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30.1 Introduction

30.2 Theories of Demographic Change
30.2.1 Malthusian Theory of Demographic Change
30.2.2 Demographic Transition Theory

30.2.3 Marx’s Understanding of Demographic Change

30.3 Demographic Change: Different Trajectories
30.3.1 Europe
30.3.2 China

30.3.3 India

30.4 Demography: Society Linkages

30.5 Summary

30.6 Exercises


From the middle of the eighteenth century Western Europe witnessed a historically unprecedented decrease in mortality, followed by a period of rising fertility and then a secular decline in fertility. It was roughly while the western world was in the process of this momentous transformation that population became a subject of intense debate. Economists and statesmen have at different times in different places been extremely anxious about the consequences of contemporary demographic developments.

These anxieties were largely associated with the internal contradictions of the capitalist expansion. The dilemmas of development, then can for the purposes of this Unit be schematically classified into three broad groups: Overpopulation, immigration and the demographic deformations associated with the continuing hold of older attitudes towards marriage, health and son-preference in a context of modern capitalist growth. Finally, though less closely related to the dynamics of capitalist growth, we have imagined demographic imbalances being attributed to certain ethnic and religious groups for reasons of ideology and political power.

Population has frequently been invoked to explain a variety of social processes- population growth as a check on economic growth, as a stimulant of economic growth, as a cause for poverty, as an outcome of poverty and so on. There clearly seems to be a lack of certainty regarding whether population is the explanatory or dependent variable.

To clarify some of these issues relating to demographic change, it would be necessary to have some rudimentary understanding of the larger processes on which these are premised. First, it becomes necessary to understand the demographic determinants of population change. Next, these determinants or the most significant of these determinants need to be studied in association with the larger dynamics of economic and social change in region or country being studied. When discussing these changes at the global level, in the modern period, these could be reduced to three large processes that have characterised world history: the rise of capitalism beginning first in north-western Europe, the increasing economic disparities between the West and the poorer countries of the world with capitalist growth and imperialist expansion and finally the rapidity of economic
change in the developing world without commensurate changes in social attitudes. 5

Dilemmas of Development Population change can be explained in demographic terms by a simple equation, which demographers call the Balancing Equation:


Where P0 is the initial size of the population

Pt is the terminal size of the population

B, D, I and E denote the number of births, deaths and in-migrants (immigrants)
and out-migrants (emigrants) between the two dates.

In other words, population change is the result of three variables- fertility, mortality and migration. At different times in history, in particular regions, one or the other of these variables assumed greater significance than the others. Fertility, mortality and migration in turn, are determined by pure demographic factors and a larger set of social and economic variables.

Population Change

Fertility Mortality Migration

Demographic Factors Proximate (Nuptiality, Natural Fertility, Abortion, Contraception)

Non-demographic Factors Institutions, Income, Class, Social
Practices, Religion, Politics


To understand and place in perspective the discussions on the demographic variable in modern history, we need to look at the two guiding theories of the discipline of demography- the corpus of Malthus’ writings on demographic dynamics and the sustained hold of the “demographic transition theory” since the Second World War. The third view, though equally relevant but not part of mainstream demographic discussions, is that put forward by Karl Marx in response to Malthus’ speculations.

30.2.1 Malthusian Theory of Demographic Change

The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) is popularly considered to be the founding father of modern demography. His 1798 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, which went through six editions, still provides the main theoretical frame for modern demographic research.

Malthus’ main contribution was to enunciate a homeostatic, cyclical view of population movements. The high level of human fecundity made it possible for fertility to outstrip food production bringing about starvation and enhanced mortality in its wake. This crisis ensured the return of equilibrium and the beginning of a new cycle. This vicious cycle was usually prevented by the operation of preventive and positive checks. The “preventive” check in the form of postponed or averted marriages in the “civilized” European part of the world usually allowed these regions to escape crisis. The other route to equilibrium, usually found outside Christian Europe was the so-called “positive”
6 check that took the form of war, disease, sterility from sexually transmitted diseases,

polygamy and vices including infanticide, abortion and contraception. Though this was the main demographic content of the original Malthusian model, it also contained a very significant element of ruling class anxiety about the debilitating influence that the rapidly proliferating poor would have on society. The general Malthusian model of homeostatic population-economy equilibrium through the operation of preventive and positive was to have universal applicability. But it was the class component of the model that made it politically significant. Malthus believed that mortality had been unchanging for centuries, but in class societies, the poor experienced higher mortality and were the first casualty of a subsistence crisis. This ignorant and wretched section of society did not respect preventive checks as they went ahead and had children despite minimal subsistence. Within the logic of this model the Elizabethan Poor Laws then by transferring part of the social surplus to this improvident class encouraged their reckless multiplication. This, in turn, increased the demand for food and raised the price of food for the middle class, thereby raising their mortality. Thus the Poor Laws instead of bettering the condition of the wretched merely increased their population and spread death to the more industrious and worthier sections of society. One direct policy outcome of this line of reasoning was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 where outdoor relief was substituted by urban workhouses.

While Adam Smith’s thesis of free trade appealed to the natural man, Malthus saw an unambiguously Divine design behind the forces responsible for equilibrium. For Malthus, contraception was vile and unchristian- a view shared by most Englishmen of the day. In the absence of contraception the only respectable way to control was the preventive check.

Despite being widely held as the progenitor of demography, Malthus was neither the first to postulate a potential strain between population growth and food resources nor was he responsible in any way for the development of the technical tools of demography. What then were the reasons for his popularity?

Though this question can never be answered in full, one major reason is that Malthus was the first to clearly and comprehensively enunciate the fears and anxieties of English intelligentsia of social revolution and assert a civilizational gap between the peoples of the metropolis and the colonies in clearly demographic terms. Further, in the middle of the nineteenth century it carefully saw contraception as vile and clearly accepted a divine design. Being written in the most general terms, Malthusian concepts could be used to understand demographic phenomena in widely different contexts- from Poor Laws in England, to population growth in the New World and to famines in India.

Malthus progressively became more concerned with the absence on the preventive check in the uncivilized world. However, anticipating latter day diffusionists he did hope that the “diffusion of education and knowledge” in the future would bring these people to delay marriage.

30.2.2 Demographic Transition Theory

This brings us to the second enduring shibboleth of demography- the so-called “demographic transition theory”. In the post War period, eugenics and the earlier politics of status quo took a severe beating. The resurgence of the Left, the horrors of Nazi race politics and advances in scientific theory were responsible for the quick demise of pre-War eugenicist arguments. The new governments now emphasised welfare. After the War, demography was taken very seriously by government policy makers. In France the INED was created to collect data and analyse population trends. In Germany, however, after the terrible excesses of the Nazis, the state decided to remain neutral in matters of population and family.


Dilemmas of Development Early American demographic anxieties concerned immigration and immigrants. According to Notestein this work was “mainly descriptive and of little long-run significance.” Most of the academics associated with demography in the U.S. were part-time demographers drawn largely from the disciplines of sociology and statistics.

The so-called transition theory that has had such an enduring hold over generations of demographers was first presented in 1929 by Warren S.Thompson, one of America’s leading demographers. However, this prototype failed to recruit many followers. Towards the end of the Second World War in 1944, the “demographic transition theory” was published separately by Frank W. Notestein and Kingsley Davis to become the guiding “theory” of demographic change.

Classical “transition theory” as it was first formulated rested on a tripartite division of human demographic experience. In the first phase both mortality and fertility were high resulting in little or no population growth. In the second phase mortality fell sharply while fertility continued to remain high, leading to a sharp increase in population. In the third and final phase, fertility falls sharply and population goes into secular decline as fertility falls faster than mortality.

This model of demographic change was clearly evolutionary and functionalist in nature. Fertility decline was seen to be necessarily consequent upon industrialization and modernization. Transition theory was invested with applicability independent of place and time. Unlike its subsequent reincarnation in the 1950s, the transition theory of
1944 vintage clearly saw demographic change as a dependent variable with social,
economic and cultural developments as the main explanatory factors. Unlike the early theoreticians of demographic change, Notestein saw all nations in the world capable of development. Predatory colonialism was seen as the culprit for delayed transition in countries such as India. The context was clearly held to be significant. Demographic change was seen to be a cumulative result of social and cultural and institutional change. The dissemination of contraceptive techniques was recognised as important in controlling fertility. However, its effectiveness was always dependant on “the social setting; hence new patterns of behaviour are to be established principally by the alteration of that setting.”

Within a space of just about half a decade, Notestein and subsequently Davis, the twin popular progenitors of the transition theory revised their recently pronounced model of demographic change very significantly. In a report in 1949 he wrote, “.. Fertility control is not a substitute for other ameliorative effort; instead, it is a means that will assist in making ameliorative effort successful- indeed it may turn out to be a necessary condition for such a success.”

The “transition theory” in its original form saw falling fertility as a consequence of industrialization. The greater the level of fertility, the quicker was the required pace of industrialization. The Soviet model, based on “totalitarian methods” was thought to be better at attaining higher rates of capital formation and thus potentially more attractive to newly independent Third World countries. Slower industrialization held the risk of increased poverty leading to Communism. The immediate goal of American demographers was to convince Third World leadership that population control was both possible and necessary.

The subject area of American demography now shifted to the Third World and so did the emphasis from academic demography to population studies focussed on family planning. Fertility control in the Third World now became one of those rare fields with a multiplicity of willing and rich sponsors. This singular emphasis on fertility control as the panacea for the ills of the Third World was soon questioned in terms of its motives
and politics. Development as a vital necessary condition for population control was
8 stressed and by the 1970s “revisionists” started questioning the inverse relationship

between population growth and development. Today in the United States there is no one overwhelming issue comparable to the old enthusiasm over Third World fertility control. The questions asked are much more diverse in nature.

The transition theory based largely on Parsonian functional structuralism and its subsequent sociological paradigms of “Westernisation” and “modernization” has continued to be single most important theory for demographers. Sociologists and anthropologists have long stopped taking Westernization and modernization seriously. Historical demography has clearly contradicted the empirical basis of the transition schema. First we find that in nineteenth century France, fertility began on its course of secular decline much before industrialization or any major phase of economic development. This should have been evident to the formulators of the theory of demographic transition as this phenomenon was well documented. The large scale Princeton based European Fertility Project, designed specifically to test the theory, was unequivocal in their finding that economic growth showed no clear relationship with falling fertility. Despite being at variance with the historical record, classical transitional theory maintained that fertility would decline only as a consequence of the cumulative interaction of lowered mortality, growing individualism, socially mobile urban groups, the decline of family and fatalism. These preferred conditions could only result from wide-ranging industrialization and modernization. The demographic transition it was believed had universal applicability. Any historical period or geographical point could be placed and situated on this demographic-economic scale. Dudley Kirk, who was involved with the elaboration of the transition theory at Princeton commented, “In regard to demographic matters the different countries of the world may be considered as on single continuum of development…” This implied that historical specificities and contextual differences had no bearing on the working out of demographic transition.

Though ahistorical and confident in its universal applicability and relevance, the classical version of the transition theory did however privilege the social, cultural and economic over the demographic. Demographic change was clearly a dependent variable in this equation, with modernization as the sole explanation. Demography was seen as firmly embedded in society. This reminds one of Malthusian thinking on the subject as well as Marx’s view that every mode of production had its special laws of population. In clear opposition to Malthus and Marx, the transition theory omitted class differences and regional specificities. To plot demographic transition or the later concept of fertility transition one has to have a base period and society to begin with and a different one at the end of that process. The moment one leaves the neat periodization and certain correlations of the demographic transition theory, and takes note of historical contingencies and complexities, it becomes clear that there is no one homogenous starting specimen that can be designated as “traditional” and its replacement by a “modern” society. Further, since the demographic transition theory is based on partial description and not any abstract analytical construct, any empirical observation that runs contrary to the stated trajectory becomes proof of significant weakness. Further, when the authors of the “theory” themselves mutate it out of recognition, any remaining confidence evaporates rapidly. Finally, in its mutated second birth the theory lacks causal direction. Other than the necessity to contracept, the demographic transition helps us very little in characterising demographic regimes, fixing determinants or predicting change.

Despite the theory not receiving a formal burial from demographers, it has been noted that the term demographic transition theory has increasingly been replaced by “fertility transition” which however is plagued by the same theoretical and methodological weaknesses as the original term.

Since these two guiding “theories”- Malthusianism and “demographic transition” have clearly been indicted for failing to correspond with known history and analytical rigour, alternative ways of conceptualising demographic change have became an urgent need.


Dilemmas of Development 30.2.3 Marx’s Understanding of Demographic Change

Karl Marx’s views on the subject of demography- economy linkages assumes significance here. With tremendous perspicacity, Karl Marx in his discussion of the development of capital, noted that “The law of capitalist production, that is at the bottom of the pretended “natural law of population,” reduces itself simply to this: The correlation between accumulation of capital and rate of wages is nothing else than the correlation between the unpaid labour transformed into capital, and the additional paid labour necessary for the setting in motion of this additional capital. It is therefore in no way a relation between two magnitudes, on the one hand, the magnitude of the capital; on the other, the number of the labouring population; it is rather, at bottom, only the relation between the unpaid and the paid labour of the same labouring population. If the quantity of unpaid labour supplied by the working-class, and accumulated by the capitalist class, increases so rapidly that its conversion into capital requires an extraordinary addition of paid labour, then wages rise, and, all other circumstances remaining equal, the unpaid labour diminishes in proportion. But as soon as this diminution touches the point at which the surplus-labour that nourishes capital is no longer supplied in normal quantity, a reaction sets in: a smaller part of revenue is capitalised’ accumulation lags, and the movement of rise in wages receives a check. The rise of wages therefore is confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundations of the capitalistic system, but also secure its reproduction on a progressive scale. The law of capitalistic accumulation, metamorphosed by economists into pretended law of Nature, in reality merely states that the very nature of accumulation excludes every diminution in the degree of exploitation of labour, and every rise in the price of labour, which could seriously imperil the continual reproduction, on an ever-enlarging scale, of the capitalistic relation.” (Marx, Capital Volume I, Chapter 25, Section I).

Marx then went on to note that, “The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus-population; and it does this to an always increasing extent. This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production; and in fact every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically valid within its limits and only in so far as man has not interfered with them.” (Marx, Capital Volume I, Chapter 25, Section 3)

Thus it is in Capital that we first find the argument that socially acceptable levels of population are not independent of the capitalist production process, but are in fact, a function of the latter. Marx, however, attached a rider to this formulation—that this dynamic or “law” of population was peculiar to the capitalist system and that other modes of production had their own laws of population.


While certain common trends can be discerned in the very long term across national and regional population histories, these commonalities disappear when we begin to look demographic developments in the medium and short term. Consequently what we then have is not one single universal story of world population history but a variety of different trajectories with different determinants of demographic change. Western Europe, East Asia and the Indian subcontinent may be taken as representative of various different trends to understand demographic change in the modern world.


30.3.1 Europe

The historical demography of Europe is important to any discussion of the demographic variable in the world context, as it was here in the eighteenth century that population first showed rapid increase followed by a sustained decline.

The population of north-west Europe increased from between 60 to 64 million in 1750 to about 116 million in 1850 growing at an annual compound rate of around 0.6 per cent. Between the French Revolution and the First World War, mortality sharply declined with the availability of new resources and favourable epidemiological changes, creating conditions where population could possibly increase. The introduction of new crops such as potato and maize, greatly contributed to limiting subsistence crises and permitting population increase. Further, during the eighteenth century plague and associated epidemics such as typhus, smallpox, malaria, venereal diseases lost much of their lethal efficacy. Population increased sharply at first but was then limited by nuptiality checks. Next, it resulted in large overseas migration and a sustained decline in fertility. It led to the massive movement of Europeans overseas and also to the demographic transition. This demographic transformation is one of the most significant transformations that Europe witnessed in the last millennium.

In twentieth century western Europe devastating wars further exacerbated the effects of fertility decline, finally resulting in an ageing age structure and growth rates that will turn negative in the future.

30.3.2 China

Western observers, including Malthus, saw China as a country that was hopelessly caught in the trap of overpopulation and poverty. High population densities, low per capita consumption of food and energy and consequently low anthropometrical indices characterized China in the eighteenth century.

Describing the economic context of demographic change in China, Malthus wrote, “In some countries, population appears to have been forced; that is, the people have been habituated by degrees to live on the smallest possible quantity of food. There must have been periods in such countries when population increased permanently, without an increase in the means of substance. China seems to answer to this description. If the accounts we have of it are to be trusted, the lower classes of Chinese people are accustomed to living on the smallest possible quantity of food and are glad to consume putrid offals that European labourers would rather starve than eat.”

Despite this low level of living standards, Malthusian positive checks did not prevent an increase in Chinese population. China’s population grew virtually exponentially between
1700 and 1800 increasing from 175 million to 400 million in the same period. Between
1800 and 1950 the population increased more slowly to nearly 600 million. This was followed by a sharp acceleration to over 1.2 billion at present. Studies of Chinese historical demography using new sources such as imperial genealogies have now conclusively shown that mortality in the eighteenth century was similar to and even lower than Western Europe. Despite a sharp increase in population in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mortality levels decreased, in a rather unMalthusian fashion. Public health measures have been credited for this increase in life expectancy. This is not to say that there were sharp peaks marked by crisis mortality. These famines were few and not severe enough to arrest population growth in the long-term. Famine mortality, including the severe 1958-61 famine, was more the product of administrative and political mishandling than of population size.


Dilemmas of Development From the middle of the twentieth century China’s mortality started falling at a rate unknown in world history. Infant mortality registered a fall of 300 per cent between 1950 and the present. Male life expectancy similarly increased rapidly from 42.2 years in 1953-54 to
61.6 years in the period 1964-82. Once again increased state intervention, in the form of larger investments in public health, was responsible for this marked fall in mortality. Thus China with its low standard of living instead of proving the Malthusian positive check clearly shows that the Malthusian economy-mortality relationship did not have a universal applicability. It must also be noted here China has also exhibited very high levels of female infanticide and very high levels of sex-selective mortality both amongst the nobility and commoners.

This brings us to fertility. Once again, recent research into Chinese historical demography has shown that fertility in traditional China was quite moderate despite an absence of contraception. Nuptiality, one of the most important proximate determinants of fertility, was very different from marriage patterns elsewhere in Asia and in Europe. While there was early and universal female marriage in China, this was not the case with males. Males married much later and across a longer age span. Richer males married earlier than poorer men across social groups. This social differential in the pattern of marriage observed since the eighteenth century has persisted to the present day. The recent economic reforms and attendant increases in inequity have further raised the proportion of poor single men up to the age of thirty to 30 per cent from 25 per cent in the 1980s.

Other than this check on nuptiality, three mechanisms of fertility control – late beginning, birth spacing and early stopping –effectively controlled Chinese marital fertility.

30.3.3 India

The population of India grew slowly from 1871 to 1921 largely because of the mortality check despite high fertility. In the post 1921 years up to the 1980s fertility remained high but mortality declined leading to rapid population growth and resulting in a very young age population. Women fared badly in terms of mortality relative to men throughout our period. The sex ratio at birth usually falls between 1040 to 1070, internationally. In other words 104 to 107 male babies are born for every 100 female babies. On the other hand male mortality is also generally higher than female mortality in the older age groups. Despite this, India has exhibited a continuous decrease in the proportion of women. This is explained by lower life expectancy at birth for females. This all-India trend however does not hold good for many parts of India, as we shall see in our discussion of regional trends.

India’s age distribution has remained remarkably stable with a large and virtually constant proportion of young people. In a closed population such as that of India’s, the large proportion of children points to high levels of fertility. The age distribution also suggests a high dependency ratio. Further, the youthfulness of the population also ensured a continued population momentum that would last beyond the onset of fertility decline.


In this section we try to understand some of the relationships between demographic and social and economic change.

In the Malthusian scheme of things, unregulated demographic growth was certain to result in crisis and a return to equilibrium between food supply and demand. For Malthus this vicious cycle of rapid procreation and resulting death could only be prevented by the preventive check or the safety valve of migration.

This part of Malthus’ formulation provided a basis to a large number of writers in the
12 post- War period who feared an imminent population explosion resulting in widespread

scarcity. The United Nations in its publication entitled, The Determinants and Consequences of Population Growth (1953) observed, “Especially during the last decade a number of authors have recalled the Malthusian principle of population and expressed the fear that the present population of the earth is drawing near the maximum that its resources can support.” Demographers, economists and statesmen took this warning seriously.

Coale and Hoover in their work on India saw rapid population growth as the cause for the country’s poverty. Population increase resulted in a progressively larger share of the production being used for consumption, leading to a fall in savings and investment. The government of India appears to have taken the thesis of overpopulation as being an obstacle to development seriously. India was the first country to begin a comprehensive programme of family limitation in 1950s.

However, there were dissenting voices. Simon Kuznets’ large-scale study found no association empirically between population growth and development. Around the same time, Boserup provided theoretical arguments and empirical proof to argue that critical level of population pressure was necessary for technological development to take place in agriculture. Others saw population pressure as forcing the development of new institutions that were essential for economic growth.

Recent research now clearly tells us that the Malthusian spectre of population outstripping resources is not true historically at the global level. According to Angus Maddison, between 1500 and 1820 while the world’s population grew at an annual rate of 0.29 per cent, the gross domestic product increased by 0.33 per cent.

Malthus hypothesised the operation of the preventive check as the preferred route to equilibrium. However, history once again tells us that the Malthusian preventive check was in operation in a wide range of societies and not limited to “civilized” Western Europe. Again, we find that other mechanisms such as widowhood, infanticide, abortion and a number of measures were resorted to in regions where the nuptiality check was absent to regulate population. There is also no evidence to suggest that the preventive check was a conscious decision to limit fertility and population growth. Thus, what we do find is that a range of societies characterized by varying levels of economic development resorted to some form or the other of fertility regulation.

High mortality and especially infant mortality was clearly inversely correlated with fertility through “replacement” and “hoarding”. In a demographic regime marked by high and volatile levels of mortality, parents or the society would tend to replace dead children and produce more than the desired family size given the high incidence of mortality. Unless mortality levels were so high as to depress fecundity, high mortality regimes were also characterized by high fertility, though not necessarily population increase.

While the interrelations between the proximate determinants of population growth are fairly well understood, the population-economy relationship continues to pose an enduring conundrum. Malthus saw the overpopulation resulting in poverty and famines. On the other hand according to the theory of demographic transition, modernization resulted in first lowered mortality and rapid population growth followed by sustained fertility decline and slowing down of population growth.

While development or modern economic growth resulting in mortality and then fertility decline over the long run appears logical, this has not always been borne out by available historical evidence. France experienced low fertility levels well before the beginnings of modern economic growth. The Princeton based European Fertility Survey that was designed to test this assertion of the “transition theory” once again failed to find any statistically significant relationship between economic development and fertility decline.


Dilemmas of Development However, the failure to find such a relationship may be related to the choice of economic indices that were available to the Princeton researchers. At a more global scale, taking more sensitive indices of economic development such as the Human Development Index rather than aggregated measures such as per capita income or GDP, recent research finds that fertility transition occurred only in countries with a HDI of 0.6 or more.

Mortality decline is a necessary condition for sustained fertility decline. Thus it is not surprising that only when the population as a whole is freed from the threat of mortality hikes will it exercise the option of family limitation.

The uneven nature of fertility decline between the developed and developing countries has created another contradiction. With the West having experienced fertility decline for more than a century now, its population is rapidly ageing and the proportion of men and women in the working ages is getting smaller. What this implies in economic terms is that these countries now have to import labour. As North-South disparities have sharply increased in the recent past, employment and wages have decreased in the developing world. This has resulted in the West facing a virtual tide of job seeking immigrants trying to enter these richer countries. The cruel contradiction of globalisation has been that while the West wants all factor markets to be liberalised, it fights shy of opening up to labour.

A related dilemma of development that has a bearing on migration is the nature of economic development in the globalized world. The recessionary trends that have marked corporate globalization have greatly increased both unemployment as well as underemployment. Work is also rapidly shifting from the organised to the unorganised sector accompanied by the attendant evils of poor working conditions and low wages especially in Asia. All this further increases North –South disparities and sets up conditions encouraging a poor workforce to move in search of better employment opportunities, which then attracts severe restrictions.

Demographic changes are path-dependent. We find that regions and countries that underwent the mortality transition early also began on their course of sustained fertility decline much before traditionally high mortality regions. The path-dependence also extends to other features of demographic change. Patriarchal China and the northern Indian sub-continent have traditionally been characterized by pronounced son- preference. With the beginning of fertility decline and the reduction in the desired family size, we find new technologies, such as pre-natal diagnostic testing being employed to destroy female foetuses resulting in alarmingly skewed sex ratios.

Finally, in many of the countries of the developing world, in a context of increasing social disparities, demographic arguments are erroneously marshalled to hold certain communities responsible for the ills of society. Attempts have been made to biologically reduce their reproduction or more brutally by outright physical extermination- Nazi Germany being the most revolting, but by no means the only case in point.


Demographic change is thus one of the most pressing problems facing the modern world today. The problems are different, specific to societies and countries and are closely related to wider economic and social changes. Attempt to understand demographic change without reference to time and region- specific context has failed.

The relationship between development and demographic problems is so closely intermeshed, that both in the past and in today’s world, population being more visible and easily quantifiable than the underlying processes of global economic, political and
14 social change, is held culpable for a range of problems.


1) How is demographic change important to an understanding of world history?

2) Discuss Malthusian theory of demographic change. Can it be applied universally?

3) What are different historical contexts which have led to different demographic patterns in areas like Europe, India and Asia?


Indira Gandhi National Open University
School of Social Sciences
Modern World

Dilemmas of Development 9


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