Global demographic news has been dominated by the recent population forecasts in The Lancet. While they are hardly new or unexpected, they have made a larger portion of the world sit up and take notice of extreme and widespread global population decline.

Global population decline

Taking into account mortality, fertility, and migration, the study forecasts that global population will peak at 9·73 billion people in 2064 and decline to 8·79 billion by 2100. Thus, it predicts population decline will happen sooner than current United Nations forecasts.

By 2100, 183 of the 195 countries in the study are forecast to have a fertility rate lower than the global replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.  As a result, it is forecast that the populations of as many as 23 countries will more than half between 2017 and 2100, including Japan, Thailand, Ukraine and Spain.  Another 34 countries will likely decline by 25–50%, including China which is forecast to experience a 48% decline.  The study report explains:

“Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth. A sustained TFR lower than the replacement level in many countries, including China and India, would have economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences.”

A change in global politics

Obviously, fewer working-age individuals reduces GDP, an important determinant of global political influence, power and military might.  The study authors also surmise that fewer working-age individuals could reduce both innovation and domestic markets for consumer goods.  The fiscal sustainability of national health insurance and social security programmes will also be challenged.  Taxation rates required to sustain such programmes might be so large as to further reduce economic growth and investment. In addition, insecurity from the risk that these programmes could fail could cause considerable political stress. So, according to the study, which countries will be the demographic winners? 

By 2100, India is forecast to still have the largest working-age population in the world, followed by Nigeria, China, and the USA. China is forecast to become the largest economy by 2035 but the USA is forecast to once again become the largest economy in 2098.  The 63·6% decline forecast for China’s population aged 20–24 years is a factor that will negatively influence its global power later in the century.

The five largest countries in 2100 are forecast to be India, Nigeria, China, the USA, and Pakistan.  However, these countries have quite different growth trajectories. Nigeria is forecast to have continued population growth through to 2100, becoming the second most populous country by that time. In contrast, China and India peak before 2050 and then have steep declining trajectories, with China down to 51·1% and India down to 68·1% of their peak populations by 2100. The USA is projected to have population growth until mid-century, followed by a moderate decline of less than 10% of the peak population by 2100.  

The number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa among the ten most populous will increase from only Nigeria in 2017 to also include DR Congo, Ethiopia, and Tanzania by 2100. In sharp contrast, in the EU the number of children per woman on average will drop to 1.41, and there will be 138 million fewer people by 2100.

Motherhood’s important societal role

It is a continuing global dilemma: how do we value the crucial role of motherhood, while also enabling women to be well-educated and contribute to the workforce?  I have written many times that I think the societal role mothers play in bringing up and educating their own children should be recognised as, at the very least, on par with all the other accomplishments or contributions to society that women might make.  How is solving disputes between companies, selling widgets or balancing numbers possibly so much more important than nurturing the soul of a child and future citizen?

It is no wonder that women do not have very many children if they do not feel their contribution is important and valuable to society, as well as a more personal experience of love and growth.  Studies such as this one show once again just how crucial valuing the role of parenthood is.

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...