Population is unevenly spread all over the world. You might have also observed this in your locality. Some places have low concentration of population whereas some areas have high concentration of population. In the world low concentration of population are found in deserts, dense forests, mountainous areas etc. Similarly, there are many areas like coastal and deltaic plains which have high concentration of population size. Why is it so? It is so because many factors affect the distribution of population over earth surface. The factors affecting population distribution may be broadly grouped under following categories.
- Physical factors
- Socio-economic factors
- Political factors
- Demographic factors
Let’s discuss each factor one by one.
Major physical factors that are responsible for uneven distribution of population are topography, climate and soil.
- Topography: People mostly prefer living on plain areas having gentle slopes. This is because such areas are favourable for agricultural activities, construction of roads and establishment of industries. On the other hand, the mountainous and hilly areas hinder the development of transport network. Whereas, the majority of land is unfavourable for agriculture and industrial development. Therefore, these areas tend to be less populated.
- Climate: An extreme climate is uncomfortable for human habitation. Whereas, the areas with a moderate climate, where there is not much seasonal variation attract more people. For instance, desert climate, permafrost regions, regions with very heavy rainfall etc. have low population. Mediterranean regions were inhabited from early periods in history due to their pleasant climate. But it is very difficult to identify the bench mark for moderate climate. However, there are many exceptions.
- Soils: Fertile soils are important for agricultural and allied activities. Therefore, areas having fertile soils have more people because these soil can support intensive agriculture.
- Water: It is important for human survival. Most of the ancient civilizations flourished near rivers and coastal regions. Water availability determines place’s suitability for habitation and lack of water signifies uninhabited regions. For example, desert areas show the low concentration of population whereas regions near rivers show high concentration of population.
Major socio-economic factors that acts as determinants for uneven distribution of population are availability of mineral resources, industrialisation, urbanisation, socio-cultural significance and political decision. Let us discuss them one by one.
- Availability of Mineral Resources: Areas with rich mineral deposits attract industries. Mining activities generate employment. So, skilled and semi-skilled workers move to these areas and make them densely populated. That is why mineral rich areas of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha has more population. These areas contained sparse population before the initiation of large scale mining activities.
- Industrialisation: Industries provide job opportunities and attract large numbers of people. These include not just factory workers but also transport operators, shopkeepers, bank employees, doctors, teachers and other service providers. The Kobe-Osaka region of Japan is thickly populated because of the presence of a number of industries.
- Urbanisation: Cities offer better employment opportunities, educational and medical facilities, better means of transport and communication. Better civic amenities and the quality of life attract people to the cities. It leads to rural to urban migration. This is a very common phenomena in most of the developing countries including India. Mega cities of the world continue to attract large number of migrants every year.
- War and political conflicts: They negatively affect population distribution. Population tend to live in safe and peaceful areas. Safer locations experience a sizeable population growth because of the inflow of migrants. A lot of male population was exterminated in Second World War.
- Political Decisions: Many times governments offer incentives to people to live in sparsely populated areas or move away from overcrowded places. For example, the once communist ruled USSR took a decision to shift people from densely populated areas namely Moscow-Leningrad region to Siberian region. Similarly, Chinese government has also made an attempt to decongest coastal region by shifting people to interior parts of the country. Therefore, policies encouraging migration have often led to population growth in the destination region.
The demographic factors are the characteristics of the population that have considerable influence on population distribution and settlement patterns. These include fertility and mortality trends, and migration. Fertility and mortality together influence the natural increase in a region. Over time, the differential growth rates, results of fertility and mortality, lead to changes in population density and distribution.
A combination of all these factors determine the concentration of population in a particular place. Therefore, it is very difficult to isolate major influence of any one factor on population distribution. Simultaneously, it is equally difficult to explain the complex interplay between various factors responsible for uneven distribution of population. As stated by Clark, our primary role as geographer is to explain this uneven distribution in terms of the influences of all the factors as an integral part of dynamic process (Clark, 1972:14)
Dr. Nisha is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi.