Info taken from: 

AQA Sociology Book 1 (Including AS Level) - written by Webb, Westergaard, Trobe, and Townend

HideShow resource information

Introduction to Demography

Demography - the study of populations and their characteristics

These characteristics include:

  • Size - is the population large or small, growing or declining?
  • Age Structure - is the average age of the population rising or falling? 

In 1801, Britain had a population of 10.5 million
By 1901, the population stood at 37 million.
Today, the population is around 65 million.
By 2031, it is expected to rise to 71 million

1 of 22


Birth Rate - the number of live births per 1000 of the population per year.

  • There has been a long-term decline in births
  • In 1900, England and Wales had a birth rate of 28.7; by 2014 it had fallen to 12.2
  • However, there have been several fluctuations in births, with a 'baby boom' after each world war and another in the 1960s.

The factors determining the birth rate are, firstly, the proportion of women who are of childbearing age, and secondly, how fertile they are - that is, how many children they have. 

Total Fertility Rate - the average number of children women will have during fertile years (15-44). 

  • The UK's TFR has risen in recent years, but is still much lower than in the past. 
  • From an all-time low of 1.63 per woman in 2001, it rose to 1.83 by 2014. 
    However, this was still much lower than the peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1964. 

These changes in fertility and birth rates reflect that more women are remaining childless/women delaying having children - older women are less fertile

2 of 22

Reasons for a Decline in the Birth Rate

1) Changes in Women's Position

There were major changes in the position of women during the 20th century. These include:

  • legal equality with men, including the right to vote
  • increased educational opportunities - girls now do better at school than boys
  • more women in paid employment, plus laws outlawing unequal pay and sex discrimination
  • changes in attitudes to family life and women's role
  • easier access to divorce
  • access to abortion and reliable contraception, giving women more control over their fertility

Harper (2012) that education of women is the reason for falling birth/fertility rates. Educated women are likely to use family planning/see other possibilities apart from the housewife/mother role. Many choose to delay/not have children to pursue a career, e.g. in 2012, 1/5 women aged 45 was childless - double 25 years earlier. 

3 of 22

Reasons for a Decline in the Birth Rate

2) Decline in the infant mortality rate

Infant mortality rate (IMR) - number of infants who die before their first birthday, per 1000 babies born alive, per year. 

Harper argues that a fall in IMR leads to a fall in the birth rate. If many infants die, parents have more children to replace them - if infants survive, parents will have fewer of them. 

In 1900, the IMR in the UK was 154. By 2012, it stood at 4. 

The decline is due to several reasons:

  • improved housing/sanitation; better nutrition; better knowledge of hygiene; a fall in the number of married women working; mass immunisation against childhood diseases etc. 

However, Brass and Kabir argue the trend to smaller families began not in rural areas, where the IMR first began to fall, but in urban areas, where the IMR remained higher for longer.

4 of 22

Reasons for a Decline in the Birth Rate

3) Children are now an economic liability

Children used to be economic assets because they could be sent to work, yet since the 19th century they have become an economic liability. 

Laws banning child labour/introducing compulsary schooling mean children remain economically dependent on parents for longer, thus parents feel less able to have a large family. 

4) Child centredness

Childhood is now socially constructed as a uniquely important period, encouraging a shift from 'quantity' to 'quality' - parents now have fewer children and lavish more attention and resources on these few. 

However, since 2001, there has been an increase in births. This could be due to immigration as foreign mothers have a higher fertility rate than UK born mothers.

5 of 22

Effects of Changes in Fertility

The Family - smaller families mean women are freer to work, creating the dual earner couple. However, better off couples may be able to have larger families and still afford childcare that allows them both to work full-time

The Dependency Ratio (the relationship between the size of working and non-working/dependent population) - the earnings/taxes of the working population support the dependent population. A fall in children reduces the 'burden of dependency' on the working population. However, longer term, fewer babies will mean fewer young adults and a smaller working population, so the burden of dependency may increase again

Public Services and Policies - a lower birth rate means fewer schools/child health services are needed, and reduced cost of maternity/paternity leave and smaller houses needed. If there are fewer babies the average age of the population is rising so there are more old people relative to young people.

6 of 22


Death Rate - the number of deaths per 1000 of the population per year.

In 1900, the death rate was 19; by 2012 it was 8.9.

The death rate had already begun falling from about 1870 and continued to do so until 1930. It rose slightly during the 1930s and 40s (a period of great economic depression) but since the 1950s it has declined slightly. 

7 of 22

Reasons for a Decline in the Death Rate

1) Improved nutrition - McKeown argues that improved nutrition accounted for 1/2 the reduction in death rates as it increased resistance to infection/increased survival chances in those who became affected.

2) Medical Improvements - After the 1950s, improved medical knowledge/techniques helped reduce death rates (e.g. the introduction of antibiotics/immunisation/setting up of the NHS (1948)

3) Smoking and Diet - Harper argues that the greatest fall in recent decades is due to fewer smokers; obesity has replaced smoking as the new lifestyle epedemic

4) Public Health Measures - More effective government led to improvements in public health and quality of the environment (e.g. improvements in housing: drier, less crowded, better ventilated)

5) Other Social Changes - E.g. the decline of dangerous manual occupations; smaller families (reducing the rate of transittion of infections); greater knowledge of the causes of illness; lifestyle changes; higher incomes (allowing for a healthier lifestyle) etc. 

8 of 22

Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy - how long on average a person born in a given year can expect to live

As the death rate has fallen, life expectancy has increased. 

  • Male life expectancy in 1800 was 50, for females it was 57
  • In 2013, it was estimated at 90.7 for males, and 94 for females

Class, Gender and Reigonal Differences 

  • Women generally live longer than men, despite the gap narrowing due to changed in employment and lifestyle
  • Those living in the North/Scotland have a lower life expectancy than in the South, as those in the North are more likely to be working-class and in manual (or dangerous) jobs
  • Working-class men in unskilled jobs are 3x as likely to die before 65 compared with men in managerial/professional jobs. 
9 of 22

The Ageing Population

The average age of the UK population in 1971 was 34. By 2013, it was 40. By 2037, it is expected to rise to 43. 

This ageing population is caused by 3 factors:

  • Increasing life expectancy - people are living longer into old age
  • Declining infant mortality - so that nowadays hardly anyone dies early in life
  • Declining fertility - fewer young people are being born in relation to the number of older people in the population
10 of 22

Effects of an Ageing Population

1) Public Services

Older people consume more health care. This is more true of the 'old old' (75+) than the 'young old' (64-74)

However, some would argue that it is wrong to overgeneralise - many people remain in good health well into old age. 

2) One-Person Pensioner Households

These account for 12.5% of all households in the UK. Most are female. Among over-75s, there are 2x as many women as there are men; this has been decribed as the 'feminisation of later life' 

3) The Dependency Ratio

As the number of retired people rises, the burden on the working population increases (e.g. tax)

However, this is offset by fewer dependent children. Also, the age at which people can draw their pension is rising (from 2020, you will have to be 66 to access state pensions).

11 of 22

Ageism, Modernity and Postmodernity

Ageism - negative stereotyping and unequal treatment of people on the basis of their age. The discourse about old age has been constructed as a problem. 

Modern Society and Old Age - The Stigmatised Old

  • Our identity and status are now largely determined by our role in production. Many argue ageism is the result of 'structured dependency' - the old are largely excluded from paid work, leaving them economically dependent on families/the state and with a stigmatised identity. 

Postmodern Society and Old Age - The Breakdown of Stigmas

  • Postmodernists argue that in today's society, individuals have a greater choice of lifestyle, whatever their age. Consumption, not production, becomes the key to our identities. 
  • Hunt argues that this means we can choose out indetity regardless of age, as age no longer determines who we are. Thus, the elderly becomes a market for 'rejuvenation' goods. 

Pilcher argues postmodernists understate the importance of social divisions on the experiences of older people which prevent them from choosing their identities through their consumption. Also, in 2014 Age Concern found that 29% of elderly people reported suffering old age discrimination.

12 of 22

Policy Implications

Hirsch highlights that social policies will need to change to tackle the problems posed by an ageing population. 

The main problem will be how to finance a longer period of old age. This can be done by paying more from our savings and taxes while we are working, or by working for longer. Or both. 

Similarly, housing policy may need to change to encourage older people to 'trade down' into smaller accommodation. This would release wealth to improve their standard of living and free up housing for younger people. 

Hirsch also argues that old age is a social construct - not a fixed, purely biological fact, but something shaped and defined by society. He recognises that these policy changes also require a cultural change in attitude towards old age. 

13 of 22


Key Terms!

  • Immigration - movement into a society 
  • Emigration - movement out of a society
  • Net Migration - difference between the number of immigrants/emigrants, expressed as a net increase or net decrease



14 of 22


From 1900 until WW2. the largest immigrant group were the Irish, mainly for economic reasons, followed by Eastern and Central European Jews, who were often refugees fleeing persecution, and people of British descent from Canada and the USA. Very few immigrants were non-white.

By contrast, in the 1950sblack immigrants from the Caribbean began to arrive in the UK, followed during the 1960s and 1970s by South Asian immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and by East African Asians from Kenya and Uganda. 

As a result, by 2011, ethnic minority groups accounted for 14% of the population - this increased family diversity. 

However, a series of immigration and nationality acts from 1962 to 1990 places severe restrictions on non-white immigration. By the 1980s, non-white accounted for little more than a quarter of all immigrants, while the mainly white countries of the European Union became the main source of settlers in the UK. 

15 of 22


From as early as the mid-16th century until the 1980s, the UK was almost always a net exporter of people: more emigrated to live elsewhere than came to settle in the UK. Since 1900, emigrants have gone to the USA, Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand and South Africa. 

The main reasons for emigration have been economic:

  • 'Push' Factors - such as economic unemployment at home 
  • 'Pull' Factors - such as higher wages or better opportunities abroad

These economic reasons for migration contrast with those of some other groups, who have been driven to migrate by religious, political or racial persecution.

16 of 22

Impact of Migration on UK Population Structure

Population Size

  • The UK population is growing partly as a result of immigration. Net migration is high (in 2014, it was 260,000, with more immigrants (583,000) than emigrants (323,000). There is also a natural increase, with births exceeding deaths. 

Age Structure 

  • Immigration lowers the average age of the population directly, as immigrants are generally younger, and indirectly, as immigrants usually have larger families (thus have more babies). 

The Dependency Ratio

  • Immigrants are more likely to be of working age which helps to lower the dependency ratio. However, being younger, immigrants have more children, thereby also increasing the ratio. Over time, however, these children will join the labour force and help to lower the ratio once again
17 of 22

Globalisation and Migration

Globalisation - the idea that barriers between societies are disappearing and people are becoming increasingly interconnected across national boundaries

Globalisation has increased international migration, in particular causing:

  • Acceleration - a speeding up of migration, e.g. between 2000-2003 international migration increased by 33% to reach 232 million, or 3.2 of the world's population
  • Differentiation - increasing diversity of types of migrant, e.g. permanent settlers, temp. workers and forced migrants, e.g. refugees. 

Cohen (2006) identifies 3 types of migrant depending on class:

  • Citizens - will full citizenship rights (e.g. the right to vote)
  • Denizens - privileged foreign nationals welcomed by the state (e.g. employees of multinational companies) 
  • Helots - slaves; most exploited group, regarded as 'disposable units of labour power', a reserve army of labour
18 of 22

Globalisation and Migration (cont.)

Feminisation of Migration 

  • In the past, most migrants were men. Today, however, almost half of all global migrants are female
  • A globalisation of the gender division of labour has been identified - female migrants find they are fitted into patriarchal stereotypes about women's roles as carers/providers of sexual services. 
  • Ehrenreich and Hochschild - observe care/domestic/sex work in western countries is increasingly done by women from poor countries, because western men and increasingly western women are unwilling to perform domestic labour. 
19 of 22

Globalisation and Migration (cont.)

Migrant Identities

  • For migrants and descendants, their country of origin may provide an additional source of identity. E.g. migrants may develop hybrid identities made up of two or more different sources
  • Eade found that 2nd generation Bangladeshi Muslims in Britatin saw themselves as Muslim, then Bengali, then as British
20 of 22

Globalisation and Migration (cont.)

Transnational Identities

  • According to Eriksen, globalisation creates more diverse migration patterns, so migrants don't see themselves as belonging to just one culture or country. Instead, they develop transnational 'neither/nor' identities and loyalties.
  • Erikson found that Chinese migrants in Rome found Mandarin more useful for everyday life than Italian because it was important for their global connections with Chinese people in other countries around the world. 
21 of 22

The Politicisation of Migration

Migration has become an important political issue and there are different political approaches to it:

  • Assimilation - the first state approach to immigration, which aimed to encourage immigrants to adopt the language/values/customs of the host culture to make them 'like us' 

But, these policies face the problem that migrants with hybrid identities may not be willing to abandon their culture. Also, Castles argues assimilationist policies are counter-productive because they mark our minority groups as culturally backward, potentially causing minorities to respond by emphasising their difference, e.g. Islam fundamentalism

  • Multiculturalism - accepts migrants may wish to retain a separate culture identity. However, this may be superficial. Erikson distinguishes between 'shallow diversity' (e.g. regarding chicken tikka masala as Britain's national dish, is acceptable to the state) and 'deep diversity' (e.g. arranged marriages, is not acceptable to the state).
  • From the 1960s there was a move towards multiculturalism, but since 9/11, many politicians have demanded migrants assimilate culturally. E.g. in 2010, veiling of the face was made illegal in France
22 of 22


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »