very broad base produced by high fertility.


Figure 11

Population Pyramid for the

More Developed Countries


Here we see the impact of very low fertility and a high standard of living, which increases life expectancy and gives us a larger percent of aged people.  It also shows a substantial bulge in the middle, or working age, population.  We shall return to a more detailed discussion of some implications of these different age distributions shortly.



            China and India: an instructive comparison



China and India are the world’s two largest countries in size of their populations.  They are both a part of the modern Demographic Transition.  Both entered with high rates of fertility and mortality and both experienced rapid mortality decline, driven by the new medical technology and the new policy and organizational changes discussed above.  They have also experienced substantial fertility decline, with national family planning programs created to distribute modern contraceptive information and supplies throughout the country. But they have also shown important differences which can help us understand the complex linkage between environment, technology, political policy and organizational character.


First look at the broad statistical picture.  Figure 9 shows the total population growth over the past half century with projections through the next half century.  Both grew at roughly the same rates through first 50 years, but China’s growth slowed considerably in the 1980s and its total population is expected to level off and decline slightly  around 2020.  India will continue to growth, passing China with 1.5 billion about 2040, when China’s population may begin to decline.







Figure 12

Total Population, India and China 1950-2050.



Figure 10 shows the decline of both the Infant Mortality Rate[4] and the Total Fertility Rate.   Both have made considerable progress, but China is definitely ahead of India.   It’s infant mortality rate fell rapidly for the reasons we discussed above.  India’s decline has lagged.  Similarly, China has experienced a much more rapid, fertility decline than has India.  Why?




Figure 13

China and India:  IMR and TFR



Addressing this question takes us into the complex interaction between the environment, political and economic development, policy formation and implementation.  To assist in this examination we can propose a simple model of government policy formation and implementation.  Governments first decide on a policy.  This leads to a certain amount of (program or organizational) activity to implement the policy.  That implementation, in turn, leads to a certain output.  Or:  Policy  à  Implementation  à  Output.  This, in turn gives us a number of specific questions we can ask a bout each step.


            1.  What historical environmental and political conditions determine the policy process.

            2.  What policy is adopted; how strong is it?

            3.  How, and how well is the policy implemented?

            4.  What conditions other than the policy affect how it is implemented?

            5.  What impact or outcome does the policy have? And

            6.  What conditions other than the implementation, affect the outcome?


The following table provides a brief summary of the argument we make here.  It has seven steps, which we explain briefly here.


1.  Political centralization.  China and India differ historically in their degree of political centralization.  China has had a theoretically strong central government for more than two millennia.  Periodic weakening of the central power and the rise of local war lords and civil war were always followed by a reunification that gave strong power to the center.  India has just as long a tradition of a relatively weak central force, and more a tradition of local power.  A popular but much debated theory holds that China’s rainfall distribution and the tradition of control of the country’s major river systems is associated with strong central control.  By contrast, India has little experience controlling major river system, but much local work building tanks (reservoirs) to hold the monsoon rain fall


2.  Foreign Intrusion.  Both countries have experienced a powerful intrusion from foreign powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, reflecting the global drive of modern industrial capitalism.  But the processes differed.  India was conquered and controlled by Great Britain, the leading industrial power of the 19th century.  It is important to note that Great Britain was also a leader in the democratization process that extended the franchise, and more and more gave the ruled the power to select their government.  It emerged in the early 20th century as a polity in which the “consent of the governed” was the only legitimate basis for rule.  China was torn up into a series of treaty ports by a number of competing foreign powers.  These powers forced open trading upon China, but never took responsibility for governing and administering the entire country.  That was left in the hands of an increasingly weak government.


3.  Reactions to foreign intrusion.  In both cases there were strong reactions – both attractions and repulsions – to the foreign intrusion.  Western languages, ideas and forms of organization found strong appeal among elites and some of the masses.  But there was also resistance to foreign rule and some desire to move backwards.  The Indian (Sepoy) rebellion in the 1850s attempted to cast off British rule and return to the old Moghul form of government.  That was soundly defeated.  Following this the indigenous elite began forming political organizations to demand more and more say in government.  In China the weakness of Manchu rule, itself foreign, in the face of Western intrusion led to a series of violent uprisings of a millennial nature.  In both India and China the modern ideas of Marxism and Liberalism took hold and competed for power.  In China all attempts at liberal democratic reform were undermined and put down ruthlessly by local war lords.  Marxism was also resisted by the elite, but the highly disciplined revolutionary ideology espoused by the Communist proved successful, especially in their development of a people’s liberation army to ride to power on the support of the peasants.  Quite the opposite occurred in India.  There the British suppressed violent Marxist revolutionary movements, but increasingly gave way to the liberal demand for more Indian self rule.  This led to a more peaceful transition to a liberal democratic form of government.


4.  Independence.   The success of the Chinese Communist’s disciplined and strongly centralized party gave China a return to a highly centralized form of government.  Moreover, under the party’s revolutionary socialist ideology, no opposition was permitted.  The success of the Congress Party in India gave the country a parliamentary democratic government, based on the consent of the governed.  This left the central government vulnerable to demands of local interests, making it deliberately weak.


5.  Population Policy.  India was the first country to adopt an official fertility limiting policy and it created one of the world’s first national family planning programs.  It was driven by the ideology and technology of central economic planning, which led government to define rapid population growth as an obstacle to economic development and greater human welfare.  China went through two decades of fierce ideological debate over population growth.  Mao adopted the Marxist-Leninist position that rapid population growth is only a problem for capitalist societies; a Communist society will easily manage the problem.  Moreover, Mao urged the country on to more and more revolutionary processes.  Against this were the same arguments India had made, coming from China’s economists and planners who favored economic development and industrialization over revolutionary zeal.  With Mao’s death, the revolutionary side lost power and the economic planners adopted a strong fertility limitation policy


6. Implementation.  India’s national family planning program early adopted an almost exclusive commitment to sterilization as the contraceptive method of choice, much neglecting the other “spacing” methods.  It also had a long debate over the use of abortion.  Its program lacked the infrastructure of an effective rural primary health care system, since the medical profession was allowed to block government efforts to use paramedics extensively to cover the rural areas.  When China finally adopted a fertility limiting policy it included all contraceptive methods and abortion, mandated late marriage, five year birth spacing and stopping at two children; later this was reduced to one.  It set the contraceptive distribution program into the same distributive system that had brought better primary health care to the rural areas.  Moreover, the Communist Party used its effective, totalitarian mass mobilization tactics to impose fertility limitation on the population.


7.  Impact.  As we have seen, once the national family planning program was adopted in China it was pursued with a vengeance.  The result was a rapid decline in the TFR, to below replacement levels.  India’s fertility decline has been much slower and it varies far more from state to state than does China’s from province to province.  Some states, such as Karala, The Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are at or near completely contracepting societies.  Others, like Rajasthan, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh remain very backward especially in the rural areas.


China and India

Policy Processes and Population Change











Strong central political system for many centuries. Possible impact of

patterns of rainfall and river systems.  Central control over and management of river and irrigation systems.

Relatively weak political centralization with regional power centers exercising substantial control.  Possible impact of monsoon rainfall system with highly decentralized water control:  local tank building rather than centralized riverf control

Historical Intrusions and the Policy Process






19th century Western Powers force intrusion into China, but do not physically control the country.  Different western countries balance each other, demand open trade but exercise only limited political and administrative control

India conquered by Great Britain and becomes a colony directly controlled by the U.K.  India drawn together under British legal and administrative control, with English as a major langue of government.

Reactions to foreign intrusions and the policy process

Increasing local uprisings against the existing Manchu rulers and foreign intrusion.  Marxism and Liberalism view for leadership.  The Chinese government suppresses both, leaving only the highly disciplined Marxist revolutionary party with power

Uprisings against British rule suppressed, indigenous, English educated elite forms a legitimate political opposition to the colonial government.  Marxism and Liberalism view for power.  Government suppresses Marxists, increasingly cedes right and power to the indigenous Liberal elite.





Communist military victory liberates China from foreign intrusion.  Solidifies a strong central government.

The Indian Congress Party wins independence through an electoral process, placing strong restraints on the power of government.

Population Policy




Intense ideological struggle 1950-1974 between “revolutionary” (Red) demands and interests in promoting economic development (Expert).  Mao’s death gives experts the power to decide upon and implement a strong fertility limiting program.  No restraints on government. 

India has the first official fertility limiting policy, driven by economic arguments; rapid population growth will retard the desired economic development.  Part of a broader central government responsibility for central planning.  Some limitations on government power from the parliamentary process protecting individual and groups rights






National family planning program using all methods of contraception, including abortion, with strong political control at local levels.  Government sets targets and demands compliance, forced use of abortion where fertility targets might be missed.  The program is set into the same organizational system that spread health care to the rural areas and reduced infant mortality.

National family planning program almost totally forced on use of sterilization, first male and then including female.  Neglect of other “spacing” methods.  Weak rural primary health care system because the medical profession is able to stop government using paramedics to cover rural areas.



Rapid decline of fertility, now below replacement level

Slower decline of fertility, still above replacement level.


This basic view of modern population dynamics has been closely related to economic development. In order to understand this more fully, we need to consider some basic elements of economic development.



6.3 Population and Economic Development


Let us start with another chart of exponential development.


Figure 14




This shows the growth of wealth in the United States from the first decade of our independence to the turn of the millennium.  The growth of national wealth is partly a sign of economic development.  The links between population and economic development are extensive and complex.  Here we shall try to sort out some of those links.


First, it will be useful to present a sort of primer on economic development:  How is it defined and measured? What does it mean in human welfare? What causes it?  And what are its implications for global environmental changes.  Large texts have been written on the subject.  Here we present just enough to help you understand the population-development-environment nexus.


            A Primer on Economic Development


First we begin with a definition and a measurement.  Economic development is formally defined as a long term increase in real output per capita.  Long term implies decades.  Increases in real output implies that output is measured in market prices of goods and services, but those prices must be corrected for inflation or price changes.  Prices not corrected for inflation are called “current prices;” those corrected for inflation are called “constant prices” and are usually given in prices of a specific year.  And per capita, means that the total wealth is divided by the population of the country under consideration. 


Economists have devised ways to measure the wealth or output of a country with National Income Accounting.  This is a powerful conceptual accounting technique that reflects a major revolution in thinking about a country’s wealth.  It arose roughly in the late 18th century, marked  by the publication of a major book by Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.  Smith was arguing against the then current economic system, called mercantilism.  This defined a nation’s wealth as the amount of gold and silver in its coffers.  The implication for trade was that a country would wish to reduce its imports and increase its exports. This would produce a favorable balance of trade with gold and silver flowing into the country.  Smith argued that the true measure of wealth was human productivity, or the amount of goods and services produced in a country, and that this would be enhanced by free trade and a free market.  This new thinking stimulated a weak but ongoing attempt to measure the total wealth of a nation. 


The outcome took some time to come but is now firmly institutionalized in the National Income Account. The United States has been collecting data and making these estimates for its self since the 1930s.  The United Nations now has an organizational unit that helps all countries develop the accounting techniques for their National Income Accounts.  This accounting system estimates total national wealth by adding up the market value of all goods and services produced in a country at a given time.  The estimate gives us the Gross National Product (GNP) or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).[5] Quite naturally, a larger country will have a greater GNP than a smaller country because the larger has more people producing more goods and services. To correct for size, the GNP or GDP is divided by population to give us percapita GNP or GDP.  India, with one billion people has a GNP of $457 billion while little Singapore with only 5 million people has a GNP of $91 billion.  But India’s per capita GNP is only $450, while that for Singapore is $22,767. Clearly Singapore is more wealthy and more economically developed than India.[6]


            Percapita GNP or GDP is the measure of economic development.  Broadly, it is a measure of human productivity; economic development can be defined as a long term increase in human productivity.



To give some life to these definitions, consider the following table, showing the United States economic development for the past 130 years.


Table 1


































The total wealth, or GNP, of the United States grew from 6.7 billion dollars in 1870 to 8.5 trillion dollars in 1998.  These are “current” dollars, not corrected for inflation or price changes.  At the same time the population grew from 40 million to 273.5 million.  Dividing GNP by population gives us the percapita GNP, which grew from $168 in 1870 to $31,119 in 1998, or by 185 times.  But during those years prices changed considerably.  Here we use the consumer price index with 1929 dollars.  This implies that a basket of goods that cost $100 in 1929 cost only $74 in 1870; $57 in 1880, and $121 in 1920.  The great crash of 1929 caused prices to fall so that the same basket of goods in 1940 cost only $83.  By 1998, however, that same basket of goods cost $978, almost ten times as much.  Dividing percapita GNP in current prices by the 1929 price index gives us the “real” (corrected for inflation) per capita GNP, or the amount in constant 1929 dollars.  This calculation raises the value of the 1870 percapita GNP from $168 to $227, and lowers the 1998 figure from $31,119 to $3,182.  This was slower than the growth seen in current prices, but it still represents a 14 fold increase in real wealth.  The last two columns of the table, labor force in agriculture and Eo, or life expectancy, will be discussed shortly.


Before going further with this analysis, let us stop to consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of the national income account by which we measure economic development.  There are four of each that can be readily identified.  On the plus side, GNP allows us to aggregate a wide range of activities and measure them with one yardstick.  That is we can add the market value of a ton of steel, an automobile, a lecture, a movie and even a dentist drilling and obtain one single measure for all those different goods and services.[7]  This, in turn makes it possible to compare countries with one another, or one country over time.  Third, with this measure we can ask what other measures are correlated with it and thus gain a better understanding of what economic development actually means in the lives of people.  Finally this measure of wealth can be disaggregated:  we can ask where it comes from and how it is used.  For example, we can ask what portion of the total wealth comes from agriculture, or manufacturing or services.  Typically, when a country experiences economic development the proportion of wealth coming from agriculture declines while the proportion from manufacturing increases.  This indicates a major socio-economic change from an agrarian to an industrial society. 


We can also ask what the wealth is used for and distinguish between two main uses: for consumption and for investment.  This takes us to the theory of economic development and the issue of what causes development.  Investment drives economic development.  Investment implies building increased capacity for production.  This goes to the core theory of economic development.  Investment comes from wealth that is not consumed, or from savings.  This perspective often leads us to what is called the low income trap.  Poor countries are poor because they are poor.  Since they are poor, they cannot withhold wealth from consumption, they cannot save, thus they cannot invest in increasing human productivity.  At the other end of this spectrum, rich countries are rich because they are rich. They are sufficiently wealthy to withhold wealth from consumption, to save a great deal and to turn those savings into investments to increase productivity.


There are, of course ways out of this low income trap.  Public policies and private consumption patterns can produce the savings and investment needed by a poor country to increase its productivity.  They theory behind foreign aid is that rich countries can provide loans and grants to poor countries to enable them to increase their productivity without reducing consumption and thus to achieve rapid economic development.  If foreign aid is used effectively to provide education and health services, roads, ports and public utilities, it can promote economic development.  There are many cases where such development assistance has indeed helped promote economic development.  On the other hand if foreign assistance is squandered on useless project or stolen by corrupt politicians, it will do nothing to promote development.  This calls attention to the importance of political systems and public policies in both recipient and donor countries that will determined how effectively development assistance is given and used.


Weaknesses are as important, especially for environmental issues.  First are the errors that arise from the data collection and accounting processes.  They are basically estimates and inevitably contain errors.  Much work is expended to increase the accuracy, but in the end we accept the errors and use the estimates, since the alternative is to have no measure at all.  Second the estimates use the market value of goods and services.  This implies than anything that does not flow through the market is not counted.  Housework (usually implying women’s work), home vegetable gardens, barter arrangements, charitable work, for example, are real goods and services, but are not counted in the GNP.  Attempts are made to correct for this, but the fact remains that much real economic activity is not included in the GNP.  Since the market value of goods and services is counted this implies counting with a flexible yardstick.   Prices are volatile.  Prices for the same thing change, thus they do not necessarily reflect ay real change in the amount of goods and services being produced.  This is, of course, corrected for by using constant prices, thus when making comparisons over time, one should always be careful to use constant prices.  There is a peculiar twist to this weakness that applies especially to international comparisons.  The market value of goods and services of different countries are usually converted to U.S. dollars at existing exchange rates.  This often tends to undervalue the output of poorer countries and over value the output of richer countries.  There is an excellent effort to correct for this by constructing a Parity Purchasing Price (PPP) Index.  This attempts to look at the monetary value of the same basket of goods and services, expressed in something like purchasing power of individual countries.  Finally, GNP often tends to undervalue natural resources, unless they are marketed.  One of the most important of these distortions is the value given to forests.  In the GNP, a forest only has value if the trees are cut down and sold.  As we have seen and will see more times in this text, one of the most important products of a forest is water.   But water is seldom given its real market value, and the way in which a forest stores and releases water, and even sometimes produces it through impacts on the weather is usually overlooked in national income accounting.


This last point calls attention to an important underlying problem with national income accounting.  Percapita GNP is a measure of wealth, and generally it is believe better to be wealthy than to be poor.  That is, wealth should give us a measure of human welfare.  We shall see below that this is indeed the case, generally. Yet anomalies remain.


Other things being equal, for example, a country with a low real crime rate will show a lower percapita GNP than one with a higher crime rate. This is because the higher crime rate implies more police, higher costs of protection, insurance and crime detention.  All of these costs of crime prevention are included in the GNP making it larger than it would be without them.  The money we now spend on airport security increases the GNP, but it certainly does not add much to the real quality of life.  Even more extreme is the cost of environmental cleanup.  When the Exxon Valdese tanker ran afoul of land and leaked tons of oil on the shores of Alaska and British Columbia, the cost of cleaning up after the spill is added to the GNP.  Thus many parts of GNP do not signal a higher quality of life; just the opposite.  There is an interesting attempt to correct for this distortion is the work of a group called Redefining Progress, with a website, www.rprogress.org.  This by no means provides a full corrective to National Income Accounting, which is far too massive an industry to be corrected easily.  Still it is important to be aware of both the limitations of GNP and the many attempts to correct for those limitations.


            Working with GNP


Now that we have seen some of the strengths and weaknesses, let us examine one of the more important strengths of GNP, the manner in which it signals large scale societal change, and the kinds of analyses we can do from this.


Using a cross sectional analysis of (almost) all countries in the world, we can examine a series of correlates of economic development.  What social, economic and environmental conditions are associated with development?  Are these conditions randomly distributed or do they show clear patterns of association with development? 


We must begin, however, with a word about our measure of development, per capita GNP.  Figure 15 shows a histogram of the world’s countries arranged from low to high per capita GNP in constant 1995 dollars.  It is clear that even corrected for inflation, the distribution is not “normal;” it is highly skewed to the right.  There are many poor countries (on the left), a few well-off countries, and very few really wealthy countries (on the right).  This poses a statistical problem, limiting our ability to use the many measures that assume something close to a normal (bell shaped curve) distribution of observations.  We can correct for this problem by using the logarithmic transformation of the actual (or metric) percapita GNP numbers.  Figure 16 shows the distribution when we use this transformation, the log of per capita GNP.



Figure 15



Figure 16



In the analysis that follows, we use the log of percapita GNP rather than the raw metric.  



If we examine conditions in all (or most) of the world’s countries, we can see clear differences between countries at different levels of economic development, measure by the log of GDP per capita.  The following scattergrams provide two important observations.  One is the close relationship between certain social or economic conditions and economic development;  the other is what we call deviant cases.  Figure 17 first shows the close relationship between economic development and urbanization.



Figure 17.

Economic Development and urbanization


















It is very clear that the poorer, or less economically developed, countries have low levels of urbanization; as development increases the level of urbanization increases; and the highly developed economies show high levels of urbanization.  It is also important, however, to note the deviant cases.  Djbouti, Lebanon and Venezuela are much more urbanization than expected given their level of economic development.  On the other hand, Thailand, Solomon Islands and Oman are considerably less urbanization than expected given their level of development.  These outliers, or deviant cases, raise important questions for us.  Overall, this figure shows that urbanization is closely related to economic development, but the fit is not perfect, and other conditions can affect the level of urbanization, and its impact on development.


Figure 18 shows the relationship between economic development and the composition of the labor force.  Here we see that the less economically developed countries have higher proportion of their labor force in agriculture; development implies a reduction of the proportion of the labor force in agriculture.  Figure 19 shows the relationship between development and the labor force in industry.  This is roughly the opposite of what we saw with agriculture.  Development implies an increase in the industrial, or manufacturing, labor force.


Figures 18 Dev and Ag LF

Fig 19:  Dev and Indus LF


Together these three figures show that economic development implies a major social transformation from rural agrarian to urban industrial society.  Recall that this is the same transformation we saw earlier with the demographic transition.  We also saw this transformation in the 130 year history of economic development in the United States, shown in Table 1.  As the U.S. became wealthier the proportion of its labor force in agriculture declined.  It was transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society.  But there is more, as well.


Figure 20 shows that economic development is also associated with a decline in fertility, or with the closing of the demographic transition.  Again, note the deviant cases.  How can they be explained?


Figure 20

Economic Development and Fertility














Finally, Figure 21 shows another close association, this time it is between economic development and life expectancy at birth, generally noted as Eo.  Like the measure of Infant Mortality, this is generally considered an indicator of the welfare of a society.  Note, too, that Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy are closely related empirically.  As infant mortality is reduced, life expectancy increases.  This observation takes us back to table 1, showing the economic development of the United States for the past 130 years.  There we saw that Life Expectancy rose with economic development and the transition to a more industrial, less agrarian society.



Figure 21

Economic Development and Life Expectancy




With the experience of the United States over 130 years and the difference between less and more economically developed countries today, we have much evidence or a modern social transformation.  The demographic transition and economic development have gone hand in hand and together they mark a revolutionary change from rural agrarian to urban industrial society.


These analyses also show us that there can be considerable difference among countries in the way they fit this major transformation.  Later we shall have to raise questions about what conditions – environmental, social or political – can help us explain these differences.  Moreover, answering those questions will tell us a great deal about the conditions that affect the sustainability of this new type of society.  First, let us look at some other population-development linkages.


            Other Population-Development Connections: population growth and age distribution


Two of the most direct connections between population dynamics and economic development come through population growth, and the manner in which growth affects the population’s age distribution. 


            Population Growth and Economic Development


On the issue of population growth and economic development, there has been a long debate and am immense literature. On one side is the argument that population growth retards development, on the other is that growth is either neutral or a stimulant to development.  If people are conceived as basically consumers, almost by definition, population growth retards development, since development requires investment. More consumption can mean less wealth available for the investment that will increase human productivity.  This led to the argument of a low income trap.  Poor countries are poor because they are poor.  Poor countries, and poor people, cannot save, of withhold wealth from consumption, thus they cannot generate the investment needed to increase human productivity.  The argument is strengthened by the observation that poverty, both national and individual, is associated with low status of women and girls and environmental degradation, leading to a vicious cycle of poverty – environmental degradation – poverty.


On the other hand, consumption is a demand for goods and services, and thus can stimulate investment to meet that demand.  If people are seen as producers as well as consumers, then population growth could also promote development since it would imply more producers of goods and services.  In part this debate has reflected two different political-economic theories, or ideologies:  Malthusian and Marxian.  Thomas Malthus was an early proponent of the idea that population growth presses inexorably upon natural resources and must result in forces that ultimately retard growth.  Karl Marx took strong issue with Malthus and argued that Capitalism, not population growth, is the cause of poverty.


Although there is a large literature on both sides of this debate, it is now largely agreed among economists that for poor countries rapid population growth does retard economic development.  This was first argued systematically in a seminal work by Coale and Hoover (1958).  Rapid population growth increases the pressure on consumption and reduces the wealth available for investment, thus retarding economic development.  This had a strong influence on economic development policies promoted by the United Nations and the World Bank, and also on individual national development policies.  In part this argument fit well with the measurement by which economic development was being judged.  If economic development is defined as rising output per capita, by definition population growth retards development.  Long term economic development rates for the wealthy countries have typically been about 2.5 percent per year.  This implies total growth around 3 to 4 percent and population growth of 1 percent.  If a poor country experienced a four percent total growth rate and population were growing at three percent, this would mean only a one percent per year growth in output per capita, or 70 years to double percapita income, the standard of living.  If population growth could be reduced to one percent, this would imply a percapita growth of about three percent per year or only 23 years to double the standard of living.  This was the kind of logic India used to arrive at its revolutionary decision to adopt a policy to reduce population growth through reducing fertility in marriage.


It is important to note here that India’s economic policies were generated by a government with a commitment to central economic planning.  The Indian political elite was trained in Great Britain in the 1920s and 30s.  When they took control of India after independence, they began national economic planning.  One major aim was to expand primary education.  This implied projecting the number of children that must be schooled.  Rapid population growth was thus immediately translated into rising financial costs for education.  Promoting health through government health services was another aim, with the same consequence: it translated rapid population growth into increasing financial burdens for the government.  Here one can see easily the importance of counting people, or national population censuses.[8]  The United Nations has made a considerable effort over the past half century to assist countries to develop organizational and technical skills for making decennial population censuses.  This has raised awareness in national policy-making circles of the importance of population size and growth rate, and how threes are related to economic development.


Both India and China illustrate the link between the census and planning for economic development.  During its first two five year plans, starting in 1952, India assumed its population growth rate would be 1.24 percent per year.  If national economic plans could produce a 4 percent economic growth rate, this would mean a 2.5 percent annual growth rate in output percapita, implying a doubling of the standard of living every generation.  In the preparation for the 1961 census, however, it was discovered that the population was growing at 2.4 percent, which greatly reduced the planned rate of economic development.  This caused the policy makes to increase the efforts of the national family planning program in order to reduce fertility more rapidly.  China had a similar experience in that its first census (1953) after the Communist victory in 1949, found the country had 100 million more people than expected. This caused the more technical of the political leaders to press for work on fertility control.  Two forces worked against these technical leaders until 1972.  First, when this larger number was discovered, policy leaders knew there was little they could do about it.  Without the new contraceptive technology that became available only about 1965, fertility control was very difficult to effect through public policy.  In addition, the more revolutionary of the political leaders held to the older Marxian – Leninist perspective that opposed the Malthusian orientation to population growth.  Not until Mao died and his political clique lost control in 1972-74 would China make the dramatic policy change to fertility limitation.


            Population Growth, Age Distribution and Economic Development


National Population Censuses typically report age distributions of the population in five year cohorts (i.e. 04, 5-9, etc through 80+).  These are further collapsed into three socially significant categories: 0-14, 15-64, and 65 and over, which speak to the issue.  Ages 0-14 are considered childhood ages that are dependent economically on the working age population, 15-64.  Those over 65 years of age are considered the elderly, who are also economically dependent on the population of working age.  This has led demographers to develop three Dependency Ratios.  The Total Dependency Ratio is the number of people 0-14 years plus 65 and over years per 100 of the people of working ages (15-64).  The Child Dependency Ratio is the number o people 0-14 for every 100 people of working age.  Finally the Elderly Dependency Ratio is the number of people 65 years and over per 100 people of working age.


Note that these are merely formal definitions.  They have some real intuitive value in that both the young and the old usually are less productive and depend on people of working age for their welfare.  In reality, of course there are substantial differences among groups of countries in what ages are truly dependent on others.  In wealthy countries, young people typically go through high school, to age 18, and on through college, to age 22.  Many also go to graduate school, extending the “dependent” age well into the 20s.  At the other end, although the aged usually retire at about 60 or 65, they are often living on savings they have accumulated during their working ages, thus they are not fully dependent on others.  In poorer countries, children often do not go to high school, and become working members of the family before age 15.[9]  Despite these differences in the actual degree of financial dependence, it is still useful to use these three age groups as rough indicators of dependence on the ages that are usually the working ages.  Now let us look at how this age dependency dynamic is related to population growth and to economic development.


First we can use the experience of The republic of Korea (South Korea) to show how a rapid demographic transition affects the dependency ratios. Figure 22 show how South Korea’s rapid reduction of fertility affected its total dependency ratio.


Figure 22.


South Korea made an exceedingly rapid transition from a rural-agrarian, high mortality and fertility society to a modern urban-industrial, low mortality and fertility society.  Following World War II, South Korea came under the influence of the United States and the Capitalist Allies.  North Korea came under the influence of the Soviet Union and its Communist ideology.  This led South Korea to industrialize, and North Korea to pursue a Socialist Revolution.  We saw this struggle over development and population policies work out under the Chinese from 1949 through the death of Mao Tse Tsung in 1972.  Much the same struggle divided South and North Korea.  Under a capitalist development strategy, South Korea transformed itself extremely rapidly; basically in one generation.  Figure 22 shows that fertility (the TFR) declined from traditional (natural) to modern (controlled) levels in just 30 years, from 1955 to 1985.  As fertility fell, the total dependency ratio fell, with a lag of about ten years.  In 1960 there were about 90 dependents for every 100 workers.  Today that ratio has fallen to about 40 dependents for every 100 workers.  Clearly this has been a substantial advantage.  This meant that funds poured into education went to a smaller rather than increasing number of students, greatly increasing the skills and productivity of the new generation.  South Korea’s rapid economic development in the past half century was facilitated by the fertility reduction that reduced the total dependency ratio.


Note also, however, that the total dependency ratio will begin to rise again about 2010-15.  This is because the number of aged will rise.  Figure 23 shows how the child and elderly dependency ratios move in somewhat different directions. 

Figure 23


The elderly remain a very small portion of the population, with dependency ratios around 6 while the child dependency ratio falls rapidly in the early stage of this transition.  Later, however, the child ratio stabilizes at about 25 while the elderly ratio rises rapidly.  This takes us to a new and emerging problem in the relation between population and economic development, which is now receiving much attention from social scientists and policy makers, the aging of the population. 


Although the problem of ageing populations will assume increasing importance in the future, for most countries today, and especially for the large number of poor “Less Developed Regions,” the child dependency ratios and the problems of youth will loom large.  Figure 24 shows how different groups of countries fare in the total dependency ratio.  Fhe world as a whole the ratio has moved downward with the slowing of population growth.  The more important observation from this figure, however, is the difference between the wealthy and poor countries: the More Developed, Less Developed and Least Developed countries.  Throughout the past half century, the more developed countries have had a substantial advantage; the less developed countries have managed to reduce their dependency burdens, but the poorest countries remain burdened with very high dependency ratios.  Over the coming half century it is projected that the poorest countries will reduce their ratios while the more wealthy countries will begin to feel the burden of the rising elderly ratios.


Figure 24.


There is another problem arising from the dynamics of growth and age distribution: the problem of youth, and mare particularly of young men.  Young men are highly energetic, but also highly inexperienced, which makes this group somewhat volatile.  There is a growing body of evidence that the proportion of the population in the young males group is closely associated with crime and social unrest.  Wealthy societies manage the volatility of young males with schooling, sports, work and all manner of social clubs from sports to Scouting.  Poor countries with high levels of unemployment and low levels of school enrollment provide a setting in which the volatility of young males is exacerbated.  Add to this the tendency of some political leaders to use this group sustain support and disrupt political opposition and the potential for violence and unrest is particularly enhanced.  Economic development is generally obstructed or retarded by domestic violence.  Figure 25 compares Sri Lanka and Kenya to show how fertility decline affects the number of young males in a population.  With more rapid fertility decline, Thailand’s young male population leveled off at about two million.  With slower fertility decline The Philippines young male population will continue to grow to near five million and remain above four million for the next half century.  It is likely that this will place greater challenges fotr development in The Philippines than in Thailand.


Figure 25


If this were not enough, one additional condition makes the situation even more problematic. In societies where males are much more highly valued than females, there is a growing tendency to use ultrasound techniques to determine the sex of the fetus and to abort female fetuses.  This causes a substantial imbalance in the sex ratio, skewing it toward a high level of male numeric dominance.  The implication is that many men will not be able to marry and have a stable family household.  There is much evidence that young male “bachelor gangs” are violent and aggressive, both internally amongst themselves and outwardly toward the rest of the society.  There is also evidence that as men amrry their levels of gtesterone decline significantly and quickly.  Thus marriage provides something lke a demosticating influence, reducing the violence of young males.  This problem is especially acute in the world’s two largest countries, India and China. China has begun to recognize the problem and is adopting policies to increase the value of girls; India has yet to acknowledge that this is a problem.  It will be very difficult to develop policies that will reverse these deep seated cultural norms, and even a very successful policy will require some decades to restore the sex ratio to near equality and give most men the opportunity to marry.



6.4 Population-Development-Environmental Change



Now we can return to the observation made in Figure 2, showing world carbon emissions.  Other chapters in this text deal in greater detail with the issue of environmental degradation and its measurement.  Here we confine ourselves to carbon emissions as a simple indicators of the human impact on the environment. 


There are four basic points to be made here.  One is that population growth and economic development together consume natural resources and produce pollution that threaten the sustainability of development.  Second over time, the more developed economies have become more efficient in energy consumption and have reduced energy consumption per capita and per dollar of wealth generated.  Third, wealthy economies differ greatly in their energy efficiency. And fourth, the poorer countries of the world consume less energy and pollute less, but they are also less efficient and thus potentially threaten sustainability unless they can adopt policies and technologies to make them more efficient.  The most important point to take form this set of observations is that policies and programs to promote development and conserve energy are especially important in determining future sustainability of our fossil-fuel driven urban-industrial system. Let us look at some large scale aggregate examples that illustrate these points.


            Development and Pollution Over time


First, we can use the experience of the United States to illustrate the development-pollution connection. Here we use Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.  These are emissions that are at the center of our fossil-fuel driven system, and they represent the green house gas that has been most often associated with global climate change and global warming.  Figure 26 shows the United States experience from 1800 to the present for carbon emissions and form 1870 for economic development.  Economic development since 180 has been sustained and dramatic.  Carbon emissions are tracked earlier, to 1800, and since about 1970 they, too, have been dramatic.  There is no doubt that economic development and population growth in the United States have produced substantial air pollution, especially of the type that leads to global warming.


Figure 26.



But Figure 27 shows another aspect of this relationship that ads both complexity and hope.  Per capita emissions have grown steadily until about 1970, and have roughly stabilized since then, despite the continued growth of population and emissions.  More encouraging, however, is the figure of the amount of carbon emitted per $1,000 of real GNP.  This is a measure of energy efficiency.  We are using less energy to get every additional dollar of wealth..  These observations challenges us to understand what technologies and policies are resob=nsible for this increased efficiency and then to enhance those technologies and policies in order to move toward greater sustainability.




Figure 27



            Comparative Development and Pollution


Let us compare the United States with Japan, the world’s second largest economy, and China, the world’s largest country, which is developing very rapidly.  For this we shall use Sulfur Emissions rather than Carbon Emissions.  Either data would give us the same results, but this illustrates that industrial development and pollution can be measured in a number of ways.  Sulfur is less a green house gas than a terrestrial pollutant. Figure 28 shows the total emissions of these three major countries.  Here we see the great differences between the USA and Japan.  Both have roughly the same standard of living and the same level of urban-industrial development.  But Japan’s emissions is far lower than that of the USA.  Under standing the technological, ecological and political reasons for these differences can help us to develop policies and technologies for greater sustainability.


Figure 28 also reminds us that the less developed countries of the world desperately wish to achieve greater economic development and many are effectively pursuing that end.  China has been especially successful in promoting economic development over the past 30 years.  But China’s rapid development has brought it to a level of sulfur emissions equal to, and even above, that of the USA.


Figure 28


There is even hope in these figures, however, when we examine the amount of sulfur emitted per dollar of GNP.  Figure 29 shows that these three major countries all show a declining trend, though China’s can really only be counted progress since about 1975-80.  All are becoming more efficient in promoting economic development, or raising human productivity while producing less of the kind of pollution that threatens sustainability.


Figure 29


There is one last observation n to be made at this point, which raises a serious problem for the near future.  Although the more developed economies pollute far more than do the poorer countries,   the poorer are less efficient and as they attempt to promote development they are becoming even less efficient.  Table 2 provides an illustration of this observation.


Table 2

Pollution and Energy Efficiency in Poor and Rich Countries



Metric Tons Per Capita

GDP$ per KG or Energy Used






Burkina Faso

































































(World Bank, World Development report 1998/99 P. 208 Table 10)


The countries are ranked from the poorest to the richest, and we examine changes in time over the 15 years 1980 to 1995. First, it is clear that the poor countries pollute far less.  Their per capita levels of Carbon Dioxide emissions are very small compared to those of the wealthy countries.  But note that over time, the poorer countries are raising the percapita emission levels wile the richer countries are reducing theirs.   The next two columns illustrate levels and changes in economic efficiency of the emissions, or how dollars of GDP are producer per a kmlogram of energy used.  Over the past 15 years, the poorer countries have become less efficiency, reducing the wealth generated by a kilogram of energy.  The more wealthy countries have mover in the opposite direction, or toward greater efficiency.  They are increasing the dollars produced by a kilogram of energy.


These are but a few quite simple illustrations of the observations to be made of the population-development-environment nexus.  They are presented to raise questions about the forces – ecological, social, political, etc – that produce a specific outcome, especially outcomes that differ in the degree of sustainability they indicate.  Addressing these questions is at the forefront of gaining understanding of the human impacts on global environmental change.




Suggested Reading and Sources


The population – development –environment connection is best examined in O’Neill, Brian C., F. Landis MacKellar and Wolfgang Lutz, 2001,  Population and Climate Change,  (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press).


The two most central books in the population-development debate are Coale, Ansley J, and E. Hoover, 1958, Population Growth and Economic Development in Low Income Countries (Princeton: Princeton University Press), which argues that population growth retards development.  Julian Simon, 1981, The Ultimate Resource, (Princeton: Princeton University Press) ignited the recent debate with a strongly worked argument that population growth stimulates economic development.


The issue of young males and violence is well treated in Hudson, Valerie M. & Andrea M. den Boer, 2004, Bare  Branches:  The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population, (Cambridge:  MIT Press).


India and China and the history of population policies is treated in Ness, Gayl D. and Hirofumi Ando, 1984,  The Land is Shrinking:  Population Planning in Asia,  (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press).  This work also introduces the human ecological perspective, especially in the contaxt of population dynamics.


The United Nations publishes an extensive set of population data on all countries in their Bi-Annual, World Population Prospects,  (New York:  United Nations).




[1].             These are what are called Crude Birth and Crude Death Rates.  They are simply the number of births or deaths divided by the total population, time 1000.  Thus a CBR of 30 implies a 3 percent of the population being born every year, while a death rate of 25 implies 2.5 percent of the population dying every year.

[2].             In an interesting development in National and regional identities, the Philippines President Marcos asked in 1972, “Far from Where?”  This led to a two part change in the Commission’s name.  It became The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  This recognized the importance of social as well as economic factors in improving people’s lives.

[3] .  The TFR is called an estimate because it is basically a snapshot of fertility at any pointing time. It adds the age specific fertility of all age groups in a specific year.  It thus assumes that if the fertility rate of each age cohort remained the same as through time, this would be the number of children women would bear throughout their reproductive years.

[4] .  The Infant Mortality Rate, or IMR, is the number of deaths in the first year of life per 1000 live births.  Thus an IMR of 200 implies that 20 percent of babies born will die before their first birthday.  The IMR is generally considered one of the most sensitive indicators of a society’s level of welfare.

[5] .   The differences between the two is a matter of some complex accounting rules.  GDP is the sum of the market prices of all goods and services produced physically within the boundaries of a given country.  GNP is the total of all goods and services produced by the factors of production – Land, Labor, Capital and Entrepreneurship – owned in the country under consideration.  Thus when cars are produced in the United States by a Japanese company that has invested in an auto plant, the total value of the cars produced is part of the US GDP.  But, the interest or profit generated by that production is part of the Japanese GNP.  The differences between GNP and GDP can be used for some interesting and enlightening analyses. But these differences are in fact often quite small, less than about 5 percent, and we can often use either one as a measure of development.

[6].  The data are in constant 2000 US dollars, from the World Bank online data service.

[7].   It is also important that this measure, in money, is what is called an “interval” measure.  That is all the intervals between units are equal.  The difference between $1 and $2 is the same as the interval between $10,001 and $10,002.  This has important statistical properties, permitting the use of many forms of powerful analysis.

[8].  This, itself, opens an interesting history.  Many nations and empires in history have taken population censuses.  In our modern era, however, the United States was the first country to begin systematic ten year censuses, which is now the norm for all countries.  This happened because the Americans invented a bicameral Federal democracy with a Senate, representing states and a House of Representatives, representing the size of the population in each state.  Given this rule, it was necessary to establish another rule to count the population every ten years to know how many seats in the House of Representatives each state would be allocated by law.

[9].  At this point the age distribution produces something like the low income trap that we saw with respect to savings, investment and economic development: poor countries are poor because they are poor.  Poor countries have insufficient funds to provide primary and secondary education to all children.  Thus children go into the work force often before or around ten years of age.  With little education, they remain low in skills and productivity and cannot add to the country’s economic progress.  The opposite holds for rich countries, which, in this view, are rich because they are rich.  They have sufficient funds to keep children out of the labor force and in schools through the tertiary levels, thus considerably increasing their skills and productivity.  This allows each new generation to be more productive than the last and the country can enjoy continued economic development.