Population Composition

You probably know the rough size of your country's population, but do you know much about its population composition? Populations are comprised of a variety of different people, with varying ages, genders, ethnicities, levels of education, and relationship statuses. This is known as population composition, i.e., the breakdown of characteristics in a population. These components of the population are used in a variety of ways and are critical in understanding the different methods of which society functions in. Let's take a look.

Population Composition Population Composition

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Table of contents

    Population Composition Definition

    Population composition breaks down where and how people live. This is critical in order to gain knowledge of cultural, political, health, and economic patterns of society across the globe.

    Population composition is the different characteristics within a population that can describe a population.

    Population composition allows the comparison, analysis, and prediction of factors within populations such as death rates and growth rates. This is because population composition provides a structured way of viewing a population, which can help governments make decisions regarding planning in a country, as well as whether to enforce changes to populations via population policies. The composition of a population allows us to gain an understanding of the population.

    Elements of Population Composition

    Essentially, population composition involves everything and anything that can be labelled within society. The main elements of population composition are age, sex, and ethnicity. Let's break down each of these elements further:

    Population Composition ElementExplanation
    AgeAge is one of the major elements of population composition. Different age groups of a population can be divided into three categories: child (0-14 years old), adult (15-64) and elder (65 years old and above). The child age group and elder age group combined makeup the dependents of a population. The dependency ratio (the number of dependents in a population) is a major tool used when comparing data regarding age.

    Sex is also a major element of population composition. The sex ratio (the number of males to females within a population), is used to represent the difference in the number of males to females within a population.

    EthnicityEthnicity is measured by ethnic groups that share cultural and historical backgrounds.Ethnicity is not the same as race.
    Distribution and DensityThis is how "spread out" a population is. It shows the spatial pattern between the size of the place and the size of the population.
    WealthWealth can inform other characteristics in a population, such as education and spatial distribution. It also examines thewealthiest or poorest within a population.
    EducationEducation is measured to see the different levels of education within a population.
    Marital StatusMarriage status shows the different relationship statuses of members within a population.
    FertilityFertility is the number of live births in a population. It is often measured per 1000 women of childbearing age, which is usually 15-44 years of age.
    MortalityThe mortality within a population shows the average number of deaths, and average life expectancy, but can also show growth in a population when combined with fertility.

    Types of Population Composition

    The data from the various characteristics of population composition can be presented in population pyramids. Age structure and sex ratio can be analyzed and mapped across a variety of scales to show patterns within populations.

    Population Composition, Population Pyramid Using Age and Sex, StudySmarter

    Fig 1. Population Pyramid Using Age and Sex.

    Age and sex are the two most common elements that are combined in population pyramids. Ultimately, population pyramids are charts that show these factors and therefore show patterns of change within populations, including population growth and population decline.

    Check out our explanation of Population Pyramids to gain a more in-depth understanding.

    Population Composition Examples

    Within society, population composition is used in a variety of ways.

    • Politics – to advise targeted campaigns.
    • Science – in research questions and answers.
    • Marketing – in advertisement.
    • Government and policymakers – preparing for the future.

    Population composition can also contribute to viewing any changes in the population. The various factors that makeup population composition (as stated above), can be monitored to see where the shifts in a population have occurred, if any. A worldwide Census is conducted in order to collect the data composition of a population. A Census includes a series of questions regarding yourself that are asked to the public. The data collected tells the government the overall composition of the population. This allows the government to check for any trends and any changes in trends when compared to the previous Census, which can help the government decide how to distribute funding and services across the nation.

    Importance of Population Composition

    Population composition can allow geographers to portray and analyze populations. As stated earlier, this can be done mostly through data regarding age, sex, and ethnicity, but how is this useful? What is the importance of population composition?

    Firstly, it is key for all countries to know their population composition. This is because it can help to organize how much infrastructure and services (such as roads, schools, hospitals, homes, and jobs) the country needs. Essentially, the composition of a population is useful for the purpose of planning for its present needs, but also for future needs.


    Age is key in population composition because it has such a large impact on socioeconomic policies. It can allow the government to make decisions regarding the economy. The dependency ratio is used to indicate how much economic stress will occur in a country. Typically, youthful populations are less economically developed, whereas aging populations are more developed. This is because youthful populations have high fertility rates and consequently high numbers of children who do not work. Whereas, in more developed countries due to high-quality services, such as health care, there is a higher life expectancy which means people can remain in the workforce for longer.


    Understanding gender across a population is important for development. This is because, in some countries, gender norms and patriarchal structure exists to the extent that opportunities and lifestyles are completely dependent upon gender. Referring to data regarding the sex ratio of a country can help to navigate social pressures and effects on different genders within a country. Typically, a country with a higher proportion of one gender is likely to suffer more due to these social pressures and factors.

    Sex is generally the biological features of a person, which compromise of male and female. Whereas, gender is the expression and how the person identifies. Gender also includes societal norms and structures expected by people within the world.

    A population is typically expected to be around 1:1 male to female. However, often there are naturally a slightly higher number of males. This is because female mortality is slightly higher than male mortality in the womb throughout the pregnancy. Occasionally, the sex ratio can be skewed, with significantly higher amounts of males compared to females, for example in China. Males in China are seen as the main economic providers of the family, therefore many families preferred a male child over a female child during China's One Child Policy.


    Gaining an understanding of ethnicity can help to combat any problems of inequality. Data regarding ethnicity can help identify issues in the economy, particularly in health care. This is because ethnicity can present socioeconomic positions of people, which can affect access to health care. Additionally, racism can affect health care access and quality. It is also important as it can influence sociopolitical factors, particularly in nations that are very ethnically diverse.

    Sri Lanka is very ethnically diverse, with a variety of different ethnic groups. Politics is also ethnically based. This means that decisions regarding political choices are made by people within Sri Lankan society, depending on their ethnic group. Thus highlighting the importance of understanding ethnicity in a population.

    Population Composition, A Map Showing the Various Ethnic Groups of Sri Lanka, StudySmarterFig 2. A Map Showing the Various Ethnic Groups of Sri Lanka.

    Other Factors

    The other factors that also contribute to population composition are also significant due to their influence of economic, political, and social factors. For example, education and marital status can impact the economy and politics. Distribution and density can affect the social relationships in society. And, wealth can impact the economy, society, and politics. Each of these elements of population composition does this in different ways. However, through the collection of population composition data, governments can plan ways in which the distribution of wealth, infrastructure, and services is received throughout a population. As well as monitoring the population in general in order to detect if population policies are required. This would be implemented if a population is considered too young, or too old, and therefore impacts the economy of the country.

    Check out our explanation of Population Policies for more on this matter.

    Population Composition - Key takeaways

    • Population composition refers to the various characteristics that make a population.

    • Age, sex, and ethnicity are the three major elements of population composition.

    • The remaining population composition elements include distribution and density, wealth, education, marital status, fertility, and mortality.

    • Age and sex are the two elements that tend to be combined the most to be used in data such as population pyramids, which can help evaluate population growth and population decline.

    • Population composition is important because the data helps in planning a country's requirements and needs.


    1. Fig 1. Population Pyramid Using Age and Sex. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Population_pyramid_1_(triangle).PNG) by Imoen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Imoen) licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Population Composition

    What is population composition?

    Population composition is what comprises a population, including age, sex, and ethnicity.

    What are the three types of population composition?

    The three types of population composition include age, sex, and ethnicity. 

    What are the elements of population composition?

    The elements of population composition are age, sex, ethnicity, size, distribution and density, wealth, fertility, mortality, education, and marriage status. 

    What are the three important attributes of population composition?

    The three important attributes of population composition are age, sex, and ethnicity. 

    Why is population composition important?

    Population composition is important because it helps predict socioeconomic trends, which can help decide what planning and services are required in a population.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What can cause a population pyramid to change shape?

    What is measured in a population pyramid?

    If you see a sudden dip in a population pyramid what might be a reasonable explanation for it?


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