Amid historic worries about population growth, people often forget that many countries around the world are, or will soon be, shrinking in size.  Forbes recently made a slide show of large countries (defined as countries with over 20 million people) that are already doing so which you can view here.  Included are the following:

1) Ukraine (-22% between 2015 and 2050)
2) Japan (-15.1% between 2015 and 2050)
3) Poland (-14% between 2015 and 2050)
4) The Russian Federation (-10.4% between 2015 and 2050)
5) Thailand (-8.1% between 2015 and 2050)
6) Germany (-7.7% between 2015 and 2050)
7) Italy (-5.5% between 2015 and 2050)
8) Spain (-2.8% between 2015 and 2050)
9) China (-2% between 2015 and 2050)

Obviously a percentage reduction in a very large country results in a significant loss of people in number terms. Of all countries despite their size, Bulgaria is experiencing the largest decline in population at -27.9% by 2050 and Romania at -22.9% is a close second.  Forbes comments:

In the coming decades, the countries that can maintain an at least somewhat reasonable population growth rate, and enough younger people, will likely do best. To a large extent, it’s too late for that in much of Europe and East Asia. For countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, with among the most liberal immigration policies and large landmasses, the prospects may be far better. However, we also need native-born youngsters to launch, get married and start creating the next generation of Americans. 

The overall world population is still growing.  However, not necessarily for long.  If we think of a country as a platform, fewer babies are stepping on but the elderly are taking longer to step off the platform than ever before due to healthier lives, hence overall population numbers are still larger for a time.  There are differing long-range population projections, and the basic problem with all of them is that they are driven by assumptions about fertility rates and mortality—and there is still no reliable method for predicting these a generation or more from now.   For example, the United Nations has revised its projections several times over the last decade.  However it is clear that world population size will decline significantly if the world in the longer run follows the current examples of Europe and East Asia.

The United Nations’ most recent 2015 population projection is that world population will reach 11.2 billion by 2100, and that there is a strong probability that population will stabilise and decrease slightly soon after that.  They project that there is a roughly 23 per cent chance that global population will stabilize or begin to fall before 2100.  In the longer run, about half the countries of Europe would lose 95 per cent or more of their population by the year 2300, and the Russian Federation and Italy would have only 1 per cent of their population left.  In other words, many countries will soon virtually cease to exist if their fertility rates don’t rise above current levels.

Forbes comments: 

Most world leaders are fixated on the unpredictable new administration in Washington in the short term, but they might do better to look at the more certain long-term impacts of diminishing populations on the world’s most important economies. 

This severity of birth decline in Europe and East Asia again points to the importance of appreciating motherhood for its contribution to both the economy and society as a whole.

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...