(August 26, 2008) For the entire history of the human race, with virtually no exceptions. the age distribution of population has had the shape of a pyramid. As people get older, there are fewer of them. The pyramid shape means that there are few old people and lots of young people. The older that people get, the more of them die.
Little more than 100 years ago, people lived to be about 50. The average life expectancy was 47.8. The pyramid had very few old people and lots and lots of young people.
This historic pyramid structure of population influences the way we see and think about lots of things.
- Families have traditionally had fewer old people and lots of young people. The traditional model of parenting is built on the idea of power resting in the hands of an older few.
- Organizations are typically envisioned in this way (tiny leadership group, large workforce).
- Government used to be organized this way.
- Our ideas of excellence (winnowing the exceptional from the mass) has its roots in the pyramid structure.
- Selection processes are always described as an inverted pyramid: the funnel
The pyramid has been the backbone of our communities for so long that we overlook the depth of its impact on our perception. Consider:
- Pinnacle of achievement
- Reaching the highest point.
- Rise to the top.
- The highest honor
- Climbing the ladder
Surprisingly, important parts of our world no longer resemble a pyramid. While life expectancy was growing, the average number of people in a family has been declining rapidly. Since 1970 the percentage of households containing five or more people has fallen by half. Overall, the average number of people per household decreased from 3.14 to 2.57.
More old people and fewer kids means that the so-called pyramid no longer resembles a pyramid in the US and all of the industrialized world.
Read the Entire Population Distribution Series