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Instructor’s Manual for Unit IX

Social Change and Population

By Caroline H. Persell, New York University, October 2008,

With earlier input from Margaret Andersen, University of Delaware, and Stephen F. Steele, Anne Arundel Community College

There is a virtual tour by Robert E. Wood.

An introduction and overview can be obtained from the unit page and the ASA Task Force Curriculum.

Processes that contribute to social change include demography, technology and diffusion, urbanization, environment, globalization, and social movements.


        The size, composition, movement, and changes in populations can be a major source of social changes. The U.S. Census publishes population clocks for the U.S. and for the world that show how populations are changing.

The Population Connection publishes a “History of Human Population Growth” table and graph of Human Population Growth Since 1 A.D.They also produce and sell a seven-minute video on world population.  Eight frames of the video are available for viewing on their website, including population in 1 AD; then in 1800 when the population reached the first billion, followed by the years in which the population reached each successive billion; and the closing frame at 2030, showing the 8.2 billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by then if current growth rates continue. They publish a useful Fact Sheet drawing on data from Population Reference Bureau (PRB), The World Bank, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and a fact sheet on Global Warming and the Population Factor. They publish a paper, ABSTINENCE ONLY EDUCATION: MISSING SOMETHING that discusses research on the effectiveness of abstinence only sex education programs.

World Population Density in 2000 has been mapped by the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN).  A question students might investigate is whether population density is correlated with incidents of violence in the world. The same data, broken into slightly different categories, looks even more concentrated.

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) has a wealth of graphic presentations in PowerPoint format, including World Population Growth through History, Projected Population Change by Country, Classic Stages of the Demographic Transition, and much more.  It also has lesson plans describing activities for student exploration of world population data.  One, using the PRF’s World Population Data Sheet , allows students to explore two questions: 1) What is the current population of the world?  2)  Rank, in descending order, the 10 countries with the largest population.  A second one, also using the World Population Data Sheet asks students to address the following questions:

    1. China and India have the largest populations in the world. Which of these two countries adds more people to its population annually? [Calculate the numbers added by applying the rate of natural increase to the population of each country. Hint: the rate is a percent]
    2. What proportion of the world's people live in Africa? In Asia? In North America? In Latin America? In Europe? In Oceania? What are the projected proportions by 2025 and 2050?  Construct a bar chart showing the regional distributions of the world's population for the current year, 2025, and 2050.  What trends are reflected in the bar chart?
    3. What proportion of the world's people live in less developed countries (LDCs) in the current year? In more developed countries (MDCs)?  What proportion of the world's people is projected to live in LDCs in 2025? In 2050? What proportion is projected to live in MDCs in 2025? In 2050?

Discuss as a class the economic and social implications of the changing proportions of the world's people in LDCs and MDCs.

4. Examine the crude birth rate, crude death rate, and rate of natural increase of any three countries listed on the World Population Data Sheet.

Discuss as a class the mathematical relationship among these three rates.

A third exercise helps students learn how to construct and interpret age sex population pyramids (graphs). All the reading materials, data, and worksheets are available online.  These include the booklet, Population: A Lively Introduction, in which author Joseph McFalls discusses the basic forces of demographic change — fertility, mortality, and migration — and common assessment measures. Also covered are how these three forces affect a population's size and growth rate, and how population projections are calculated; common demographic variables such as age, sex, and race/ethnicity; and issues and problems associated with population growth.


There is a Lesson Plan on the Causes and Consequences of Social Change by Margaret Andersen.

Abstracts to some sociological studies of internet use by Eszter Hargitaii can be found on her website.


An Environmental Racism Lesson Plan suggests how students can explore the topic of environmental racism.

The Draw a Map Exercise allows students to draw a map of their own neighborhood or campus and compare their perceptions with those of other students.

A Lesson Plan on Urbanization/Segregation describes how students can explore changes in neighborhood composition.

The world’s lights at night capture a sense of both where population density is highest and where energy consumption is greatest.

The World Resources Institute is working at the intersection of the environment and human needs. One of their foci is ecosystems and the goods and services they provide on the webpage called
Earthtrends. They examine the relationship between environment and rural poverty, for example.

A Discussion guide for Thomas Friedman's book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, offers possible questions for students to consider.


Globalization is the spread of economic and cultural activities beyond national boundaries, resulting from a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural and political forces. (Sources: Sheila L. Croucher. 2004. Globalization and Belonging: The Politics of Identity a Changing World. Rowman & Littlefield, p.10; Craig Calhoun (ed.) 2002. Dictionary of the Social Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 192.)

The United Nations publishes the World Development Reports on issues of human development around the world in the face of globalization.

Global Issues is a website produced by a single individual concerned about global matters.  It provides reports, videos, data, references and other materials on a variety of international concerns.

Thomas Friedman's book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, analyzes the tensions within traditional societies facing technological and social changes. The Discussion guide for Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat, offers questions for students to consider.

In the Theories of Social Change exercise, students are asked to connect theories of social change to globalization.

William Gamson and colleagues have developed a simulation called The Global Justice Game that is intended as a tool for the global justice movement to use in training activists and for critical pedagogy in teaching undergraduate courses on globalization issues. There is also a quicker, less complicated “Universities and Sweatshops” scenario available for free and without password protection.


NIH contains a wealth of data about health issues.

The Film And the Band Played On explores the outbreak of HIV/AIDS and the efforts to understand and contain it.


Collective Behavior and Social Movements Lesson Plan by Margaret Andersen.

Student exercise for collective behavior.

IM for Prior Unit