Quality of life for human beings demand nutritious food, low infant mortality, high enrollment in primary education, literacy, housing, improvement in social security, right to live, political freedom, employment opportunity and long life. With increases in population numbers, there is a corresponding increase in these basic needs as well. Although the world's most populous Chinese believe that 'humankind is the most characteristic phenomenon on the earth', they also recognise that 'more the Chinese, the larger will be the poorer Chinese'. Hence, they began to control their numbers in a systematic way. Many believe that no country would equal the Chinese efforts at population control. But they also realise that the Chinese have lost their individual freedom because of these efforts. Countries like India have made, and are making, efforts towards decreasing their numbers.
For improvement in life, people with working potential are far more important than the mere large number (size) of population. The age-sex pyramid gives us an understanding of the working potential available within a given population. In fact, the working potential of a country can be detected from the shape of the age-sex profile. On the basis of age, the human potential can be classified into three classes:
1. Children, non-productive age group (0-14 years)
2. Productive, adult population (15-64 years)
3.Non-productive, elders (more than 65 years)
It must be mentioned that, in the world today, there are millions of children who work in various economic enterprises. They are economically productive and are deprived of their freedom. Likewise, there are older people who are deprived of their old age comforts and suffer in life to make a living. Pyramidal diagrams shown in Figures 2, 3, 4 & 5 indicate the age and sex composition differing grwoth in respective countries.
There are certain ideas that can be inferred from this pyramid:
1. The country represented by the pyramid has a large population of children of 0 to 14 years of age and a small population of elders of more than 65 years old. The economically active population of 15 to 64 years is relatively small in number.
2. The children and the elders are dependent on the middle aged population which is economically active. It is because most children are in school while the elders lack working potential but include those who are retired with pension. Hence, they could participate in the countryxs developmental activities only to a limited extent. A large portion of the population of these ages will not be able to be active economically. Nor do they take part in reproductive function.
3. It is the middle aged who are economically very active. There are chances for increasing working potential in the future because of the reproductive ability of the middle aged population. That is, when the population becomes reproductive population through marriage, they add to the working potential. And when the children of age group 10-14 years move into 15-30 years, they become the work force as well. And, the broad base of children of age group 0-15 years also means that there will be very high growth of population in the future.
Thus, it is possible to draw inferences from the age pyramid pertaining to the working potential and the population expansion of the future. There are in fact several different age-sex pyramids. The shape of the pyramid of any given country depends on the structure of the population of that country. The different pyramids help us to infer a number of important ideas.
In pyramids such as these, there is an indication to high birth and death rates. Of the total population, 55 per cent will account for children of 0-14 years while 10 per cent will account for old people. The rest of 35 per cent is the economically active population. Countries with such pyramids have to take care of a very large population with little or no working potential. Unable to satisfy their basic needs, there will be shortfalls in economic development creating social disruptions. These will form the challenges for planning and economic development. Particularly, with no proper social security, there will be high adult mortality and high infant mortality rates. With no proper and adequate medical and health care, the children of 1-6 years die in large numbers. The population in the next three upper age groups, 7-10, 11-14 and 15-19 years of age, suffer from physical handicaps and health problems. Lack of adequate health workers, insanitation, lack of or no immunisation practices and little or no use of medicines all cause death of children of young ages. For example, in Africa and Latin America, poverty and malnutrition are the severe problems.
In countries with such age pyramids, there will low birth and death rates. Children will account for 30 per cent of the total population while the older people account for 15 per cent of the total population. However, the economically active will account for 55 per cent of the total population numbers. As the economically active account for higher proportion, these countries are economically developed. The needs of the dependent, non-working population are satisfied with ease.
Such pyramids are characteristic of the developed countries. By an estimate, the children's population is small and the aged account for 13 per cent. Increasing number of the aged indicates to problems of social security and old age protection in the future. Yet, there is a concern for their standard of living, education and social awareness in these countries. Good food and medical attention are available to the all ages.
Hence, child birth is within limits. With industrial development, there is fast life and a corollary increase in the uncared for population of the elders as well. Therefore, despite social security provided by the governments in these countries, the elders are mentally affected. They are generally afflicted with cancer and heart diseases which cause what is known as the 'new death'. There is a large number of psychologically affected as well, in these countries. There are reports indicating one million Europeans being locked up in the mental asylums.
Such pyramids as these have tendencies for changing their shapes and characteristics. These pyramids are found in countries with various development levels. At some time, these countries may have had progressive age structures. In the future, the structure is likely to change to regressive age structure. India and China are the two countries with pyramids of intermediate nature. The pyramids shown here are drawn using the generalised structural characteristics. At times, their characteristics would change according to the social and economic conditions. Some of the likely changes are given below:
1. In the developing countries, children acquire a working potential at the age of 10 years. On the contrary, in the developed countries, even at 16 years, they are not normally in the work force or with working potential. Also, students of higher education with working potential do not enter as yet into the work force. It is necessary to indicate that, beyond their teens, a considerable number of the student population in the developed countries contribute to the economic development through part time employment.
2. The elders of the developed countries, once retired from active service, are without working potential. On the other hand, in the developing countries, with low opportunities for retired life, even
the people of more than 60 years of age have high working potential. Work is an economic necessity for survival.
3. Migration or human movements could change the shape of the pyramids. People of ages 15-45 migrate from their places of birth or residence to other places for various reasons. As such, a country which receives such migrants will have a pyramid with a bulge in the middle representing the middle ages. On the other hand, a country which has a high out-migration will have a pyramid with a concavity in the middle.
4. Even population growth will create changes in the age pyramids. Declining growth rates result in increasing elderly population while increasing growth rates result in increasing child population.
Some of the above characteristics will also depend on the growth or decline in the population. Thus, the shape of the pyramid of a country shows clearly the nature of the human potential for the future. They are helpful in measuring, controlling and developing ideas about the growth in population numbers and growth rate
We have now understood how population numbers and the social and economic declines have close relations. Even in the historical times, the need for optimal population existed as an idea. But there were differences in ideas as to the means of controlling population numbers. It was in such circumstances the Population Essay of Thomas Robert Malthus was published in the 18th/19th century.