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Explaining Economic Geography
Population Change

Natural population change: the measurement of birth and death rates

The measurement of birth and death rates is very important as it ultimately dictates the population rate as discussed in the previous section.

Measurement is important because countries can plan for the future (for example the UK government is drawing up plans to manage its pension provision in response to growing elderly populations). Within EMDCs it is easy to measure birth rates as they are all recorded. This is also in addition to death rates and so therefore figures are exact and domestic planning can happen. Recording data is further supported through census surveys.

In ELDCs however, this proves much harder to carry out. Because of the lack of infrastructure and recording, figures on birth rates and death rates are ultimately a question of guesswork and interpretation. Therefore, designating provision for the future based on the available data is much more harder in the developed world.

The measurement of birth rates and death rates are important because we can calculate the replacement ratea figure that illustrates the dynamism of a given population. Population periods are usually designed to illustrate the dynamism of the population and can be categorised by the following figures.

Types of population graphs

All countries experience population growth as a generic rule however, this growth rate is different as indicated in the above paragraphs. We have already read about how African countries have experienced exponential population growth whilst some countries such as the UK are experiencing a surge in their elderly population and a slowing down of their birth rate. These graphs also indicate the natural increase of a country.

The term natural increase is the figure calculated from dividing and death rate (per thousand) with the Birth rate (per thousand). The graph above shows the three situations that occur globally however, there is also a fourth where the death rates actually exceed the birth rates (Germany) creating a population imbalance. Fundamentally though, any change in increase, whether be it positive of negative, is still referred to as the natural increase.

Rates of Natural Population Change

Population changes are largely as a result of cultural factors. However, there are some circumstances in which natural changes can have an effect. This is usually on a domestic or local scale but then even still these factors are indirectly linked with cultural factors. These can be things such as:

Disease and Pests: The Aids and Malaria viruses have had a drastic and dramatic effect, particularly in Africa. The former has killed millions on a continental scale whilst the latter has had great effect in particular countries in the Tropical zones. Additionally, pests such as locusts can have great effect on agricultural production and when in conjunction with periods of long drought, famine can arise (in Sahel region 1985).

In the west, cancer is a big killer affecting the natural increase in population. Due to the unhealthy lifestyle and the fatty foods consisting in the western diet, this killer has emerged on the top of the lists.

Natural Hazards: Single natural events such as the flooding in Madagascar (1998) or the Earthquake in Turkey (1997) have accounted for a sharp rise in deaths that have had their effect on the domestic population numbers of the specific countries.

Health and Hygiene: Health and Hygiene is a big big factor into what determines the rates of natural change. If there are poor environmental conditions then this will lead to a high infant mortality rate and a reduced life expectancy or if there are poor environmental conditions but good health services this would lead to a rise in the birth rate. A knew solution has been found to this complex solution whereby in the 1994  Cairo Conference world delegates met and changed their focus from demographic control (reducing population through setting numbers and controlling birth-rate) to education and awareness. It was hoped that if women in developing countries knew of contraception and were educated according to the principles of childbirth and large families the birth rate would be reduced. (International Population Policy)

Agriculture and Development: the more the developed a country or a region is then it is a general rule that the population can be sustained to a greater deal.

All of these factors can be considered influences on the natural changes of population (within a global context).


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