Technically, it’s the number of all the organisms of the same species or groups. So you can talk about the population of dogs in a certain city or the population of bees in a beehive. But in general, when we ask «What is the population of a certain country or city?» we usually mean the number of people in a certain country or city unless it’s specified otherwise.
The Importance of Population
Now that we know what «population» means, what does population mean to us, really? Why should we care?
It’s crucial to know this because the number of people in a given area, and in the world in general, has a tremendous impact on the world around us. More than any other species of plants and animals, it is we humans who have the greatest control and ability to modify the planet.
Keep in mind that each human alive will have certain needs, such as breathable air, potable water, and edible food. People also need shelter and space to live in. But how do we provide for these needs when the world’s resources are basically limited?
And that’s not even considering the other «needs» that modern humans demand. These include fuel, employment opportunities, and entertainment options. And humans also produce a lot of waste, so waste management becomes an important task.
In every town, city, state, or country, accurate population numbers are required. What is the population of the town or city? The answer indicates just how many roads, schools, sewers, and power plants are needed for the population. These are the immediate needs of politicians and bureaucrats.
But when you take the long view, the picture becomes a bit more problematic. As the population grows, so does the need for food. Yet food production is not keeping up. Humans cut down trees and damage the soil, and they keep on expanding to previously agricultural areas. That’s why there are more than 3 billion malnourished people in the world.
So in reality, the population is a problem that needs to be solved. The problem is that the answers aren’t going to be easy to figure out, and current population controls are not always easy to administer either. For example, even though China has a 1-child policy, its population is still growing.
So how do we address the issue of population? According to just about every expert on the subject, we have more people now than we have resources for them, and the population figures are slated to rise in the near future.
The sharp increase in population is evident when you look at the more recent figures. What is the population of the world in 1965? It was just half that of the 2014 population. The number of people in the world right now is 4 times greater than the world population in 1910, and 10 times greater than it was in 1730.
Quite a few novels and movies envision a disease or a catastrophe that will cause a lot of deaths. They’re thinking of something like the Black Death in Europe which is regarded by most historians as the worst natural disaster in human history. In Europe, it killed off a third of the population in many places, and in some areas the mortality rate was 50% or even 60%.
This is of course a rather inhumane way of solving the problem, so it’s not actually right that we side with «eco-terrorist» scenarios in which a disease is intentionally crafted to solve the population problem.
Then there are those who envision a massive colonization of space. This is quite a popular scenario in science fiction such as Star Trek, Dune, and the Foundation series. We can grow our numbers without any limits because space is infinite. We can just colonize different worlds and then have people migrate there, just as here on Earth people have migrated to places where the native population is small.
Again, we have to face reality and see that there’s no real effort being made to go in this direction. The last time a human stepped on the moon, it was in 1972. Supposedly NASA has some plans for space exploration by humans in the future, but budget constraints may be too difficult to overcome to make these plans into reality.
Some people think that we still have lots of space left. Let the population grow, they think, because they can just set up new towns and cities in these places.
But much of those spaces are unoccupied for good reasons. For one, these spaces may not be habitable. It may be too cold, too dry, or just too rocky. Another reason is that the land may be used in order to provide for the needs of the population. We need farmland to produce food, and forests to produce oxygen and wood. Already forests are being cut down at an alarming rate, and it’s not doing much good for the environment – and for us.
So what’s left? The only viable solution right now is birth control. If the key to controlling population growth is to balance out the number of births and deaths, then the only answer left to us is to limit the number of births to match the mortality rate.
There are several ways to do this. Some countries have tried governmental laws and incentives to limit the number of births. But of course, many object to this as a violation of human rights. Others cite religion or culture as a reason why people can’t be forced not to procreate and have too many children.
The alternative is to boost educational programs so that people become aware that overpopulation is a problem. When they ask «What does population mean?» they have to recognize that it means a more problematic situation for the generations of humans to follow us.
In general, greater education is good for population control. Many studies all over the globe have demonstrated that if a child stays in school for a longer period, they tend to end up with fewer children. It is the dropouts who tend to have more kids as a whole.
Students can also be taught certain truths regarding questions such as «what is population?» They can learn that when families are smaller, then each child can have more family resources. A couple’s combined paycheck can only stretch so much, so a child or a couple of children can get more clothes, food, and books than if a family has 10 children.
As the students grow older, they may also understand how their country can benefit from having fewer people and fewer children to drain the limited resources in the land. Not every country is the US, and in some countries the limited resources are a constant problem for government authorities.
How is the Population Counted?
Obviously, no one has really done a proper count as to how many people there are in the world right now. What we can do is to take a reputable organization such as the US Census Bureau and trust its data and projections.
The Census Bureau gets its data from the regular censuses, surveys, and administrative records. It also then gets the data regarding birth rates, mortality rates, and migration patterns to produce its population estimates.
So right now the US Census Bureau estimates that there are more than 7.25 billion people in the world, and it is increasing quite rapidly. There are more births than deaths, so every minute we add about 140 more people to the population number. That’s more than 200,000 people every day, and more than 70 million more every year.
To give you an idea of just how many 70 million really is, imagine this: the combined population of California, Texas, and Washington State suddenly appears every year in the world.
The World’s Most Populous Nations
- 1. China – 1,361,512,535
- 2. India – 1,251,695,584
- 3. United States – 321,362,789
- 4. Indonesia – 255,993,674
- 5. Brazil – 204,259,812
- 6. Pakistan – 199,085,847
- 7. Nigeria – 181,562,056
- 8. Bangladesh – 168,957,745
- 9. Russia – 142,423,773
- 10. Japan – 126,919,659
While these numbers seem eerily exact, they are still projections and estimates. Curiously, the top 7 countries with the greatest populations combine for a total of 3,775,472,297. The rest of the world only has 3,489,151,496.
Most Populous US States
The most recent US Census Bureau stats have the top 10 list of most populous states unchanged from the year before, except for a couple or ranking changes. Florida moved past New York for the #3 spot, while North Carolina overtook Michigan to place #9.
For the most part, these most populous states have a lot of votes in the US Electoral College. The number of votes they have corresponds to the population numbers according to the 2010 census, and they’re effective up to the 2020 presidential elections:
Here’s the complete list, with population numbers and electoral votes:
- 1. California. 38,802,500 with 55 votes
- 2. Texas. 26,956,958. with 38 votes
- 3. Florida. 19,893,297 with 29 votes
- 4. New York. 19,746,227 with 29 votes
- 5. Illinois. 12,880,580 with 20 votes
- 6. Pennsylvania. 12,787,209 with 20 votes
- 7. Ohio. 11,594,163 with 18 votes
- 8. Georgia. 10,097,343 with 16 votes
- 9. North Carolina. 9,943,964 with 15 votes
- 10. Michigan. 9,943,964 with 16 votes
To become president, a candidate needs 270 votes out of the 538 Electoral College votes needed. Winning the popular votes in all these states combines for a total of 255 votes already. Add New Jersey’s 14 votes plus any other another state, and you have a winner.
So what does population mean in terms of politics? It means that by winning 51% of the vote in just a dozen states, a candidate can be president. As long as you get the most populous ones, then you have greater chances of winning.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. Some states traditionally vote for a particular party. California, New York and Illinois have voted Democrat since the Reagan years. Texas is Bush country, and has been a Republican Party stronghold since 1980.
California exemplifies the power of a particular increase in demographics. This is the population of a certain group of people. From 1958 to 1988, it has voted Republican almost every time. But since the 1992 elections, it has given its massive 55 votes to the Democrats. In 2008 and 2112, Barack Obama beat his Republican opponents in California by a 23% margin.
And the reason for that is the increase in the Latino population. Add the fact that it also has the highest Asian population in the country, and it’s easy enough to figure out why they would vote for a political party with a better reputation for racial tolerance and inclusivity.
So what does population mean? It means that population affects just about everything. It affects the quality of life of every person in the world, and as our numbers grow our impact has driven many species into extinction. We put up more factories and drive more cars for the needs of more people, and we pollute the air. We cut down the forests, and we affect climate change.
Population numbers affect politics and government policies. It’s a major factor in economics and employment. Crimes rates are higher where people congregate. Sciences such as agriculture are developing to keep up with the current demand.
Finally, it’s important that we realize that we need to slow down the birth rate to match the mortality rate. People should get the assistance they need when they are unemployed, sick, or old. The younger generations should get a basic education, and this is especially true for girls and women. And people should also have access to health care, and especially to family planning services.
It’s estimated that by 2050 we may have as many as 9 billion people in the world, and some experts are thinking that it will stabilize by the time we reach 12 billion people. But outside the US, billions are already suffering from a lack of resources. We can’t wait for these numbers to grow. We have to act now.