Population Growth


Later in this Conceptual Framework, you will explore major population theories of the 19th and 20th centuries and apply those theories to a set of specific historical circumstances (famine in Ethiopia). To provide context for this discussion, we turn first to a discussion of why population rates have "exploded" in recent history. We then look at a model that explains how and why population dynamics change in response to increased economic development.


Three "revolutions" in technology - the agricultural (approximately 6,000 BCE until 1,800 CE), industrial (beginning in the late-18th century), and "green" (beginning in the mid-20th century) – have affected population numbers and their interactions with natural resources (Figure 2). Notice, however, that the pace of world population growth dramatically increased following the Industrial Revolution, peaking in the years after World War II. From the mid-20th century, the world population began to increase at unprecedented rates, a phenomenon known as the "population explosion".




Figure 2. Impacts of Technological Revolutions on World Population Growth

Data sources: Population Reference Bureau (2003) and United Nations Population Division (1998)



The Green Revolution generated new techniques of crop production, including increased use of chemical fertilizers and the application of genetic engineering to crop research, making it possible to increase food production by dramatic rates.  During the 20th century large tracts of land, for example in the United States, were dedicated to the cultivation of grains with increased production and improved quantity and quality.  The same thing happened in countries like Argentina and Brazil from the beginning of the 20th century.  Rice production in East and southeast Asia increased at rates over even the peak rates of population growth experiences in the 1960s and 1970s. New technologies were also introduced to more effectively distribute food among people.  Furthermore, natural resources were found in much of the world and new agricultural technologies were developed. As you will see, this ability to produce more food challenged the "Malthusian" theory that limitations of agricultural production would lead to catastrophe if population growth went unchecked. 


Even though yields of certain crops in certain countries increased, a high percentage of the world's population today still lacks sufficient food. The main problem behind the numbers suffering from hunger lies in the distribution of food.  The current world population is increasing by nearly 80 million people per year. Hunger remains an issue for hundreds of millions of people in the world's least-developed countries.


Pause and Reflect 1:
Investigate socioeconomic data for the "Least Developed Countries" in the current World Population Data Sheet (at the PRB's website).
Where are these countries?

What explains their socioeconomic status?


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