Demography: Meaning, Scope and Importance | Sociology

After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Meaning of Demography 2. Definitions of Demography 3. Scope 4. Importance.

Meaning of Demography:

The word ‘Demography’ is a combination of two Greek words, ‘Demos’ meaning people and ‘Graphy’ meaning science. Thus demography is the science of people. In the middle of the nineteenth century in 1855, the word ‘Demography’ was first used by a French writer Achille Guillard.

Even though, the term “Population Studies” is more popular, the word ‘Demography’ is under wider use these days. It is considered an important subject capable of throwing light on the nature of population education.

Since antiquity a number of thinkers have expressed their views on the level of economic development and the size of population. During the time of Confucius, many Chinese and Greek writers, and following them Aristotle, Plato and Kautilya (around the year 300 B.C.) have expressed their thoughts on the subject of population. Thus, as a subject, population education is as old as human civilization.


Writers like William Peterson, Hauser and Duncan consider “Population Studies” and “Demography” to be different. According to them, ‘Demography’ encompasses limited spheres and it studies only the decisive factors of population growth, whereas in ‘Population Studies’ besides the social, economic, geographical, political and biological aspects of population, their ensuing relationships are also studied.

Definitions of Demography:

The term demography has been defined both in a narrow and broad sense.

The Oxford Dictionary of Economics defines demography as “The study of the characteristics of human populations.” According to the UN Multilingual Demographic Dictionary, “Demography is the scientific study of human populations, primarily with respect to their size, their structure and their development.”

To Barckley, “The numerical portrayal of human population is known as demography.” Similarly, according to Thomson and Lewis, “The population student is interested in population’s size, composition and distribution; and in changes in these aspects through time and causes of these changes.”


All these definitions take a narrow view because they emphasise only the quantitative aspects of demography. Some other writers have defined demography in wide sense by taking the quantitative and qualitative aspects of population studies.

In this context, according to Hauser and Duncan, “Demography is the study of size, territorial distribution and composition of population, changes therein, and the components of such changes, which may be identified as natality, mortality, territorial movement (migration), and social mobility (change of status).”

According to Frank Lorimer, “In broad sense, demography includes both demographic analysis and population studies. A broad study of demography studies both qualitative and quantitative aspects of population.”

Thus, according to Donald J. Bougue, “Demography is a statistical and mathematical study of the size, composition, spatial distribution of human population, and of changes overtime in these aspects through the operation of the five processes of fertility, mortality, marriage, migration and social mobility. Although it maintains a continuous descriptive and comparative analysis of trends, in each of these processes and in its net result, its long run goal is to develop a body of theory to explain the events that it charts and compares. ”


These broad definitions take into view not only the size, composition and distribution of population and changes in them in the long run but also imply human migration and change in the status of population through education, employment, social status, etc.

Scope of Demography:

The scope of demography is very wide. It includes the subject matter of demography, is it a micro or macro study? Whether it is a science or art? These are vexed questions about the scope of demography about which there is no unanimity among writers on demography. We discuss them as under:

1. Subject Matter of Demography:

The subject matter of demography has become very vast in recent years.

The study of demography encompasses the following:

a. Size and Shape of Population:

Generally, the size of population means the total number of persons usually residing in a definite area at a definite time. The size and shape of population of any region, state or nation are changeable. It is because every country has its own unique customs, specialities, social-economic conditions, cultural atmosphere, moral values, and different standards for acceptance of artificial means of family planning and availability of health facilities, etc.

All these factors affect the size and shape of the population and if these factors are studied with reference to any area under demography, we can clearly understand the role they play in determining the shape and size of the population.

b. Aspects Related to Birth Rate and Death Rate:

Birth rate and death rate are the decisive factors that influence the size and shape of the population and therefore their importance in population studies is crucial. In addition to these, factors like marriage rate, belief regarding social status and marriage, age of marriage, orthodox customs related to marriage, early marriage and its effects on the health of the mother and the child, child infanticide rate, maternal death, still birth, resistance power, level of medical services, availability of nutritious food, purchasing power of the people, etc. also affect the birth and death rate.

c. Composition and Density of Population:

In the subject matter of demography, the study of composition and density of population is important. In the composition of population factors like the sex ratio, race wise and age- group wise size of population, the ratio of rural and urban population, distribution of population according to religion and language, occupational distribution of population, agricultural and industrial structure and per sq. km. density of population are very important.

With this type of information regarding the possibilities of development in that particular area, social-economic problems of the area, problems created due to increase in urban population, and density of population form part of population studies.

Socio-Economic Problems:

Out of the many problems relating to population growth, the effects of high density due to industrialization in the urban areas are of more importance as they affect the socio-economic life of the people. Problems like slum areas, polluted air and water, crime, addiction to liquor, juvenile delinquency, and prostitution, are also important subjects of study in demography.

Quantitative and Qualitative Aspects:

Along with the quantitative problems of population, the qualitative problems also form part of population studies. Moreover, the study of demography includes the availability of physicians in the total population, number of hospitals, the number of beds in hospitals, expectation of life at birth, daily availability of minimum calories, resistance power, advertisement of family planning programme and its development, the changes brought in the attitudes of people regarding child birth and adequate medical facility for delivery, etc.

2. Distribution of Population:

Population studies include the following:

(a) How people are distributed among and within continents, world regions and developed and underdeveloped countries?

(b) How their numbers and proportions change?

(c) What political, social and economic causes bring changes in the distribution of population. Within a country, it also includes the study of distribution of population in rural and urban areas, fanning and non-farming communities, working classes, business communities, etc.

Migration plays an important role in the distribution of population and supply of labour. Demography studies the factors that lead to internal and external migration of people within a country and between countries, the effects of migration on the migrants and the place where they migrate.

Urbanisation is another factor in the distribution of population within the country. The focus in population studies is on factors responsible for urbanisation, the problems associated with urbanisation and the solutions thereto.

Similarly, theories of migration and urbanisation form part of the study of demography.

3. Theoretical Models:

There are vast theoretical aspects of population studies which include the various theories of population propounded by sociologists, biologists, demographers and economists, and theories of migration and urbanisation.

4. Practical Aspects:

Practical aspects of population studies relate to the various methods of measuring population changes such as the census methods, age pyramids, population projections, etc.

5. Population Policy:

Population policy is an important subject of demography especially in the context of developing countries. It includes policies for population control, and family planning strategies; reproductive health, maternal nutrition and child health policies; policies for human development of different social groups, etc., and the effects of such policies on the total population of the country.

6. Micro vs Macro Study:

The true scope of demography relates to whether it is a micro or macro study.

Micro Demography:

Micro demography is the narrow view of population studies. Among others, Hauser and Duncan include the study of fertility, mortality, distribution, migration, etc. of an individual, a family or group of a particular city or area or community.

As pointed out by Bogue, “Micro demography is the study of the growth, distribution and redistribution of the population within community, state, economic area or other local area.” According to the micro view, demography is primarily concerned with quantative relations of demographic phenomena.

Macro Demography:

A majority of writers take the macro view of population studies and include the qualitative aspects of demography. To them, demography includes the interrelationships between population and social, economic and cultural conditions of the country and their effects on population growth.

It studies size, composition and distribution of population, and long run changes in them. Why migrations take place and what are their effects? What leads to urbanisation and what are its consequences? All these form part of macro aspects of population studies which also include unemployment, poverty and policies relating to them; population control and family welfare; and theories of population, migration and urbanisation, etc.

Prof. Bogue explains macro demography as “the mathematical and statistical study of the size, composition, and spatial distribution of human population and of changes over time in these aspects through the operations of the five processes of fertility, mortality, marriage, migration and social mobility. It maintains a continuous descriptive and comparative analysis of trends, in each of these processes and in their net result. Its long run goal is to develop theories to explain the events that it charts and compares.”

Balanced View:

Writers like Bogue, Lorimer and others favour a balanced view of population studies. They do not believe in dividing the study of demography into two separate micro and macro divisions.

As pointed out by Lorimer,”A demographer limited to the merely formal treatment of changes in fertility, mortality and mobility would be in a position like that of a formal chemist observing the compression of mercury with no information about associated changes in temperature or the constituent of the liquid.”

Therefore, the scope of demography should include both micro and macro aspects of population. According to Thompson and Lewis, it should relate to fertility, mortality, information about female population, their health, marital status, distribution and classification of population according to occupation, and collection and study of information about social and economic condition, and migration of population.

7. Demography as a Science:

Before studying whether demography is a science, it is essential to know what science is and to what extent the characteristics of science are applicable to demography.

A science is a systematised body of knowledge ascertainable by observation and experimentation. It is a body of generalisations, principles, theories or laws which traces out a causal relation between cause and effect.

For any discipline to be a science:

(i) It must be a systematised body of knowledge;

(ii) It must have its own laws or theories;

(iii) They can be tested by observation and experimentation;

(iv) They can make predictions;

(v) They can be self-corrective; and

(vi) Have universal validity.

Demography possesses all the above noted elements of a science which can be described as under:

1. It is a systematised body of knowledge in which facts are studied and analysed in a systematic manner.

2. It has its own theories like the Malthusian Theory, the theory of Demographic Transition, etc.

3. These theories have been tested on the basis of observation.

4. Demography can make predictions on the basis of cause and effect relationships. It can predict about changes in population.

5. Demography is self-corrective in nature. It goes on revising its conclusions in the light of new facts based on observations.

6. The principles of demography have universal validity as they are applicable to all countries, given the same conditions.

Thus on all counts, demography is a science. It is not only a positive science of ‘what is’ but also a normative science of “what ought to be.” It studies the causes and effects of population problems and also suggests policy measures to solve them.

To conclude with Irene Taeuber, “With improved data, new techniques and precise measurement of the demographic transition that is occurring, demography has become a science. In fact, it has become an applied science and applied technology.”

Importance of Demography:

With the majority of developing countries facing population explosion, the study of population and its problems has become very important in every sphere of an economy.

We discuss them below:

(1) For the Economy:

The study of demography is of immense importance to an economy. Population studies help us to know how far the growth rate of the economy is keeping pace with the growth rate of population. If population is increasing at a faster rate, the pace of development of the economy will be slow. The government can undertake appropriate measures to control the growth of population and to accelerate the development of the economy.

Rapid population growth reduces per capita income, lowers the standard of living, plunges the economy into mass unemployment and under employment, brings environmental damage and puts a burden on existing social infrastructure. Population studies highlight these problems of the economy to be solved by the government.

(2) For Society:

Population studies have much importance for the society. When population is increasing rapidly, the society is faced with innumerable problems. Shortages of basic services like water, electricity, transport and communications, public health, education, etc. arise.

Along with these, problems of migration and urbanisation are associated with the growing population which further lead to the law and order problem. Faced with such problems which are the concomitant result of population growth, the state and non-government social organisations can adopt appropriate measures to solve them.

(3) For Economic Planning:

Data relating to the present trend in population growth help the planners in formulating policies for the economic plan of the country. They are kept in view while fixing targets of agricultural and industrial products, of social and basic services like schools and other educational institutions, hospitals, houses, electricity, transport, etc.

Population data are also used by the planners to project future trends in fertility and to formulate policy measures to control the birth rate.

Based on population data, projections are made about the increase in labour force, and the number of people in the age-groups 1-15 years, 15-50 years and above in order to estimate the labour force available for productive employment. This, in turn, helps in making estimates regarding employment to be generated during the plan period.

(4) For Administrators:

Population studies are also useful for administrators who run the government. In under-developed countries, almost all social and economic problems are associated with the growth of population. The administrator has to tackle and find solutions to the problems arising from the growth of population. They are migration and urbanisation which lead to the coming up of shanty towns, pollution, drainage, water, electricity, transport, etc. in cities.

These require improvement of environmental sanitation, removal of stagnant and polluted water, slum clearance, better housing, efficient transport system, clean water supply, better sewerage facilities, control of communicable diseases, provision of medical and health services, especially in maternal and child welfare by opening health centres, opening of schools, etc.

(5) For Political System:

The knowledge of demography is of immense importance for a democratic political system. It is on the basis of the census figures pertaining to different areas that the demarcation of constituencies is done by the election commission of a country. The addition to the number of voters after each election helps to find out how many have migrated from other places and regions of the country.

Political parties are able to find out from the census data the number of male and female voters, their level of education, their age structure, their level of earning, etc. On these basis, political parties can raise issues and promise solutions in their election manifestos at the time of elections.

Further, it is on the basis of male and female voters in an area that the election commission establishes election booths for voters and appoints the election staff.

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