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A coming population crash in many countries: meet an Italian while you can

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

A coming population crash will halve populations in many countries including Italy, Spain and Japan. Why you should be happy about this!

Do you think the world population is growing out of control?

Think again.

As women becoming more educated, work more and have better access to contraception, they choose to have fewer children.

Mahabaliuram - happy to pose
Many studies predict India will soon have the world’s largest population

Population will peak, then fall

A 2020 study in “The Lancet”, a medical journal, predicts that the population of the earth will grow from 7.6 billion now to peak at 9.7 billion in 2064 before declining to 8.8 billion by the year 2100.

Big increases

These figures hide huge differences. The study predicts that some areas, such as Central Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, will see big increases. The population of Nigeria alone will increase from 206 million now to 791 million in 2100. In doing so it will overtake China, whose population will sink from 1.5 billion to 732 million over the same period.

Population crash

By contrast, the study predicts that the population of Central Europe will plummet from 115 million now to 52 million in 2100, or “high income Asia Pacific” from 187 million to 94 million. Apart from China, 23 countries will see their populations more than halve. Poland is forecast to decline from 38m to 15m; Japan from 128m to 60m; and Portugal from 10.7m to 4.5m.

What does it all mean?

A BBC analysis of the “Lancet” piece of July 2020 highlights the changes in relative population around the world: the future will be more African. It notes that the world will “age massively”. Ibrahim Abubakar, a Professor from University College London, says “a fundamental rethink of global politics” will be needed.

My view

We all know the quotation that “it is dangerous to make forecasts, especially about the future”. But the findings of the Lancet study are consistent with other studies that suggest higher living standards and better education will cut fertility.

It all sounds about right to me.

If you browse the fascinating tables in the Lancet piece, which provide figures for every country, you will see an inverse relationship between current standards of living and future population growth.

Western countries with higher immigration (eg the UK and US) also show more stable population levels in the long term.

The Lancet’s analysis is backed up by Hans Rosling’s excellent “Don’t Panic” lecture, about population growth, from 2015. I blogged about it a while back. If you have 58 minutes, I recommend you invest them in watching his entertaining – often hilarious – lecture. See if you are cleverer than a chimpanzee.

Rosling, incidentally, assumes population will grow faster than in the more recent Lancet study, and will be at around 11 billion in 2100. The Lancet not only predicts the lower figure of 8.8 billion in 2100, but argues this might be reduced to 6.3 billion if the United Nations “Sustainable Development Goals” are implemented. The SDGs include reducing poverty and improving gender equality and education.

Population crash: be happy

I’ve written a lot about happiness on this blog – do check out my how to be happy resources, which include tips from Deep Purple.

The Lancet analysis shows that you shouldn’t be worrying that population growth is an impossible problem. We can solve it by raising living standards, and better education – especially for women and girls.

We should be happy that the changes that bring about a reduction in population are good ones.

A future of big changes in the populations of different countries won’t all be easy. Migration may increase, especially to countries with too few young people. The balance of power between countries may shift. Get ready.

P.S. The Lancet piece forecasts that the UK’s population will increase slightly from now to 2100 (66.7m to 71.5m). The US will also rise, from 325m to 336m. Austria, where I live, will sink from 8.8m to 6.6m, albeit after rising to 9.1m in its peak year of 2033. Some of the other forecast changes are surprising, eg Brazil falling from 212m now to 165m in 2100 or India falling from 1.38 billion to 1.1 billion. Have a browse.

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