Demography on campus

Shannon Roberts
16 February 2014
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

Demographic issues are increasingly being recognised as important around the world. In the time that we have been writing this blog, there has been a clear shift in the headlines from gloomy predictions of the end of the world as we know it due to overpopulation, to an increased awareness that our fertility rates are actually below replacement rate in the Western world - and increasingly everywhere else - and the economic and social consequences this shift could bring. It's an interesting study in media headline 'fads' and the extent to which people buy into them. Is the media reporting or creating the news?!

Something else I have noticed is an increasing number of universities offering demography courses to undergraduate students. For example, the University of Cornell in the United States has just added demography as an undergraduate minor this semester.

To recap exactly what 'demography' is, according to Prof. Sharon Sassler of the University of Cornell, demography is a broad field that focuses on "the study of populations, how they grow, move [and] change,". She considers the course is particularly relevant to those interested in working in government, public policy or business fields. The website also adds that:

In today's rapidly changing society, a strong understanding of population is a valuable tool for making sense of the social and economic phenomena that affect our lives and our societies…Demography provides information, for example, on the size and composition of consumer markets, labor markets, the electorate, and groups in receipt or need of social services.

Here in New Zealand, demographic issues are also being regarded as important enough to justify university research and study. However, interestingly, those studies are not about how to curb over-population, but instead how to find solutions to population decline. For example, Professor Natalie Jackson of Waikato University talks about her current study on the university's website:

"...while we have economic cycles, we do not have demographic cycles and that can be difficult for people to accept. We're providing the evidence base for them. This is a new and permanent reality. Overall growth is coming to an end."

Professor Jackson says immigration is no quick fix. "Immigrants grow old too, and apart from some small sectors, many immigrants have few children because they come here to work, under the business skills visa category, while the large numbers of international students who come here do not come to reproduce."

She says once they've finished assessing the trigger data, they will then work on what can be done in the planning and policy development to promote community survival and well-being.

It is interesting that such issues are being regarded seriously enough for studies of this sort to be done. The need to promote 'community survival' sounds a little alarming! Of course, instead of going back to university to study demography, you could just keep on reading our blog.