The world’s demography is in flux, and dynamic populations will shape the narrative of the 2020s. Europe will continue to age, with reproduction below replacement levels in all European countries in 2016.1
In our 2017 report we identified the macro force of demographic change shifting the world’s societies. Now, in 2020, we see the impacts beginning to be felt.
Populations are rebalancing between old, young, rich and poor, and critical tipping points are predicted. Despite the spending power of the asset-rich older generations in the west, governments are under pressure to provide services for ageing populations, and change employment patterns to cope.
China is also beginning to age – and quickly. By 2050, it is predicted that 330 million Chinese will be over the age of 65 – more than the current population of the US.2 As population growth peaks and begins to decline, the burden of caring for the elderly may be a difficult one to bear. Unlike the west, China does not have the infrastructure to provide this care, and income disparity is particularly bad due to the historic one-child policy concentrating wealth.3 Indeed, due to the legacy of Mao’s policy – and to growing affluence – India is expected to surpass China as the most populous country within the decade, if not sooner.4 More than half the projected global population rise up to 2050 will be in just nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the US.
These dramatic shifts in demography will disrupt and reform our economic and social landscape. The risk of the west becoming outcompeted as emerging economies grow and expand beyond manufacturing into services is very real. Whereas five years ago we speculated about the political response to this anxiety, in 2020 the shape of the future is clearer: populist politics and protectionist policies are on the rise. The appeal of protectionism may be further enhanced by a growing productivity problem. This, along with the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, means there are few guaranteed income boosts on the horizon for western governments.
Immigration and the movement of people is another huge factor here in changing countries, and the world. The movement of people from south to north, from emerging markets to developed ones, is changing our societies’ consumption, politics and culture. Immigration helps some societies have the workers they need – but also disrupts them. How the world deals with ongoing population flows, both of economic migrants and the hundreds of millions of climate change, political and religious refugees will remain a key challenge in the 2020s.
This dynamism is also borne out in shifting health and living conditions. Urbanisation and the rise of megacities, especially in emerging countries, bring new lifestyles and pressures. In east Asia, thirteen megacities have populations that exceed 10 million (around the size of Sweden); Shanghai is more than twice as large as that.5 Over the coming decades, agglomeration – where more densely populated areas can become more economically productive – will accelerate. However, if overcrowding, pollution and rising living costs also continue to increase, then megacities may become synonymous with poor mental and physical health.
More than half the projected global population rise up to 2050 will be in just nine countries
The power of dynamic populations will become more relevant than ever in the 2020s. Fertility only began to slip below replacement rate relatively recently. In Spain, where fertility is among the lowest in Europe, this first occurred around 1980 – just 30 years ago.6
Government attempts to address fertility rates, such as flexible working or, in a more direct approach, the Danish ‘Do it for Denmark’ campaign, or advancements in robotics will be necessary to avoid the decline in childcare responsibilities being supplanted by the responsibility to care for elderly relatives.7
The increased impact of dynamic populations is matched by an increased ability to understand and predict them. It is often said that ‘demography is destiny’; this time, it is.
Dramatic shifts in demography will disrupt and reform our economic landscape