population-pyramid-990.jpg

Image courtesy Census Bureau

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Human populations are an important part of the study of geography. Not only are people unevenly distributed on Earth [see Activity #8]; they also vary greatly in terms of age and sex distribution. Some countries, such as Ethiopia, have a young population, meaning that a high percentage of the total population is below the age of 15 years. Other countries, such as Spain, have an aging population, meaning that an increasing percentage of the people are older than 65 years.

Understanding the distribution of population in terms of age and sex is important in understanding a country’s well-being and the challenges it faces.

Constructing Population Pyramids

Distribute copies of the Activity #11 Handout #1 and Handout #2.

Explain that a population pyramid (also called an “age-sex graph”) is a special type of graph that shows the distribution of a location’s population in terms of age groups, called cohorts, and sex. Note that it is best to construct population pyramids using percentages rather than numbers since this makes it possible to compare countries with different size populations.

Have half the class construct a pyramid for Canada and the other half, a pyramid for Bolivia. Beginning at the bottom of the graph, plot the percent of the population that is 0-4 years and male. Shade this bar on the pyramid and repeat for females, using a different color. Repeat this step for each age cohort until the pyramid is complete.

Interpreting Population Pyramids

Have students compare the pyramids for Canada and Bolivia. How are the similar? How are they different?

Data From U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base

Which age group is largest in each country? How might this affect the quality of life in each country? What challenges might this age distribution create for each country?

To learn more about interpreting population pyramids, visit Population Reference Bureau.

Data for other countries, as well as for states and even counties is available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

School Registration

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About the National Geographic Bee

Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The contest is designed to inspire students to be curious about the world. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging competition.


The national championship preliminary rounds took place on Monday, May 23, in Washington, D.C. The national championship final rounds featuring the top 10 finalists and moderated by humorist, journalist, and actor Mo Rocca were held on Wednesday, May 25, at National Geographic’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.


The national champion receives a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a Lindblad expedition to Southeast Alaska provided by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.


Watch the 2016 National Geographic Bee Finals

The National Geographic Bee aired on the National Geographic Channel on Friday May 27, and may still be available via streaming services. It is also airing on public television stations; check local television listings for dates and times.


Meet the 2016 Champions


National Geographic Bee contestants aren't just geography geniuses. They're also savvy park planners! See where they would create a National Park in their own state.




Host Mo Rocca interviews the Top 10 Finalists on stage during the 2016 competition.

How to Help

  • Photo: Geo Bee Winners

    Fund a School

    Donations help fund schools to participate in the National Geographic Bee.

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