2020 was a year of record population lows. Newly released Census Bureau population estimates show record lows in United States population growth, both in 2020 and for the entire 2010-to-2020 decade.  California’s population shrank for the first time as far back as records go, with the Census Bureau estimates indicating that California’s population decreased by about 69,000 residents in the year ended July 1, 2020 .

The United States is not alone. 

The population of South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, also fell for the first time in its history in 2020.  In fact, the working-age populations of Hong Kong, Japan, Mainland China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand all peaked back in 2015 and will continue to decline at an accelerating rate in the coming decades. By 2050, the proportion of elderly in their populations is expected to increase to 27% — from just 7% in 1995. 

Globally, no less than 23 countries are expected to see their populations halve by 2100, according to a study published in the Lancet in 2020 which made headlines around the world (despite the fact a number of important think tanks, such as the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, have been predicting similar for years).  The researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation project that the global fertility rate will fall below 1.7 by 2100. 

What does this rapid decline in birth rates tell us about the world of 2021?  It seems to indicate that something is going wrong with society’s most basic building block – the family and parenthood.  The decline of the family is likely a significant cause of increasing loneliness across all age groups and a lack of purpose and identity among young people.  One of the fastest aging populations in the world, Japan, even has a name for dying alone, Kodokushi, literally the “lonely death”.

It is also important because demographics is at the heart of economic growth and therefore impacts on all areas of our lives.  As financial professional Christopher Yates writes:

Whilst the variables influencing economic growth are numerous and complex, there is a driver whose overwhelming influence has the final say — demographics.

The significance of demographics in our economy is perhaps underappreciated, which is unfortunate given its impact can be found in almost all aspects therein; from economic growth and consumption, to interest rates and valuations, and even to the velocity of money and the balance sheets of the world’s central banks.

Demographics is what ties it all together. What begins as a kickstarter for growth and prosperity ultimately ends up a headwind. Unfortunately, for the majority of developed economies this headwind has already arrived and is only getting stronger.

It sounds a little clichéd, but it still rings true that 2021 will be brighter if we encourage and support stable homes, committed parents, families with children, and a community which cares for and supports us all. It is very likely that this is actually a large part of what makes us happy and brings us purpose.

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...