The ratio of human survival and occupation of the planet has always been similar, but modern advancements have allowed those numbers to increase exponentially, so the difference has become more obvious.
According to our best estimates, 10,000 years ago, after the end of the last ice age, only a few million people lived on this planet. 9,000 years later, it was no more than 500 million. But now, just 1,000 years later, the population is soaring around the globe.
It seems normal for most people living today to say that the world’s population is about 7.2 billion, but by 2050, there could be 10 billion people crammed on this pale blue dot.
Shockingly, although there are 196 countries globally, a huge proportion of the world’s population lives in only two of them – India and China. In fact, 36% of people live in one of these two countries… but WHY?
How Humanity Spread Around The World
Humans have not always been particularly good at surviving, and the planet has not been the most hospitable place. After the last ice age, it took about 9,000 years for the population to rise from a few million to 300 million. According to forecasts, the world’s population after this late ice age was about 4 million on the planet.
After the initial spread of humanity from Africa, China and India proved to be two of the most hospitable places for hunting, gathering, agriculture and survival, mainly due to climatic conditions and available crop selection.
With more availability for agriculture and a healthy life, survival rates were higher, while more space and food meant that more babies could be born.
1,000 years ago, Asia definitely had more people, but there were only about a hundred million more than people in the rest of the world.
Babies were born all over the world, and mortality rates were relatively similar; many people did not survive even to childbearing age, which “kept the world’s population in check.” The inability to mass-produce food also made larger populations less viable.
Moreover, it is important to remember that wars and epidemics would have had much longer and larger effects in the past. The number of people was so much smaller, life was so much shorter, and birth conditions were scarce in many parts of the world.
Optimal Climatic Conditions And Geography
Environmental conditions and the world’s geography must have also been a major factor in this decline in population on the planet. There were vast areas of land that could not be inhabited, such as Antarctica and the Arctic Circle, and harsh deserts were there on every continent where agriculture could not grow.
Large mountain ranges, tropical rainforests, tundra, and high salinity areas did not provide an environment where plants could grow, and stable life was not an option. If these regions are eliminated, the vast land mass of the Indo-Chinese plateau remains one of the most uninterrupted and viable areas on the planet for growing crops.
Choosing agriculture was also a big decision; rice cultivation and consumption tend to have a larger population. A rice field produces much more calories than a wheat or corn field. However, rice cultivation is a difficult business, so larger families required a built-in workforce to produce a good harvest each year. Naturally, this resulted in more children and a society with a calorie capacity to feed more people.
Advances In Medical Science
Human medicine didn’t see many big advancements or improvements until around 1800s, when the world’s population rose to 1 billion for the first time, and we have not looked back since.
As advances happened in science and medicine and agricultural practices revolutionized the way we feed the world, people began to live longer, more and more children survived into childbearing age and had families of their own. The population grew – all over the world.
The rise of industry and large-scale agriculture meant that families could be much larger than in the past. The social impact of the urban-rural divide led to more complex societies, cities, and more people.
To this day, the advantage that Asia has enjoyed over the last 10,000 years has not disappeared.
If a third of the world’s population 1,000 years ago was centered in Asia, namely in China and India, it makes sense that about a third of the world’s population is still there today! Population growth dynamics and factors that allowed for larger families and more abundant food supplies are still present in these two populous nations.
Obviously, other social, cultural, religious and political factors play into this ultimately one-sided population, but the fact is that populations increase exponentially. Essentially, with a higher base level to begin within China and India, the population explosion of the past 200 years is more prominently seen there. As a prime example of our increasingly imbalanced planet, more than 51.5% of the world’s population exists in an Asian bubble that contains only 19 countries.
How well do you know about the population in China and India?
References (click to expand)
- Chang, T.-T. (1987, March). The Impact of Rice on Human Civilization and Population Expansion. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. Informa UK Limited.
- Coop, G., Pickrell, J. K., Novembre, J., Kudaravalli, S., Li, J., Absher, D., … Pritchard, J. K. (2009, June 5). The Role of Geography in Human Adaptation. (M. H. Schierup, Ed.), PLoS Genetics. Public Library of Science (PLoS).
- Ebeling, M. (2018, August 3). How Has the Lower Boundary of Human Mortality Evolved, and Has It Already Stopped Decreasing?. Demography. Duke University Press.
- (2013) World Population Growth - Our World in Data. Our World in Data