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“The point of population stabilization is to reduce or minimize misery”
- Roger Bengston, founding board member, World Population Balance
The current world population is estimated to have crossed the seven billion mark and is expected to grow at an average of one billion every 15-20years. This study of the population, its growth and structure is vital due to its direct and significant impact on the socio-economical aspects of the society and its people. Demography - a systematic compilation of population data and the study of many important events in an individual's life helps us understand the changing trends over a period of time. The three basic processes of fertility, mortality and migration are referred to as the demographic processes. Population density, its distribution, size and composition are all dependent on the above mentioned processes and thus an accurate record-keeping of such data is crucial. (Aulay Mackenzie et al., 1998 & Dick Neal, 2004).
Three sets of demographic parameters are considered very important and useful to form a structure. They are 1) No. of inhabitants: which include age, sex and occupation; 2) population trends - registration of births, marriages and burials; 3) the extent of internal and external migration. Other variables that contribute to a better understanding include the literacy rate, geography, ethnicity and race, disabilities and income (Dick Neal, 2004). Such demographic data is usually obtained by each country's census board that provides details about the entire population at one point of time (eg. 10yrs), its size, distribution and characteristics. The continuous compilation of marriages, births, deaths, divorces and migrations are usually carried out by registrations while surveys collect data and is administered to only a fraction of the population based on pre-set criteria. (Poston JR & Bouvier, 2010).
Censuses and census data although expensive, is very important for the efficient functioning of government bodies, to draw economic policies as they provide the necessary information about the people of the country which is required to administer local and national governments. Registration systems on the contrary are recorded continuously and provide information on events such as births, deaths, marriages etc and are thus dynamic. However, not all countries maintain an accurate record of such events especially the developing countries. A good example would be the unregistered births in such countries due to little or no awareness of the importance of registered births or inadequate registration network among other obstacles. On the other hand, registration and record of such events are maintained by the civil registration systems in many countries. Although they are not very accurate and complete, they provide good quality information in comparison to poor nations. (Poston JR & Bouvier, 2010)
Comparing the demographic parameters and processes in three countries: India, Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States of America, will not only provide an interesting insight into the population dynamics and the different challenges that prevail in these economies but also the reasons behind such differences.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Beginning with one of the least developed countries of the world, the CIA reports a population of 71,712,867 people in the country that has suffered a legion of calamities, rebellions, wars etc. The current age structure as shown below indicates the majority of the population under the employable and working class category, while the percentage of the elderly population is significantly low indicating high mortality rates. The average population growth rate is 2.614%. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011)
Figure 1: Population age structure, 2011 of Democratic Republic of Congo (CIA World Fact book)
The current birth and death rates per 1000 of the population are 37.74 and 11.06 respectively in 2011 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011). These rates are increasingly influenced by ethnic strife, wars and also the massive inflow of refugees from other parts of the nation. Another important consequence of these population rates is largely due to the natural calamities such as periodic droughts, Congo River floods and the very many active volcanoes in the country. These are responsible for the high mortality rates that wipe away the country's population to a huge extent.
Another increasing concern for the poor quality of people's lives is AIDS which is widely prevalent contributing to high infant mortality rates, decreasing population growth; lower life expectancy at birth, although the prevalence of AIDS is lower overall than most other African countries. Poverty and economic deprivation and even geography seem to play an important role in HIV transmission. The urban poor have been found to be more vulnerable to the disease than the rural population due to poor economical conditions such as chaos and poverty. (Messina et al., 2010). Other factors that play a role in this include the number of sexual partners, which make the females more susceptible to the disease than men and also the proximity to communities with high HIV prevalence increases the rate of transmission. (Messina et al., 2010). The other infectious diseases prevalent include food or waterborne diseases such as Hepatitis A, typhoid etc with a degree of very high risk. The non-availability of proper health care systems, poverty, accessibility issues and lack of awareness has taken a huge toll over the quality of life.
The net migration rate shows an in-migration of refugees and foreign troops, several deaths due to famine, violence and disease brought about uneven population distribution with urbanization at 35% of the total population. Although the country is rich in its natural resources such as coal, gold, silver amongst others and agriculture and mining being an important source of employment, more than 70% of the population lies below the poverty level. An uncertain legal framework, corruption and a lack of transparency in the government policies are the long term problems faced by the economy. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011)
On the positive side, the literacy rates at 67.2% show promise although female literacy is significantly lower at 54.1% from male which is at 80.9% (CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, 2011). The country is multi cultured to a certain degree with dominating tribal population and different religions such as Roman Catholic, Muslim, protestant and other religious sects in practice. The official language spoken is French besides Lingala. Kingwana, Kikongo and Tshiluba.
The socio-economical reasons behind the demographics are once again lack of education and awareness about diseases and famines. The lack of proper infrastructure and health care services due to costs, accessibility and essential resources along with the absence of a proper health care policy by the government has led to the prevalence of dangerous infectious diseases and the start of epidemics such as HIV. Ecological factors such as catastrophes and natural calamities such as famines, floods and droughts play a role in the population decline. Man-made causes such as rebellions, warfare and riots are likely to occur in highly populated areas and stress the need for a proper legal and judiciary system to help protect the nation and its people and improve the quality of lives.
The second most populous and a developing nation in the world, India, currently hold 1,189,172,906 people. It nearly carries 17% of the world's population and more than 70% of the population resides in the rural areas. The country has a very high population density with as many as 400 persons per square kilometre. The age structure of the population is similar to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the significant percentage of the population falls under the age category of 15-64years. (Library of Congress, 2004; Central Intelligence Agency, 2011).
Figure 2: Age structure of India's population, 2011 - Library of Congress - Federal Research Division
In 2011, India's birth rate is 20.97 per 1000 population which has reduced from 25.4 per 1000 in 2001. The death rate has also reduced from 8.4/1000 population in 2001 to 7.48/1000. The gender ratio is 1.08male(s)/female and the total fertility rate is 2.62 which have reduced from 3.4 children per woman in 1995. The overall life expectancy at birth was 60.7 years in 1992-1996 while the current estimates show 66.8years with 65.77 years for males and 61.4yrs for the females. Several studies have suggested that the literacy rates have a direct effect on the life expectancy rates and the total fertility rates, since the higher the literacy rates better is the life expectancy and less number of children. This is particularly true with increasing women literacy rates. The adult literacy rates in 2000 were 58.5% (72.3% for males and 44.4% for females). This has subsequently increased to a rate of 61% with 73.4% for males and 47.8% for the females in 2011. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011; Library of Congress, 2004).
The increase in the literacy rates has been due to the strengthening of the education system with a steady increase in the government's contribution to educational expenditures. In 2001 the combined primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratio was 55% of the population (Library of Congress, 2004). Several states and territories offer free education up to certain grade levels and several privately managed schools are government funded. Several states in the country boasts of very high literacy rate where education has been made compulsory up to certain grade levels. Female literacy rates have also been under steady increase and this has indirectly helped address the issue of female infanticide and infanticide issues. The increase in awareness and knowledge has helped control such traditional ideas put into practice. However, this practice needs more attention as infanticide and gender bias is still prevalent in some rural areas of the country.
India has a very multicultural environment with several ethnic groups like the African continent and several religions are currently practiced in India. The government has given its people the freedom to practice any religion and prohibits religious discrimination and the number of languages that are spoken (114) shows the genetic diversity that prevails. However, religious tensions have always been endured and occasional religious conflicts occur among religious communities.
India has maintained a democratic political system since its independence in 1947 from the British colonial rule and has subsequently progressed in several areas that have contributed to the economical development. The education system that has developed boasts of being one of the world's largest scientific and technical populations. Industrial revolution and green revolution have contributed to the self-sufficiency of the country in food production, since agriculture has been the major industry for employment and a contributor to the national GDP. Since the 1980s, economic planning, imports and exports industries led to the emergence of a large middle class population and also saw the rise of the information technology industries. (Library of Congress, 2004)
Inspite of its successes a substantial percentage of poverty still remains, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. The reasons behind such poverty level include the lack of skills among the masses to participate in the new economy, social and religious issues and the difficulties that lie in the political capacity of the government to address such issues. Although 30% of the population fall under urbanization the income gap between the rich and poor is evident and very wide.
The environmental and health issues that cause heavy impact on the lives of the people shows a similarity to the challenges that are faced by a relatively smaller country such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. An estimated 21% of the nation's population suffers from malnourishment, and common infectious diseases such as Hepatitis A, E, Typhoid fever, malaria among others. The current prevalence of HIV in the country is estimated to be 0.3% in adults with 2.4 million people living with HIV. This shows that the country is on par with the African nation which is significantly smaller in size. (Library of Congress, 2004; Central Intelligence Agency, 2011)
Other similarities include the influence of environmental factors such as natural calamities and hazards like cyclones, floods, high temperatures that alter the precipitation patterns thus decreasing the intervals of drought occurrence. Very high pollution levels from motor vehicles (major mode of transportation), forest loss, various combinations of poverty, population growth, industrialization and poor agricultural practices are some of the major challenges faced by the country. Health authorities also suggest that the relatively low number of health personnel and low level of health care infrastructure, services and reforms all contribute to the population's poor health and hence are on par with other African countries. (Library of Congress, 2004)
United States of America:
The world's largest and most technologically advanced country with a powerful economy is the 3rd most populous country in the world. The CIA reports a current population of 313,232,044 people with a population growth rate of 0.963%. The age structure of the population is significantly different from India and the Democratic Republic of Congo with a very high 13% falling under the age category of >65yrs. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011)
Figure 3: Age structure of the population - USA, 2011. Federal research division.
However, we do see a relatively low percentage of 20% of children population under the 0-14 years when compared to India and Congo. The birth and death rates are shown to be 13.83/1000 and 8.38/1000 respectively which are comparatively lower than in India and in Congo. This reflects in the total fertility rate in women to be 2.06 children per women. The sex ratio is estimated to be 0.97male/female and the infant mortality rate is 6.06/1000 live births. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011)
The total life expectancy at birth shows a healthy figure of 78.37 years with 75.92years for male and 80.93years for females. This is due to technological advances in medical and health care systems, health insurance coverage and other medical aids provided by the government. The country boasts of a very high literacy rate of 99% in both male and female population due to good schooling and education system with a school life expectancy of 16years. The government allocates an average of 5.5% (2007) for educational expenditures which contributes to a good educational system that is considered the best in the world. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011)
The percentage of urban population of the country is 82% of the total population and contributes to the advancement of the country's technological advances in computers, medical, aerospace industries among others. Also the country boasts of very high in-migration rates from all over the world as it's considered to be the “land of opportunities” by many. This contributes to the highly diverse population with people from different ethnic backgrounds and religions. The country attracts a high number of foreigners particularly a significant percentage of Asians who come to the USA for both educational and employment purposes and to be a part of the powerful economy.
However, the country faces some challenges such as the 0.6% of adult prevalence rate of HIV AIDS due to the inaccessibility of poor people, who are not insured, to anti-retroviral drugs and medication and other care facilities. Furthermore, the affected people also face stigma and discrimination. The prevalence seems to be more concentrated in certain groups of the population such as the gay community, black community, and the poorer sections of the urban areas where substance abuse and drug abusers are the vulnerable groups.
Another challenge is the two-tier labour market that has developed were the poor and the people below the poverty line (12%) lack the skills and education that are present in those at the top and hence fail to get a comparable pay raise, and are unable to benefit from the health and medical benefits that are provided by the government (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011). Furthermore, the unemployment scenario following the recession has rendered many unemployed which might increase or contribute to the already existing poverty levels and contribute to the other demographic parameters such as the cohort size, ageing and earning potential.
Some of the long term challenges faced by the country are to provide adequate health care facilities to the high ageing population who require both formal and informal sources of care. Their accessibility to claim formal care services and financial resources such as the pension costs etc to be able to afford the medical services. The increase in life expectancy and the progress of chronic infections and diseases to chronic illness and diseases increase the need for long term care facilities and family support. Besides the inadequate investments for economic developments, budget cuts etc there is also a need to increase the family income in lower economic groups. (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011; Milivoja Sircelj, 2002)
Thus, a nation's demographic parameters and its economic development share a symbiotic relationship were each affects the other and progress is mutual. The differences and challenges faced by both the under developed, developing and the developed countries are varied. However, common challenges such as the prevalence of infectious diseases and epidemics, the emergence of new dangerous diseases due to poor health care services, unhygienic conditions the poor section of the country has to live in and their inaccessibility to medical services due to high costs and poverty, are some of the major common challenges. Furthermore, the danger of natural calamities that takes a heavy toll on lives and cause heavy damage to human lives, animals and property. Hence, this requires more research and development in developing better tools and devices to help predict a natural disaster beforehand to prevent any loss and minimise damage.
Thus, demographic studies help understand and analyse the potential areas that require attention and focus. It helps identify potential problems that can arise and helps the government develop plans and policies that will help solve these issues and thus contribute to a better economy.