Dr. Anthony Underwood, Economics

Understanding Demographic Change through a Lens of Sustainable Development

Course Syllabus: FSYM Understanding Demographic Change

I used my participation in the 2015 Valley & Ridge study group to develop a new First-Year Seminar focusing on demographic change, especially with respect to the dramatic increase in solo-living, and its implications for the many dimensions of sustainability. Through readings in demography, sociology, and environmental science the course was initially intended to explore what demographic changes are occurring (falling fertility, shrinking household size, delayed marriage, aging, etc.), why these changes are occurring (changing social, cultural, and economic norms regarding marriage, reproduction, cohabitation, and solo-living), and how these changes will impact the economy, society, and the natural environment. Through discussions in Valley & Ridge it became very clear that viewing these demographic phenomena through a lens of sustainability would be incredibly useful to students in promoting analytical and interdisciplinary thought – two crucial learning outcomes of the First-Year Seminar.

In development of the course syllabus and schedule I incorporated readings on the dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic, cultural, and environmental to provide an analytical lens through which students will evaluate demographic change. Throughout the semester, students will use this lens to interpret and understand how these demographic changes, both national and global, generate both challenges and potential opportunities for economic, social, and environmental sustainability. The final analytical research paper will ask students to explore a particular demographic phenomenon, at the national, regional, or local level (such as the dramatic rise in solo-living in Manhattan) and discuss the implications it may have for a particular dimension of sustainable development (such as sustaining and developing social capital).