Population and technological change: a study of long-term trends

Boserup E
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill., United States, 1981. xi, 255 p.

It is generally agreed that changes in technology had an important influence on population size, but opinions are divided concerning the type of technological change which had the greatest influence in different periods and regions of the world. The influence of population size on technology has attracted less attention. During early stages of human history some inventions seem to have been transmitted relatively quickly over huge distances while others were transmitted more slowly; much of the world population lives in areas still at early stages of the industrial revolution. Demographic factors help to explain why some technologies fail to be transmitted; certain technologies are inapplicable in areas with a small population, others require high population density. Demographic factors also provide motivation for invention; radical changes in the relation between human and natural resources occur in areas with high population growth rates. A growing population gradually exhausts natural resources and is forced to reduce its numbers by emigration or change its use of resources. Major migrations of populations are likely to be accompanied by important technological changes. In the 1st part of this study an attempt is made to draw up limits for different techniques of food supply. Part 2 discusses population size and technological levels in the ancient world, emphasizing the beginnings of food production and the appearance of urbanization. In ancient times high population size and high technology went together since large labor forces were needed to undertake construction and transportation. Part 3 discusses the interrelations between demographic trends and technological change in the period of preindustrial urbanization in Europe, focusing on increasing shortages of forest areas for cutting timber and fuel wood and for producing the charcoal necessary to smelt iron ore. Part 4 considers the centuries after 1750 when industrial technologies were transmitted from Western Europe to other parts of the world. Until then areas with low population density were unable to reach technological levels as high as areas with high density. After 1950 rates of population growth accelerated because mortality but not fertility declined rapidly. Rapid increases in world population were accompanied by rapid technological change, resulting in radical changes in the pattern of international trade and factor proportions.

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