Population Pyramid

Population Pyramid.

In an earlier article, we read about the horror tales of sterilizations during the 1975-77 emergency in India, initiated as a form of birth control programme  by Sanjay Gandhi:

Although birth control was highly relevant & necessary in India during 1970s, the way in which the project was mismanaged by Sanjay Gandhi’s team (explained in the above article) had infuriated the masses. At this juncture, it helps if we try to understand the role of population in a nation and how population growth can affect future prospects of a nation. It is a complex subject in sociology but I will try to keep it very simple using practical examples in this post and in the next post we shall find out how India fares in terms of population compared to other countries.

Lets begin with the basics of population analysis by taking up one of the most popular methodologies.
Among all the tools & methodologies used by sociologists to study the health and future prospects of a nation, “Population Pyramid” is the most powerful. It can be used to study the future prospects of a nation in terms of economy, birth & mortality rate, sustainability of society, predictions from health/economy perspective etc.

But what exactly does “Population Pyramid” mean?
Basically, its a graphical representation of the distribution of men & women of different ages over an axis. In its conventional form, X axis represents population while the Y axis represents age with left quadrant for male and right for female or vice versa.

population_pyramidThat is the “definition” of it, but a much simpler explanation would be to visualize the following experiment:
Imagine every male & female as a tiny particle of certain mass. The older they are, the lighter the particle is. (mass inversely proportional to age). Now take the entire population of a nation and pour it through a gigantic hourglass. The heavier particles (i.e young people) will settle at the bottom and the lighter ones (i.e older ppl) will be on the top. In usual cases there will be more youngsters than elders. So the shape that we end up with will be like a pyramid. Hence the name “Population Pyramid”.

In a typical developing nation, there would be more youngsters, giving an expanding model with a perfect pyramid structure. From a nation’s economy point of view it makes sense to have lesser old people because they are usually considered liabilities since they do not contribute to the economy and instead require more expenses in the form of medical bills etc (Sorry grandpa, we respect you a lot for your wisdom & age but economics is a strange subject and it does not know whom to respect and whom not to).

With due respect to the grandpas, lets look at the pyramid variants. (We love grandpas. They are the ones who inculcate moral & ethical values to kids and this way their contribution to the nation is multifold compared to anyone else).


As we see from the image, there are different types of pyramids.

  • Expanding pyramids are formed when birth rate & death rate are both high (which is the case of developing nation).
  • Stationary pyramids are due to higher life expectancy and a stable birth rate.
  • Contracting pyramids are a result of decreasing birth rates. (Can be due to govt policies like “We two, ours one”, or due to ambitious sterilization projects, or can be due to reasons like driving away immigrants and thereby reducing the younger population leading to a contracting pyramid).

No learning is complete without some practicals. Try some practical analysis using this website which has Australian pyramid and provides an interactive timeline slider to animate:

In the next part, we shall find out where India stands in comparison with other countries and what it actually means to India.

Part 2:

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