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Human Population Traits

Human Populations

Human population growth involves birth, death, and age–sex structure.

The human population continues to grow. In 1804, the world population was 1 billion people. In 123 years, human population figures doubled to 2 billion, but it took only 47 years for the population to double again to 4 billion. Demographic predictions anticipate a worldwide population of about 9 billion people by 2050. This massive increase in the human population will have significant effects on animal and plant populations. As human population density increases, pressure on other organisms will increase, especially with reduction of habitat, increases in invasive species, and increases in species extinctions.

Population limitations depend on many factors. Limits to human population growth may be density-dependent or density-independent. Density-dependent factors limit population growth because of the number of individuals in the area. An outbreak of cholera in a city could cause an increase in human mortality because the proximity of many people exposing each other to the pathogen causes the disease to spread quickly. Density-independent factors limit population growth primarily because of environmental stresses, such as catastrophes. A hurricane strikes an area, destroys homes, cuts off power, and limits food and clean water accessibility. If this situation is not resolved quickly, human mortality rates will increase because resources are not available. This disaster could happen on a small island or in a crowded city.

Changes in human populations are not evenly spread throughout the world. In many developed countries, birth rates are declining and lifespans are increasing because of advances in medical technology. In developing countries, lack of access to birth control may continue to increase populations. In Canada, the fertility rate is 1.6 children per female, while Uganda and Zambia have fertility rates of more than 5 children per female. Lifespans also vary in different parts of the world, with Japan and Switzerland having projected lifespans of over 83 years, while the projected lifespan in Angola is only about 50 years. Food and water supplies fluctuate in many developing countries that struggle to feed their populations, while developed countries have an abundance of food and access to clean, drinkable water.
The world population has grown exponentially since the 1700s. With increased medical and technological advances, human populations have longer lifespans and lower infant mortality rates.
Many criteria affect the demographics of humans: immigration and emigration and their causes, population density, age and sex ratios, and so on. Both natural and human events may seriously impact each of these criteria. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and drought may cause a shift in the locations of populations, and disease may also impact populations. For example, in the 1930s, drought conditions turned much of the Central United States into a "Dust Bowl." Families migrated west in massive numbers. Oklahoma lost 18.4% of its population as 440,000 people left to find better living conditions. Human-caused events can also create dramatic population shifts. In two large migrations, from 1916 through 1970, more than 6 million African Americans moved from rural southern states to cities in the Northern, Western, and Midwestern United States in search of better working and living conditions.
Humans are not immune to the need for or effects of migration. There have been several time periods during which large numbers of people moved from one area to another.
As human populations increase, ecologists grow concerned about the demographics of various animal and plant populations. For example, the spotted owl living in the northwestern United States has lost much of its habitat due to logging. Increased human occupation reduces, eliminates, or fragments habitats. Human activity can result in increases of introduced or invasive species, which adversely affect native plant and animal populations. In the most extreme situations, human populations have caused extirpation of species in some areas and total extinction of other species.

Age–Sex Structure

An age-sex structure shows the number of males and females in each age category alive at a given time.

Population is often discussed in terms of age and gender. An age–sex structure shows the number or proportion of males and females in each age category. Such structures are useful in predicting the future growth of a population. The age–sex structure for the United States in 2015 shows the ratio of males to females favors males at birth, with slightly more males born in a year than females. As people age, the ratio of males to females changes once people become 55 or older. At that point, male mortality rates exceed female mortality rates, and by age 85, women outnumber men by about 2 to 1.

Age–sex structures (sometimes referred to as age structures or population pyramids) can be broadly categorized into three general patterns: expansive, stationary, and constrictive. Expansive age–sex structures show rapid population growth and tend to represent countries with short life expectancies and high birth rates, such as Afghanistan. Its graph is triangular in shape. Stationary age–sex structures show populations that do not change greatly in their makeup each generation. For example, the United States' population is relatively symmetrical until people reach their senior years. Population growth is expected to be fairly slow, as the fertility rate at that point approaches zero population growth. Zero population growth is considered to be 2.0 because this is when the number of births is balanced by the number of deaths. Constrictive age–sex structures reflect countries in which the population is shrinking. For example, in Japan the age–sex structure shows a small base of young people, which indicates that the country's population is decreasing; fewer children are born than adults die.

Patterns of Age-Sex Structures

An age-sex structure shows the number or proportion of males and females in each age category. Age-sex structures can be broadly categorized into three general patterns: expansive, stationary, and constrictive. Afghanistan shows an expansionary age-sex structure in which life expectancy is low and the birth rate is high. The United States shows a stationary age-sex structure in which the number of births is balanced by the number of deaths. Japan shows a constrictive age-sex structure, with fewer births than deaths.