Comparing Human Population Trends

Diane I. Doser, University of Texas at El Paso, The
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This activity uses demographic information from the United Nations publication "World Population Prospects" to explore the differences in population trends for the United States to Uganda including overall population growth, distribution of population versus age, life expectancy, and fertility rate. Demographic information for numerous other countries is available in the United Nations' publication to allow students to explore the variations in trends for other countries. Students also evaluate factors that could lead to observed changes in population growth and the assumptions made for predicting population variation.

Keywords: human population change, human demographic information

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This activity has been used three times in a college freshman level "Introduction to Environmental Science" course that is primarily offered for non-science majors. The in-class activity takes about 30-40 minutes to complete. Enrollment in the course was about 120 students/class and the class was divided into groups of 3-4 students who worked on activities throughout the semester. This activity could also be used as an individual take-home activity. The activity allows the students to practice reading age structure curves as well as graphs depicting life expectancy and fertility rate.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have had an introduction to reading age structure curves and understanding their shapes (e.g. growing, declining, stable population). They also should have been introduced to the concept of total fertility rate (TFR) and that a stable population has a TFR of 2.1. I give the students a quiz on reading age structure curves prior to starting the activity.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone activity following a chapter on human population growth. It occurs about the 6th week of the semester and students have been working in groups on activities during every class period for about 5 weeks.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

- Interpret age structure curves to determine if the population in a country is increasing, decreasing or stable.
- Use graphs to evaluate a country's fertility rate, life expectancy and infant mortality.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

- Consider possible reasons why population growth differs in different countries.
- Evaluate different models and assumptions made for predicting change in population.

Other skills goals for this activity

Involves working in groups.

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity is based on demographic data published by the United Nations that is updated every 2-3 years The particular example compares the United States to Uganda, but many similar comparisons can be made using available data for other countries.

The pdf files contain the 2015 age structure curves and other demographic information for Uganda and the USA that are used in the activity. The word documents contain the actual activity and the key to the activity.
demographic data for Uganda (Acrobat (PDF) 330kB May22 17)
demographic data for US (Acrobat (PDF) 360kB May22 17)
Human Population Trends (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 21kB May22 17)
Human Population Trends - answer key (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 22kB May22 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Most in-class questions were related to a lack of knowledge about living conditions in Uganda and a history of Uganda events that could relate to high mortality rates (such as genocide, AIDS epidemic, tropical diseases, lack of sanitation and freshwater).


Assessments were based on the completed activity sheet. Students were also tested on their ability to read/understand similar age structure graphs on quizzes and exams.

References and Resources

The activity makes extensive use of the publically available: World Population Prospects, 2015 Revision, Volume II: Demographic Profiles, United Nations, This publication contains demographic data for a considerable number of other countries that could be used to expand the activity.