Continuing on from the previous post, demography may not be destiny but it’s not nothing, either. In this post I’m going to show you four different demographic trend patterns of countries around the world and consider the implications of each. All of the graphics below are from the fascinating site, Population Pyramid. You can while away quite a few hours checking the population pyramids for different countries there.
The first trend pattern I want to consider is that of the United States which is one of gradual growth.
I consider that a pretty benign, stable pattern although I recognize that some people despise population growth and think it’s disastrous. Our population is presently around 330 million and will be around 450 million by the end of the century. That’s the pattern in all majority English-speaking countries as well as in France, the Netherlands, and Denmark, among others. I think it is a statement of tempered hope for the future.
In these countries the size of the working age population will continue to grow, able to support increasing number of children and elderly people. Continuing prosperity will require prudence but it can be done. Increasing real per capital GDP would help, too.
The second pattern is one I’ve deemed “critical decline”. It is the pattern in Germany:
You can see why the Germans are panicked. By the end of the century the German population will have declined by a quarter. That means that a relatively small number of young people will be supporting a lot of old people. There is no really good solution to this problem. They can’t import a lot of Germans from somewhere else. They can import people but they won’t be Germans and they won’t behave like Germans do. One way or another Germany in 2100 will not be much like Germany in 2019.
That’s the pattern not just in Germany but in Japan and most of the other ethnic states of Europe, e.g. Greece, Czech Republic, Romania, etc.
The third pattern I’ve deemed “critical increase”. It is the pattern in Nigeria:
By the end of the century Nigeria’s population will have nearly quadrupled, from 202 million now to 750 million. It is the pattern of countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of South Africa and of Egypt. It’s tempting to think that people in these countries could emigrate to Europe but I don’t believe that’s a practical solution for two reasons. Relatively few people in these countries speak any European language fluently or have 21st century schools. Emigration would solve their problems while aggravating the problems of countries who are already starting to experience critical population decline.
Sadly, I suspect that the challenges facing these countries will be corrected by the traditional means: famine, pestilence, and war. They could address their own problems by engaging in ambitious programs of education, particularly of women, and political reform but I am not hopeful. I suspect that tribal interests will overwhelm national survival. Said another way if you think the genocide in Rwanda was terrible, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
My final pattern I’ve called “gradual decrease”, essentially the opposite of the first pattern. It is not only the pattern in China:
but the pattern in Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico and most of Latin America, North Africa with the exception of Egypt, and the Middle East. In most of these countries in which the populations were formerly rising rapidly, the trend may continue into critical decrease or reverse into gradual or critical increase. It’s too early to tell. If China’s population is actually decreasing more rapidly than the official statistics tell us (as suggested in the article I’ve linked to), it could be in critical decrease.
One final note. Over the next 50 years we will be journeying into uncharted territory. We don’t really know what conditions are required for a country to maintain a strong economy with a declining population because populations have been increasing for millennia. Watch Japan. The Japanese continue to do pretty well with a declining population because per capita GDP continues to grow. Accomplishing that may be a challenge.