This chapter discusses the significance of population, cities, and the natural environment
on human behaviour. Although the stress of overpopulation on the environment is viewed as an
urgent social problem, it is not a recent concern. Thomas Malthus, writing in the eighteenth
century, warned against the dangers of overpopulation and proposed checks against population
Sociologists have also examined the impact of city life on social relationships. Émile
Durkheim, an early functionalist, suggested that the relationships among people who live in rural
areas are characterized by mechanical solidarity, whereas the relationships of people in urban-
industrial society are marked by organic solidarity.
Critical sociologists maintain that urban social problems such as poverty and
homelessness are the result of capitalism. These problems are likely to continue as members of
the dominant group have no vested interest in preventing them from happening.
In their studies of city life, symbolic interactionists, on the other hand, study how people
experience city life on an everyday basis.
Sociologists have also studied environmental problems, although the focus depends on
the theoretical paradigm employed. Functionalist theorists note the importance of cultural
ideologies that support ecologically harmful practices, while critical theorists note that
environmental problems disproportionately affect the poor more than the rich. Symbolic
interactionists emphasize how the meanings and thought patterns learned in social interaction
affect environmental problems.
In this chapter, you will
• learn the effects of population size and type on life experiences;
• consider the interrelationship between the natural and built environments in which we
• recognize the problematic relationship between population and environment.
bedroom suburb: A residential area near a large city that provides housing and services for
people who each day commute into the downtown urban area. 2
cohort: A set of people with a common origin or starting point; birth cohort—a set of people
born in the same year or set of years.
demography: The study of human populations—their growth and decline through births, deaths,
environmental geography: The systematic study of the interaction between humans and the
surrounding natural world, focusing on the human impact on the environment and vice versa.
human capital: A skill or skill set, usually including educational attainment or job-related
experiences, that enhances a worker’s value on the job; the result of foregone income and a long-
term investment in personal improvement.
human geography: The systematic study of the location of human enterprises and
characteristics; for example, health, education, commerce, and trade.
megacity: A geographic locale with a large concentrated population, sometimes defined as
exceeding 5 million people (also, megalopolis or megapolis).
population composition: The makeup or mix of different social types in a population; for
example, the different numbers of men and women, old and young people.
population pyramid: A graphic depiction of the age–sex composition of a population.
Dobkowski, M. N., & Wallmann, I. (eds.) (2002). On the Edge of Scarcity: Environment,
Resources, Population, Sustainability, and Conflict. New York: Syracuse University Press.
This collection of essays deals with an important topic in the study of population since its
formulation by Thomas Malthus in the nineteenth century: vital resource shortage. This topic
is unsettling yet realistic, as the world population continues to grow and consumption habits
have not changed. The problems of rising population and resource depletion are considered
with reference to the social conflicts they will cause.
Dunlap, R., Buttel, F., Dickens, P., & Gijswijt, A. (eds.) (2002). Sociological Theory and the
Environment: Classical Foundations, Contemporary Insights. Lanham, MD: Rowaman and
This is an overview of sociological theories of the environment, both classic and modern. It
discusses the major themes in environmental sociology today, including globalization,
urbanization, the rising world population, resource consumption, and more. 3
Dyson, T., Cassen, R., & Visaria, L. (eds.) (2004). Twenty-first Century India: Population,
Economy, Human Development and the Environment. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
This book outlines the population and development of India with recent data. Population in
India is growing at an unprecedented rate, and the authors undertake the complicated task of
analyzing data and applying it to society to determine how the large increase in people will
impact urbanization, education, health care, employment, poverty, economy, and the
Goodwin, S. (2006). Africa’s Legacies of Urbanization: Unfolding Saga of a Continent. Lanham,
MD: Lexington Books.
This book is a modern consideration of the rapidly urbanizing African continent. Avoiding
Eurocentric assumptions about urban development in African countries, it examines the
complex history, ecology, anthropology, and geography of this diverse area.
Hughes, E. C. (2009). French Canada in Transition. New York: Oxford University Press.
During the Depression, Hughes, of the Chicago School, did a study of the rapid
industrialization of a small French-Canadian community. His ethnographic analysis
uncovered trends and underlying conflicts that would later escalate in the events of the ‘Quiet
Revolution’ of the 1960s. It provides a valuable insight into the development of Canada and
remains one of the most important founding works in Canadian sociology.
Ness, G. D., & Low, M. M. (eds.) (2002). Five Cities: Modelling Asian Urban Population:
Environment Dynamics. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
This book examines the dynamic relationship between population growth and ensuing
change in the urban environment. As the title suggests, it focuses on five small-scale cities in
Asia. Each is described and analyzed in a case study that outlines its urban development. The
focus on smaller cities is useful, since most of the future population will live in such cities
and therefore this is also where most urban development will take place.
United Nations Population Division
Population Reference Bureau
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The David Suzuki Foundation
Earth Day Canada
The Sustainability Report
Population Action International (pai)
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The study of human populations—their growth and decline through births, deaths, and
migration—is known as
a) social epidemiology.
b) demographic transition theory.
c) social ecology.
2. According to Thomas Malthus, which of the following is a preventive check on population
3. According to Thomas Malthus, __________ is a positive check on population growth?
d) all of the above 5
4. It is estimated that the world’s current population is
a) 2.4 billion.
b) 4.6 billion.
c) 6.9 billion.
d) 9.3 billion.
5. The contention that recent famines are a result of improper land use, civil wars, and other
social and political factors is representative of the __________ approach.
b) critical theoretical
6. Functionalists attribute urban problems such as homelessness and poverty to
a) growth and specialization.
b) the size, variety, and fluidity of cities.
c) the workings of capitalism.
d) Both a and b are correct.
7. Zero population growth occurs when
a) women in developing countries widely adopt the use of effective contraception.
b) immigration rates exceed birth rates.
c) births are exactly balanced by deaths.
d) no births are recorded in a single country over the space of one year.
8. The lives of people living in pre-industrial communities were often interconnected in a tight,
homogeneous social order, which Durkheim called
a) organic solidarity.
b) traditional solidarity.
c) pre-industrial solidarity.
d) mechanical solidarity.
9. According to Durkheim, urban society is based on interdependent, though not necessarily
intimate, relationships, which he called 6
a) mechanical solidarity.
b) organic solidarity.
c) social solidarity.
d) inter-related solidarity.
10. Which of the following statements regarding the critical theoretical approach to urban
problems such as homelessness and poverty is not true?
a) Urban problems can be attributed to the size, variety, and fluidity of cities.
b) Solving urban problems requires more than providing affordable housing.
c) Urban problems are the result of capitalism.