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  • Created on: 31-05-19 17:53

Population growth

Demography is the study of population, including factors affecting its size and growth. Whether a population is growing, declining or stable is affected by four factors:

  • Births and immigration increase the population
  • Deaths and emigration decrease the population

Natural change is the number of births minus the number of deaths. Net migration is the number immigrating into a country minus the number emigrating from it. 

The UK's population grew from 37m. in 1901 to 65m. today and should reach 71m. by 2031. Growth has been mostly due to natural changes rather than net migration.

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There are two measures of births - birth rate and total fertility rate .

The birth rate is the number of live births per 1,000 of the population per year.

  • There has been a long-term decline in the birth rate. In 1900, it was almost 29. By 2014, it had fallen by more than 60%, to 12.2. 
  • But there have been fluctuations. There was three 'baby booms': after the two world wars, and in the 1960s. The rate fell sharply in the 1970s, rose during the 1980s and early 1990s, and then fell until the recent increase since 2001.

The total fertility rate is the average number of children a woman will have during her fertile years (aged 15-44) . In the 1960s baby boom, it reached an average of 2.95 children per woman, declining to an all time low of 1.63 in 2001, before rising slightly to 1.83 in 2014. The total fertility rate obviously affects family and household size - the more children a woman has, the bigger the family. 

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Reasons for the fall in birth rate

Many social, economic, legal and technological factors are responsible for the falling birth rate and total fertility rate.

1. Changes in the position of women

  • Increased educational opportunities
  • More women working 
  • Changes in attitudes to family life and women's role
  • Easier access to divorce
  • Access to abortion and contraception
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Reasons for the fall in birth rate

2. Fall in the infant mortality rate

The infant mortality rate is the number of infants who die before their first birthday, per 1,000 babies born alive, per year. The IMR has fallen greatly in the last century. In 1900, it was 154; by 2016, it was 4. A fall in the IMR may cause a fall in the birth rate; if infants survive, parents will have fewer of them.

Reasons for the fall in the IMR include improved housing, sanitation, nutrition, including that of mothers, knowledge of hygiene and child health, and health services for mothers and children. Medical factors did not play much part until the 1950s, when the IMR began to fall due to mass immunisation, antibiotics, and improved midwifery and obstetrics. 

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Reasons for the fall in birth rate

3. Children as an economic liability

Until the late 19th century, children were an economic asset because they went to work from an early age. Now they are an economic liability:

  • Laws banning child labour and introducing compulsory schooling mean they remain economically dependent for longer. 
  • Changing norms about children's rights to a high standard of living raises their cost. 

As a result, parents may be unable to afford to have a large family. 

4. Child-centredness

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

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Reasons for the fall in birth rate

Effects of a falling birth rate:

Lower birth rates and fertility rates have several effects on the family and society - e.g. having fewer children means women are freer to go out to work, creating the dual earner couple. 

The dependency ratio is the relationship between the size of the working population and the size of the non-working (dependent) population.

  • The working population's earnings and taxes support the dependent population.
  • Children are a large part of the dependent population, so fewer children reduces the 'burden of dependency' on the working population.
  • Public services Fewer schools and child health services may be needed, and less needs to be spent on maternity and paternity leave. However, these are political decisions - e.g. government can choose either to reduce the number of schools or to have smaller class sizes instead. 
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  • The number of deaths has been fairly stable since 1900 (about 600,000 per year), but there have been fluctuations, e.g. the two world wars and the 1918 flu epidemic.
  • The death rate is the number of deaths per thousand of the population per year. It has halved from 19 in 1900, down to 8.9 by 2012.

The death rate began falling from about 1870, continuing until 1930. It rose slightly during the 1930s and 1940s due to economic depression and World War Two. Since the 1950s it has declined slightly. 

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Reasons for the fall in the death rate

Up to 1970, about three-quaarters of the decline was due to a fall in deaths from infectious diseases such as TB, measles, smallpox, diarrhoea and typhoid. This decline was largely brought about by changing social factors, including:

  • Improved nutrition According to McKeown, better diet accounted for half the reduction in the death rate, by increasing people's resistance to infection.
  • Medical improvements Before the 1950s, medical improvements played almost no part in reducing deaths from infection. From the 1950s, the death rate fell due partly to medical factors such as vaccination, antibiotics, blood transfusion, better maternity services and the creation of the NHS.
  • Public health improvements More effective government with the power to pass and enforce laws led to improved public health - e.g. better housing, purer drinking water and cleaner air, laws against the adulteration of food and improved sewage disposal.
  • Other social changes that reduced the death rate include: the decline of more dangerous manual occupations, e.g. mining, smaller families reduced the transmission of infection; greater public knowledge of the causes of illness and higher incomes.
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Reasons for the fall in the death rate

Life expectancy:

Life expectancy refers to how long on average a person born in a given year can expect to live. Life expectancy has greatly increased since 1900:

  • For babies born in 1900 it was 50 year for males, 57 females.
  • For babies born in 2013 it was 90.7 years for males, 94 for females. 

Falling infant mortality Low life expectancy in 1900 was largely due to the high IMR pulling down the average life expectancy of the population as a whole. As the IMR fell, life expectancy rose. 

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The ageing population

The UK population is ageing. In 1971, the average age was 34 years; it is now nearly 40. By 2031, it will reach 42.6. The number of over-65s equalled the number of under-15s for the first time ever in 2014. There are three main reasons for this ageing:

  • Increasing life expectancy - people are living longer.
  • Low infant mortality - babies no longer die in large numbers.
  • Declining fertility - fewer young people are being born.
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The ageing population

Effects of an ageing population:

An ageing population has several social and economic effects:

  • Public services Older people consume more health and social care services.
  • More one-person pensioner households These now account for one in every seven households.
  • The rising dependency ratio The non-working old need to be provided for by those of working age, e.g. through taxation to pay for pensions and health care. As the number of retired people rises, the dependency ratio increases. 
  • Ageism Age statuses are socially constructed. Old age is often constructed as a problem. Negative stereotyping often portrays the old as incompetent and a burden. (Contrast this with traditional societies, where ageing brings higher status, not lower.)

Policy implications Hirsch argues that we will need new policies to finance a longer old age. This could be done either by paying more in taxes by raising the retirement age, or both - e.g. the increase in women's pensionable age from 60 to 65.

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Ageism, modernity and postmodernity

Old age in modern society Life is structured into fixed age stages and age-related identities, such as pupil, worker or pensioner. Our identity and status are determined by our role in production, so those excluded from production have a dependent status and stigmatised identity. 

Old age in postmodern society The fixed stages of the life course have broken down. This gives individuals a greater choice of lifestyle, whatever their age. Consumption, not production, becomes the key to our identities. As Hunt argues, we can choose an identity regardless of age. 

Inequality among the old 

Class The middle class have bigger pensions and savings, and a longer life expectancy. 

Gender Women's lower earnings and role as carers mean lower pensions. They are also subject to sexist as well as ageist stereotyping. 

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Migration is the movement of people. It can be internal or international. Migration affects the size and age structure of the population. Until the 1980s, more people left the UK than entered it.

Immigration: From 1900 to the 1940s, the largest immigrant groups in the UK were the irish, European Jews and people of British descent from Canada and the USA. Very few immigrants were non-white. 

White and non-white immigrants During the 1950s-70s, non-white immigrants began to come from the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia. By 2011, minority ethnic groups accounted to 14% of the population. However, most immigrants to the UK were white Irish and Europeans. 

Despite this, immigration and nationality acts from 1962 to 1990 placed severe restrictions on non-white immigration. By the 1980s, non-whites accounted for barely a quarter of immigrants. The mainly white countries of the European Union became the chief source of immigrants. 

Emigration: Since the 1900, most emigrants have gone to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealanda and South Africa. The main reasons for emigrating have been economic: 'Push' factors - e.g. unemployment and economic recession and 'Pull' factors - e.g. higher wages and better opportunities.

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Globalisation and migration

Globalisation is producing increased migration. For example, between 2000 and 2013, migration increased by 33%. We can identify several other trends:


There are many types of migrant: permenant settlers, temporary workers, spouses, refugees and asylum seekers. Some may have legal entitlement while others enter without permission.

Super-diversity Before the 1990s, UK immigrants mainly came from a few British ex-colonies. However, migrants now come from many more countries, with different legal statuses etc. A given ethnic group may also be divided by culture or religion. 

There are also class differences among migrants. Cohen distinguishes:

  • Citizens have full rights (e.g. voting rights)
  • Denizens are privileged foreign nationals, e.g. billionaire 'oligarchs'. 
  • Helots are disposable labour power found in unskilled, poorly paid work. They include illegally trafficked workers. 
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Globalisation and migration

The feminisation of migration:

Almost half of all global migrants are now female. This has resulted in the globalisation of the gender division of labour: female migrants are given stereotyped roles as carers or providers of sexual services. 

Migrant identities:

Migrants may develop hybrid identities from two or more different sources. They may find that others accuse them of not 'fitting in'. 

Transnational identities Eriksen notes that globalisation creates back and forth movements of people through networks, rather than permenant settlement in another country. Rather than seeing themselves as belonging to one country, migrants may develop transnational identities. Modern technology makes it possible to sustain global ties without having to travel

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Globalisation and migration

Migration and politics:

States have policies to control immigration and deal with cultural diversity. Immigration policies have also become linked to national security and anti-terrorism policies. 

Assimilationism as a policy aims to encourage immigrants to adopt the language, values and customs of the host culture. 

Multiculturalism accepts that migrants may wish to retain a separate cultural identity. But in practice, this acceptance may be limited to superficial differences, such as food (shallow diversity) rather than more fundamental ones, such as veiling of women (deep diversity).

Castles argues that assimilationist policies are counter-productive because they mark out minority groups as 'Other'. Minorities then respond by emphasising their difference. This increases the hosts' suspicion of them, making assimilation less likely. 

A divided working class Assimilationist ideas may encourage workers to blame migrants for problems such as unemployement. This benefits capitalism by dividing the working class. 

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