Introduction: Population and Society
Lecture 1: Introduction
Social processes are closely linked with human population. Therefore, for students of society it is
important to study characteristics of population. According to the latest estimates of United Nations
Population Fund, the size of India’s population is 1,198.0 millions. Imagine if the size of population of
India were 120 million, i.e., one-tenth of the present population, what would be its impact on society.
Would we have the same level of poverty and unemployment? Would we have the same level of
conflicts and chaos? Would that affect the position of India in the international politics? Are there only
good consequences of lower population or there are some harmful consequences too? Remember that
today in India a city like Mumbai itself has more population than you are imagining for whole India. You
will learn that the relationship between population and society is not one way. Not only population
determines structure and processes of society but society also determines the population characteristics
and dynamics. Is it not true that industrialization and development have reduced family size in all the
Western countries? Is it not true that concern for children’s education leads to use of contraception; and
women’s employment improves their decision making power in the family? It is hoped that after
completing this course a student of sociology will be able to relate population trends and policies with
society and social change.
This course aims at understanding of various linkages between population and society at various
levels: national, regional, village, household and individual. An attempt has been made to present
material in a manner that a graduate student of sociology can grasp the subject without difficulty. There
is only one module that requires some familiarity with statistics and basic mathematics. This is Chapter 4
on models. All other chapters are devoted to substantive issues. Questions given at the end of each
module would help the students in self evaluation.
POPULATION STUDIES AS A BRANCH OF SOCIAL SCIENCES
Population studies is a branch of social sciences. Social sciences include sociology, economics,
psychology, political science and anthropology. Not only sociologists but economists, psychologists,
political scientists, anthropologists, and social historians have also contributed to development of theory
of population. Table 1.1, given in a following slide, shows some illustrative questions of interest to
different social scientists working in the field of population studies.
Economists are interested in economic aspects of demographic phenomena. They may use cost-
benefit approach to reproductive decision making or migration. Psychologists focus on individual
differences. Political scientists explain everything in terms of power and forms of state. Anthropologists
have been traditionally interested in culture of preliterate societies though these days they also study
urban and industrial organizations and examine belief systems, symbolic communication, patterns of
interaction and behaviour, and values. Social historians examine historical roots of population changes
and rise and fall of death rate, migration and nuptiality (marriage). Sociologists claim that they study
population variables in terms of social structure.
It may be said that in the field of population research sociologists are playing an increasing role. The
• While other disciplines focus on one specific aspect of reality sociologists attempt to explain things
in a holistic perspective.
• Sociologists have the advantage of freely borrowing concepts and methodologies from all other
branches of social sciences.
• Sociologists are the first to venture into new areas as they are less constrained by disciplinary
• Sociologists who take whole society as the level of analysis are in a better position to explain
differences between different societies and cultures.
However, the entry of sociologists in the field of population is relatively new.
In the beginning population research was dominated by
on estimation of rates and ratios from incomplete data. With improved data and survey as the main
method of research sociologists are playing a more important role than others in confronting the
challenging issues of our times.
BASIC CONCEPTS IN POPULATION STUDIES
In population studies scholars study size and composition of population. They also study various
processes through which size and composition of population chan
marriages; reproduction or births;
(both within a country and between differen
stratification (primarily caused by
processes of population affect society and social institutions directly or through economic and
FIGURE 1.1: LINKAGE BETWEEN POPULATION, ECONOMY AND SOCIETY
The term size refers to the total number of people inhabiting an area.
classification of population according to characteristics like age, sex
characteristics of population such as
the aegis of population distribution.
statisticians and economists. The stress was
ge. The processes are: nuptiality or
mortality or deaths; migration of people from one place to another
t countries); and social mobility leading to changes in social
changes in education, work and occupation). Size, composition and
and marital status
urban-rural residence or geographical divis
Composition refers to
. Some specific
ions are studied under
TABLE 1.1: IMPORTANT QUESTIONS IN POPULATION STUDIES
Discipline Important questions
Sociology 1. Are there religious differentials in fertility in India? What are the
causes behind them?
2. How does social stratification affect health inequality and quality of
3. What role did the industrial revolution play in promoting rural to
Economics 1. What are the short term and long term effects of population growth
on productivity and national income
2. What are costs and benefits of children in different types of
3. Will the falling birth rate improve unemployment rate?
4. How does one assess the impact of population growth in urban or
Psychology 1. What are all the values of children?
2. What is the relationship between locus of control (i.e., attribution
of successes and failures to oneself or environment) and fertility
3. What are social representations of health and illness among the
4. How does one measure stigma against HIV/AIDS?
Political scientists 1. How does empowerment of women help in reducing maternal
2. Is there a relationship between political structures and
demographic transition (i.e., changes in birth and death rates)?
Anthropologists 1. Do cultural norms affect decision making regarding place of
2. Did the kinship structure among primitive tribes affect their desire
QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE STUDIES OF POPULATION
Conventionally, population scientists make a difference between demography and population studies.
Demography deals with the quantitative study of size and processes of population; population studies
deals with complex and qualitative relationships between socio-economic environment and
population. In practice there is no separation between the two. In this course we will use them
interchangeably. Demographers make their models in the light of substantive theories developed by
sociologists and economists; and sociologists and economists employ demographic measures, data and
models to explain the various links between population and society.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SIZE, GROWTH, COMPOSITION AND DISTRIBUTION OF POPULATION
Size, growth, composition and distribution of population are interrelated. In a territory of a given size
population cannot increase indefinitely. Therefore, as we will see later, size of population determines at
what rate the population would be growing. Composition of population also affects the rate of growth
of population. In turn, rate of growth affects the composition of population. Most of the rapidly growing
populations are younger than the declining populations or populations growing at a very slow pace. Rate
of growth also affects distribution directly and indirectly. One reason behind this is that all the regions
and groups in a country do not grow at the same rate: while some regions and groups may grow at a fast
pace others may grow only at a slow pace or even decline, leading to spatial and social class differences
in growth rate of population. In most countries, therefore, the governments are not only concerned
about overall growth rate of population they also take cognizance of and intervene in population growth
differentials. No wonder, in many countries, the social classes are themselves raising concerns about
social class differences in fertility, mortality and migration.
USES OF POPULATION STUDIES
Population studies is in great demand today. Poston et al. (2007) say that there are three specific
demographic activities for which persons trained in population studies are employed:
• Demographers serve as advisors, witnesses, and technicians on matters of political apportionment
• They are frequently called to participate in multidisciplinary teams given the responsibility of
developing a plan to halt the environmental damage.
• They are asked to provide the various types of forecasts in conjunction with community
In India, demography is taught in different university departments such as sociology, economics,
geography and statistics. Preventive and social medicine departments of medical colleges too have
demographers to teach demography and assist research students. Demographers, with their strong
training in methodology, are recruited by non-government organizations (NGOs) and research
organizations working in diverse areas: health, sexuality, gender issues and development. They are
consulted by civic bodies and governments for providing projections of urban and rural populations and
different types of services. Sociologists with training in demography can look for jobs in universities,
NGOs and research and consultancy organizations. Of late, engineers and environmentalists have
included demographic variables in studies of impact of development projects on people. Lastly, it is
notable that in plural societies, having presence of multiple ethnic and religious groups, political parties
cannot afford not to pay heed to population matters. Differences in growth rate of population have
been a both political and emotive issues in India where people’s groups have asked whether there are
religious differences in practice of birth control methods, what are the causes of this, and what are the
implications of this.