A guide to demography that everyone should read

Immigration has produced fundamental changes in our society (Getty)

The Human Tide
By Paul Morland
John Murray, 352pp, £25/$28

Demography, as a subject, does not excite many minds, yet this book adds as its subtitle How Population Shaped the Modern World. And that is more appropriate. The author does not claim that demography is the only cause of change in our societies, but it is one that we often neglect.

If we do not take demography into account, we are missing a major factor in our history and, perhaps more importantly, handicapping our capacity to read the future. The demographic changes in any society with regard to size, composition, fertility rate and age are major factors in diagnosing the past of a society and heralding its future. The Human Tide is thoroughly researched and full of useful information but, just as important, it is excellently written.

Over the past 200 years, the world population has grown from around a billion and is now approaching eight billion. This growth has not led to disaster – indeed, the general standards of living are immensely better in many countries and the remainder are likely to catch up eventually. Think of the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire as an arguable starting point. Morland takes us from the West, after 1945, to Russia and the Eastern Bloc over the same period. Then he moves to the Middle East and Far East.

We see the importance of immigration and emigration, the changes in rates of fertility and lifespans. Such factors not only change the state of societies but, in turn, initiate and support their futures.

I would make every politician and every civil servant read this book for our sake, and every business executive of consequence for theirs. Western Catholics, as it happens, have a microcosm of demography in action, as the use of contraception has increased, since the early 1970s, from a third to more than two thirds. We are already seeing the broader and more fundamental changes in our community as a result.