The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The New Demographics

The World, 2050

A new study discussed in Le Monde argues that the peoples of the South will age much faster than the already comparably old peoples of the North. This would be primarily due to the spread of sanitary and health technologies at a far faster pace than that experienced in 19th Century Europe, the first region to undergo such a demographic shift. It claims that by 2050, while the world population will increase by a third, the number of over 65s will triple.

The article cites in particular the example of China in which infant mortality dropped from 200 per 1000 to 40 per 1000 over 1950-1990, and it took only 12 years (1974-1986) to halve birth rates. By way of comparison, it took France 150 years to achieve either feat. One might think China is an exception as it is developing rapidly and has a one child policy. But it is a trend occurring gradually across the world including the entire developed world, the post-Communist world and most of East/Southeast Asia.

To counter those inclined to cultural determinism, the CIA claims that several Muslim countries including Algeria, Tunisia and Iran have birth rates of 1.7-1.8, rather less than France's 1.98. Note that France probably (!) has the largest Muslim community in Europe, and it is largely of Algerian descent. It puts a rather awkward twist on the Eurabia thesis when the mother countries of the allegedly relentless hordes of Arab-Muslim immigrants begin having less children than Europeans..

Not all countries have reached the peak of their demographic transition however. Notwithstanding the above, South Asia (and in particular India), Africa and much of the Middle East will continue to grow massively, partly because of longer lifespans and sustained high birth rates. The population of Africa will probably triple in our lifetime. The Middle East, where in many countries people under 25 outnumber the rest, will in all likelihood for that among other reasons suffer from a degree of instability.

What does this mean? Who knows. Historically this is an absolutely unprecedented situation, a product of modern technical civilization. I am not however inclined to think it is an altogether bad thing. We don't need more human beings, especially at our current (and growing) rates of consumption. And we can only laud that the more technically and economically advanced countries of the world - that is those with the greatest latent destructive powers - should have more old people. Nations of pensioners have less money and less inclination to fight one another or revolutionary upheaval than nations teeming with frustrated, unemployed young men.

The study and in depth look at demographics, mostly in French, is available at the INED website. It includes a cool population pyramid predictor application a fascinating little faq which answers questions you've always pondered, like whether the French have most of their babies out of wedlock.



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