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CHAPTER 4: Fundamentals of Population Geography (de Blij & Murphy)

Population Notes

CHAPTER 4:  Fundamentals of Population Geography (de Blij & Murphy)


1)       World’s population is growing @ 90 million/yr., bulk is in poorer countries

2)       World’s 3 largest population concentrations in Eurasia , the smallest is the most developed and urbanized

3)       Population data often are unreliable due to cost and organizational challenges of census taking

4)       Population density can be measured on the basis of several different criteria, revealing contrasting aspects in demography


I)                    Population Geography – deals with growth, composition, and distribution of people in relation to spatial variations in physical and cultural geographic conditions.

Demography – study of patterns and rates of population change, including birth & death rates, migration trends, and evolving population patterns (population geography).

Today’s World Population


Area (%)

Pop (%)







N. Am.



S. Am.












II)                 Key Issues in Population Geography:

A)     Population growth

1)       Environments and natural resources strained by needs of mushrooming population

2)       Population has increased fourfold from its level a hundred years earlier

B)      Food supply

1)       1960’s – population growth outrunning rate of increase in grain harvests (malnutrition & hunger seemed imminent)

2)       1970’s – advances in technology; higher-yielding strains of rice, wheat,…

3)       1990’s – combination of population growth and changing eating habits (more meat) could lead to a global crisis (feed grains rather than food grains)

C)      Health

1)       Rapidly growing populations can produce reservoirs of disease (e.g. remote equatorial areas)

2)       Other aspects (infant and child mortality rates) are matters of concern (mostly in poorer nations)

- Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – higher in poorer nations (further strains economies, families)

D)     Status of women

1)       Statistics often fail to reflect differences between men and women. ( Afghanistan ’s literacy rate: 31% total; 47% male, 15% female)

2)       When governments that instituted measures to reduce population growth, the impact fell disproportionately on females (e.g. China : infant girls abandoned, malnourished, deprived of medical care; Afghanistan - women denied opportunities available to men (Taliban))

E)      Migration

1)       Immigration sometimes adds more total population than natural increase

2)       Governments have tried to limit immigration with meager success

3)       Major population movements may occur within a country (e.g. ethnic conflict, civil war, impovershment in rural areas,…)

F)       Reliability of Data

1)       Census and population data are based on careful assessments, yet are inherently unreliable; cost, organization, and reporting are major obstacles

2)       Data collected by UN, Census Bureaus, World Bank, Pop. Reference Bureau, …

III)               Elements of Population Geography

A)     Population and Space

1)       Humanity has always been unevenly distributed over the land, contrasts have intensified (e.g. China : majority of population in fertile areas, whereas other areas still remain largely empty).

2)       Mushrooming urbanization (rural, farm-based areas transformed into urban, trade-based areas) dominant theme of 20th century and beyond.

B)      Population Distribution and Density

1)       Distribution – the arrangement of something across Earth’s surface, where individuals or groups (depending on scale) live

a)       Dot Map – best representation

b)       No country has an evenly distributed population

2)       Density – number of people per unit area

a)       Arithmetic population density – total number of people divided by the total land area

1)       US: 71/sq. mi.  Bangladesh : 2,478/sq. mi.

2)       Subject to error; does not take account of clustering

b)       Physiologic density – number of people per unit of area of arable land (suitable for agriculture)

1)       Egypt : 180/sq. mi. – physiologic: >9,000/sq. mi. (98% of pop. occupy 3% total area)

2)       Subject to error; farmlands of different productivity

IV)               Major Population Concentrations: East Asia , South Asia , Europe (>4 billion out of >6 billion)

A)     East Asia – highest concentration; China , Japan , North and South Korea

1)       One quarter of world’s population (~1.5 billion)

2)       Pop. density declines from coastal zone toward interior

3)       Ribbon-like extensions of dense population (clustered near rivers; majority of people are farmers)

B)      South Asia – second major concentration; India , Pakistan , Bangladesh , Sri Lanka

1)       1.5 billion

2)       Ribbon (finger)-like extensions of dense population (e.g. Ganges River in India ), majority are farmers

3)       Region marked by physical barriers: Himalaya Mts., desert west of Indus River Valley in Pakistan

C)      Europe – third major concentration; Britain to Russia, including Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Netherlands, Belgium, parts of France, northern Italy

1)       700 million

2)       Ribbon-like extension deep into Russia ( Europe ’s coal fields, not fertile river valleys)

3)       Comparatively dense populations in mountainous, rugged areas ( Poland and southern area)

4)       Includes numerous cities & towns (Industrial Revolution; Germany – 85% urban, UK - >90%)

D)     North America – a far fourth; east-central US and southeastern Canada

1)       <200 million

2)       Like Europe , much is concentrated in major cities

3)       Megalopolis – huge urban agglomeration; Boston to Washington (Bosnywash; including New York , Philadelphia , Baltimore )

E)      Other Concentrations and Considerations

1)       Southeast Asia – Indonesian island of Jawa (120 million)

2)       North Africa – Nile Valley and Delta

a)       Pattern of agglomeration resembles Asia , not dimensions

3)       Level of Technology – increases a country’s ability to support population

a)       Japan – 126 million; technology, industry, valuable exports

b)       Australia – could not support tens of millions of Chinese farmers, could support tens of millions of Japanese (and many more)