We are beginning to see a shift in global demographics, both in terms of age and the distribution of people around the world. Biological factors combined with shifts in behaviour are affecting where populations are concentrated, and the proportion of old to young.
The global population is ageing. According to the World Health Organization, almost every country in the world is experiencing growth in both the size and the proportion of older people in the population. By 2030, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 years or over. In a trend known as the ‘silver tsunami’, Italy’s population is ageing and shrinking at the fastest rate in the West.
The main biological factor impacting population dynamics is declining fertility. A severe drop in child births has occurred over the past half century, particularly in industrialised regions. Many reasons have been advanced for this – poor semen and egg quality, even exposure to pollutants. In 1952, the average global family had five children – now it has less than three.
According to a study published in November 2021, adults and young people in the US seem to be having less sex than previous generations. Many reasons have been put forward for this, among them that young adults are too tired and busy – and of course that fallback reason, people are preoccupied with social media. There are other sociological factors at play though. Women choosing to work is one, better education another. The cost of raising kids is also a reason, with many opting to be childless or have fewer children. The acronym ‘DINK’ – Double Income No Kids – is currently taking over TikTok. The hashtag #dink had 165 million views at the time we wrote this observation.
China is a special case. After decades of enforcing a one-child policy, the country is now confronted with a rapidly ageing population and is taking steps belatedly to turn the situation around. Sichuan, one of the largest provinces, is lifting the limits of the number of children a woman can have – even for unmarried parents.
While the world’s population is still growing overall, in many countries, the numbers are declining. In contrast, Africa’s population will triple by the end of the century even as the rest of the world shrinks.
The distribution of people around the world is changing – shifting from countries with ageing populations, to one’s with more young people, such as India and Nigeria. The UN expects that India will overtake China’s population by April 2023. Unlike India, the other two most populous countries in the world, China and the US, have rapidly ageing populations. Nigeria is set to become the 3rd most populous country by 2050.
There are some advantages to declining populations – better for the environment and more space for people to live in. However, this inverted age structure and population shrinkage will create enormous social change and can slow economic growth and strain government budgets.There will be fewer people to work and pay tax, and more elderly people to be taken care of by the state. An older workforce raises the question as to whether people will still be able to retire from work.
By Faeeza Khan
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