World population growth to tail off, changing global balance of power – dpa international


Pedestrians on Grafton Street in Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

Pedestrians on Grafton Street in Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Long-term predictions about global demographic expansion will prove overblown as deeper shifts reshape geopolitics, according to projections published on Wednesday in The Lancet, a British medical journal.

The world’s population will increase from the current 7.8 billion to a peak of 9.7 billion by 2064, before falling back to 8.8 billion by the century’s end, going by newly-published modelling undertaken by academics from the University of Washington (UWA).

The trends suggest that China’s 2017 population of 1.4 billion could drop to 730 million – steeper than UN projections, which give China a population of around one billion in 2100.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is on track to triple to 3.07 billion, leading to it becoming an “increasingly powerful continent on the geopolitical stage.”

Though China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy by 2035, the US will reclaim top spot decades later, after China’s working-age population plummets to 350 million.

Such fluctuations “could result in major shifts in global economic power by the century’s end,” the authors contend, predicting a world dominated not only by China and the US, but also by India and Nigeria, by then the world’s two most populous nations.

The United Nations in 2019 projected the global population could hit 10.9 billion by 2100. Though the UN acknowledged that fertility rates are declining and populations ageing in many countries, The Lancet report contends that UN modelling did not “allow for alternative scenarios linked to policies or other drivers of fertility and mortality,”

Once population decline kicks in, “it will probably continue inexorably,” according to the UWA researchers, who project that by 2100, 183 countries will have below-replacement fertility rates.

The populations of 23 countries – including Italy, Japan and Spain, nations where low birth rates are entrenched – will be half what they are now, with another 34 countries facing falls of 25 to 50 per cent.

“Many of the fastest-shrinking populations will be in Asia and central and eastern Europe,” the report suggests.

Outlining “huge shifts in the global age structure,” the authors estimate that 2.37 billion people will be at least 65 years old in 2100, with the number of under-20s at 1.7 billon.

The authors warn that such a rebalancing could challenge “the fiscal sustainability of national health insurance and social security programmes.”

Affected countries will need varying blends of higher birth rates, wider labour force participation and increased immigration as working-age populations shrink – thouugh advances in robotics and artificial intelligence could “provide a solution to the decline in the workforce” and “substantially change economic growth.”

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