Population Statistics and Distribution

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Population Statistics and Distribution

The population of the world is growing rapidly and along with that growth come implications for our future. It is necessary to examine the causes, patterns and consequences of growth. This section is very closely linked to the development section.

Here are a few statistics you should learn:

  • The population of the world is growing by 2.7 people per second.
  • 95% of this growth is in the less developed world.
  • Today approximately one in three people are under fifteen. This has huge implications for future population growth.

A few key definitions:

Population distribution: the way in which a population is spread over an area. This usually requires a description.

Population density: the number of people per specified area, for example, population per kilometre squared. This will be a figure, for example, 78 people/km2.

It is very common for the examiners to question you on your knowledge of population distribution at a global or national scale.

On a global scale you will have to describe the global distribution of the population but will most likely be given a map to help. Try practicing using a population map from your atlas.

Population distribution

Look for general patterns and refer to things like continents, countries, areas and hemispheres. Remember you cannot describe all of the distribution so are trying to give an overview. In an exam judge the amount of detail by the marks available. Remember there are always marks for naming examples.

Perhaps more significantly you will have to be able to explain why the population is distributed the way it is.

For example:

Why are there large populations at X and a low population at Y?

Be sure to explain any unusual patterns for example a significant population in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest.

A checklist of factors is given below. Make sure for each that you can explain the factor and an example to go with it. The list starts with physical factors that are more significant in the developing world.

Factor: Explanation for high population: Explanation for low population:
Relief Low lying, flat areas will encourage settlement. Flat land is likely to have a deep soil layer. For example, The Nile Delta. Rugged high mountains are a particularly difficult place to settle. For example, The Himalayas.
Water A fresh water supply will encourage settlement. In the UK we are lucky not to have to think about this. Areas where the water supply is inconsistent, in short supply or polluted will have difficulty maintaining a population. For example, Ethiopia.
Climate A temperate climate avoids extreme so encourages settlement. Sydney has a temperate climate. Harsh climates will discourage settlement. The harsh climate of the Australian outback has prevented any major settlement.
Vegetation Temperate areas have easily manageable vegetation. For example, The South East of the UK. Vegetation such as that found in the Amazon rainforest can be a very physical barrier to settlement.
Soils Deep humus filled soils or those enriched by silt deposits allow a good agricultural yield so can support a larger population. For example, The Nile Delta. Thin, unproductive or damaged soils cannot produce high yields so fail to support a large population. For example, The Soils of the Sahel.
Disease and pests A country can have sufficient finance to eradicate diseases and pests. For example, in Southern Italy malarial swamps were drained removing the disease. Many countries particularly around the tropics still have huge problems with diseases and pests. The Bilharzia Snail is one of the biggest killers in Egypt.
Political Factors Political decisions can have a major effect on population distribution. Areas that receive high levels of investment are more likely to have a large population. Brasilia is an excellent example of this. Rural areas in Mid and West Wales have had very little investment therefore have a low population density.
Investment in infrastructure will stimulate the economy.
Economies Some of the biggest growth regions in the UK are due to the healthy state of their economies. Silicon Glen in Scotland and Silicon Fen in/near Cambridge in England are both densely populated because of the success of the IT industry, which attracts migrants. A poorly developed economy will be unable to support major populations such as Mozambique.
Communications Natural or later man made communications will have a big influence on size of settlement. Rio de Janeiro has developed around a port. Manaus' population is a consequence of the communication link provided by the Amazon. Population growth in northern parts of Scotland has been hinderer by poor natural communication and a lack of investment since.
Natural resources The UK was able to sustain a large population because of the discovery of easily accessible, high-grade coal. Many areas in Africa lack natural resources or more significantly the finance or technology to exploit them. Again you could use Mozambique as an example.

Remember: Any population distribution is likely to result from a combination of factors!

You will also need to be able to describe the distribution of population on a national scale. In this instance you are unlikely to be given a map and to make matters worse will probably have to draw your own.

Make sure that you can draw a sketch map of population distribution, annotate and describe it with reference to places and statistics. Again you will have to be able to explain the reasons for the distribution.

As in the global distribution there will be physical and human factors. You will also have to refer more specifically to places and their history.

For example, the population of Brazil is largely on the coast and in the southeast. Inland the climate, relief or vegetation prevents settlement. Manaus is a heavy populated settlement situated inland and in the Amazonian rainforest. This is an anomaly because it does not fit the general pattern. To explain it we have to refer to its history as a centre for the rubber industry that first initiated settlement and its continued development as a 'free port'. This encourages industry to locate as there are no taxes on imports or exports.

Population density in Brazil