4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 2: Population >> Population and wellbeing

Population and wellbeing

'Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.'

Thomas Malthus, Essay on Principle of Population (1798)1

As can be seen from the words of Malthus, written over two centuries ago, people have long held concerns about the availability of global resources to meet the needs of a growing global population. Malthus was particularly concerned with potential food shortages arising from population growth, and this issue continues to be important today. However, the concern in modern times is also expressed in terms of other resources, such as fresh water, forests and fossil fuels, which under the pressure of population growth have come to be recognised as being in limited supply and in need of careful management if humans are to prosper.

Even within nations and regions in which there may be an abundance of resources, many social, political and economic problems have demographic change as one of their underlying causes or concerns. This is because population growth, and changes in structure and distribution, set up new pressures for providing resources needed to maintain human wellbeing. The extent to which competing needs for resources cannot be suitably satisfied impacts on individual wellbeing. The extent to which population pressure impacts on the environment and its life support systems also impacts on wellbeing.

For governments, businesses and others involved in providing resources to population groups, changes in the size, composition or geographic distribution of the groups are important because they present a large number of management issues concerned with meeting the groups' various resource needs. Predicting changes in population size and considering future needs and possibilities for meeting those needs can help with the development of strategies to enhance the wellbeing of individuals, the community at large, and the environment on which people depend.

There are other, often less tangible, matters that arise as a consequence of changes in population size and structure that can impact on wellbeing. This is a reflection of people's capacity to adapt to change, especially if change occurs at a rapid pace. For example, changes in the size of a town or region, either up or down, often driven by economic forces, can engender a sense of optimism or pessimism about the future and so affect people's sense of wellbeing. Similarly, changes in the composition of the population, in terms of the balance between men and women, between children, adults and elderly people, and between people with different cultural backgrounds, or different value systems, can lead to anxiety or tension impacting on the cohesion of society.

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