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 Home » Tutorials » Geography » Human Geography » Population Composition

Population Composition



The rate of urbanisation of the world’s population is accelerating significantly as a result of the global shift to technological, industrial and service-based economies. As a result, few countries would be able to handle the consequent urban population increase which is causing problems on an unprecedented scale. Ten million people die annually in densely populated urban areas from conditions produced by substandard housing and poor sanitation. About 500 million people, worldwide are either homeless or living in housing that is life threatening.

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Literacy is that qualitative attribute of population which is a fairly reliable index of the socio-economic development of an area. It reflects that social aspect of population by which its quality can be ascertained. There is a wide variation over the world in the literacy rates which denotes the percentage of people age-group 15 and above who can, with understanding, both read and write a short, simple statement in their everyday life. Major factors affecting this rate are levels of economic development, urbanisation and standard of living, social status of females, availability of educational facilities and the policies of the government. Level of economic development is both a cause and a consequence of literacy. Table 3.2 shows the distribution of adult literates in different regions of the world. The developed and urban economies reflect higher literacy rate and higher standards of education. Low levels of literacy and education indicate rural-farm economies. It is only in the developing countries of the world today, that the literacy revolution is yet to take its shape where such differences occur more.


The economically active section of any population is generally, defined as ‘those who are engaged in remunerative occupation and who seek a livelihood in such occupations’. Children below working age, old people, retired persons, housewives and students, who are not engaged in economic pursuits for their livelihood are excluded from the ‘active’ population. The proportional distribution of this active population under specific economic activities is known as occupational structure. The United Nations has identified the following categories of occupations: agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing; mining and quarrying; manufacturing industry; construction; electricity, gas, water and health services; commerce; transport, storage and communication services; unclassified occupations.

This classification is essential for international comparisons but each country classifies its population in different occupational categories according to its own needs.

An alternative form of classification reduces the above categories to four major groups :

primary activities, including hunting, agriculture, forestry and fishing; secondary activities including manufacturing, power; and tertiary activities, including transport, communication and other services; and quaternary activities including more intellectual occupations, whose task is to think, research and develop ideas. The proportion of working population engaged in these activities vary significantly among different countries depending upon their levels of economic development. The proportion of working population is very high in primary activities, if the economy is less developed. As it moves forward, the proportion in secondary and then in tertiary increase gradually. In highly industrialised countries, the proportion of people employed in tertiary sector is more than 40-45 per cent. In the USA, it is more than 70 per cent. Statistics are not available for quaternary sector, but it is suggested that though it employs a small percentage at the moment, it is characterised by the highest income and a high degree of mobility.

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