In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Population Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference and Data Resources
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Spatial Demography
  • Human Capital
  • Population Distribution
  • Composition and Change
  • Fertility
  • Segregation, Assimilation, and Enclaves
  • Population and Environment
  • Population and Development

Geography Population Geography
Rachel S. Franklin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0065


Population geography is traditionally understood to encompass the spatial variation and analysis of the demographic components of change: migration, fertility, and mortality. One statement that can be made without reservation is that the boundary between population geography and demography, sociology, or economics can be difficult to locate. The consensus is that demographers focus more on fertility research, whereas population geographers tend to focus on migration. Indeed, fertility research and segregation studies, to name another topic, have tended to be dominated by other disciplines, although this is changing. With the advent of more-sophisticated methods, in particular those related to geographical information systems (GIS) or remote sensing, and the ever-increasing availability of data at multiple spatial scales, the fundamental importance of space and geography has become more mainstream in population studies across the social sciences. This evolution is apparent in the development of a multidisciplinary subfield called spatial demography that is neither traditional population geography nor pure demography. As can be easily discerned by the citations included in this article, the core competency of population geographers is internal migration along with population distribution and composition. In the subfield of population and environment, geographers have made strong contributions in the area of land-use change, perhaps because of the geographers’ early comfort with remote sensing techniques.

General Overviews

Although population geography is, in the early 21st century, a well-established subfield of human geography, this was not always the case. Trewartha 1953 is recognized as the original call for the establishment of a population geography subfield within the discipline. Up until that point, population was of course a valuable element of geographic research, but it existed more as a descriptor or contextual variable in much of the analysis of the time. Since then, population geography has been the subject of a great deal of contemplation on the part of its practitioners. Zelinsky 1966 represents an early attempt to describe population geography. More-recent articles, such as Findlay and Graham 1991, Graham 2000, and Ogden 1998, not only provide some sense of what population geography consists of but also are good expressions of contemporaneous growing pains experienced by the subfield. Those seeking a pure description, or review, of what population geography research is will be best served by Gober and Tyner 2003, whereas those in search of basic historical context on world population change can do no better than Livi-Bacci 2007. The Livi-Bacci book will also be quite helpful to those seeking background information on some of the fundamental theoretical debates, such as Malthusian limits to population growth, that have framed population research over the past decades.

  • Findlay, Allan M., and Elspeth Graham. “The Challenge Facing Population Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 15.2 (1991): 149–162.

    A somewhat dated but still quite valid review piece on population geography’s relationship to the broader discipline of geography and to demography. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Gober, Patricia, and James A. Tyner. “Population Geography.” In Geography in America at the Dawn of the 21st Century. Edited by Gary L. Gaile and Cort J. Willmott, 185–199. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    This chapter of Geography in America provides brief but thorough coverage of the main streams of research in population geography. Like other chapters in this book, the chapter on population geography gives a thorough assessment of the research questions, methods, and theories in the field.

  • Graham, Elspeth. “What Kind of Theory for What Kind of Population Geography?” International Journal of Population Geography 6.4 (2000): 257–272.

    DOI: 10.1002/1099-1220(200007/08)6:4%3C257::AID-IJPG189%3E3.0.CO;2-#

    Population geography, like demography, has been criticized for an overemphasis on empirical work, to the detriment of theory development. Graham argues for more concentration on the latter. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Livi-Bacci, Massimo. A Concise History of World Population. 4th ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

    Not a book on population geography, per se, but an excellent survey of global population growth and change over time, as well as a knowledgeable guide to basic theories of population growth.

  • Ogden, Philip E. “Population Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 22.1 (1998): 105–114.

    DOI: 10.1191/030913298675423648

    One of a triumvirate of reviews by this author in this journal, this article assesses the landscape of population geography at a time when the subfield was experiencing a jolt of expansion. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Trewartha, Glenn T. “A Case for Population Geography.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 43.2 (1953): 71–97.

    An exhortation on the part of a former president of the Association of American Geographers (this was his presidential address) to give population its proper due in the overall discipline of geography. This piece is often cited as the origination of population geography as its own subdiscipline. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Zelinsky, Wilbur. A Prologue to Population Geography. Prentice-Hall Foundations of Economic Geography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966.

    One of the original efforts to offer an introduction to population geography as a subfield of geography. No longer current, but good for historical context.

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