The media these days are rediscovering population dynamics and the subject of demography. The first real heyday for demography was probably in the 1960s and 1970s with the “discovery” of the global population problem. In recent decades, demographic behavior and demographic characteristics have received increased attention in the popular media. And the term demographics has seeped into our vocabulary. This is an encouraging sign. Forty-five years ago when I first began studying and teaching demography, the subject was nowhere near as recognized and discussed as it is today. Now, the importance of population change, in terms of size, composition, and distribution, has become increasingly relevant in policymaking at the local, state, national, and international levels. There is an increasing awareness not only of population growth and decline, but also of compositional change in age, sex, and racial identity.
Care must be taken, however, to evaluate the works of journalists and others who use, or fail to use, demographic data, and nevertheless comment about demography and its dynamics. It is very easy to make errors when reporting on and interpreting population behavior. Hopefully, readers of this book will become attuned to these types of errors, which seem to appear every so often in the popular media.
Population and Society: An Introduction to Demography is intended for undergraduate students, as well as graduate students, taking their first course in demography. It is sociologically oriented, although economics, political science, geography, history, and the other social sciences are also used to inform some of the materials I cover and discuss. While the emphasis is on demography, I well recognize that at the individual level, population change is related to private decisions, especially in relation to fertility but also to migration and even to mortality. I thus consider in some detail, early in the book, the role of individuals in population decision-making. At the level of countries, and even the world, changes in population size have an important effect on environmental and related challenges facing all the world's inhabitants. I often wonder why the media, when discussing issues such as global warming or immigration, tend sometimes to minimize the role of demography and demographic data and patterns.