The new population bomb

22 June 2010

Jack Goldstone, Professor at the School of Public Policy, George Mason University, explained that the world is changing so rapidly that our quality of life will have to change with it.

Professor Goldstone began by summarising the world’s history of “demographic transition”. Europe and North and South America benefited from the industrial revolution, when productivity increased, hygiene and housing improved, which all culminated an increase in life-expectancy and “an explosion of growth”.

With this explosion, and increased infant survival rates, fertility rates declined. This happened in the developed world, and is now beginning to happen in emerging economies, such as China, although these results usually take 20 to 30 years to come through, so eventually these countries’ populations will level off, and then decline.

Developing countries are now in the early stage of demographic transition, while developed countries are in the “sweet spot”, meaning they have a good number of their population in the workforce, an increasing productivity, and a reduction in the brithrate. Soon after this “sweet spot”, they will start to decline.

This demographic transition has left Europe and the US aging societies. In the near future, one-third of the European population will be 60 years or older. Given that Europe will shortly become a “capital rich”, but “labour-force poor” society Dr Goldstone said policy-makers needed to find ways in which the older generation can contribute to their economies: investing in the youth of developing countries; creating an integrated global world and fostering global governance. Throughout this, “capital rich” countries should be “symbiotically integrated” with the “labour-force poor” ones.

However, in order to do this, the West must “make friends and make them fast”. If instead, it feels threatened by its decline in population and responds by separating itself from the world, it will soon find itself “surrounded and outnumbered”.