Managing Demography

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Managing Demography

Demography is the study of populations, including the number of people, their ages, their genders, their geographic distribution and their skills. These factors determine, to a large degree, what a country can produce and what it will consume.

For better or worse, governments have been making attempts to manage the demography of their countries in response to three powerful trends:

  • The population implosion
  • The graying planet
  • Global migration

Since we have examined each of those trends in some depth in prior issues, we’ll discuss only the essential elements of each of these and how they’ve impacted efforts to manage demography.

Let’s start with the population implosion: Over the past century, birth rates in the world’s developed nations have fallen for the first time in history. In most developed countries — as well as some developing nations like China and Brazil — the population is shrinking. According to projections from the UN’s World Population Prospects, the populations of 50 countries will drop between now and 2050.1 In the book Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future,2 Ben J. Wattenberg writes that Europe is losing 700,000 people each year, and will lose 3 million or more each year by 2050.

Why is this happening? A country’s population dynamics are determined by three variables: the birth rate, the death rate, and net migration. Ignoring for a moment the impact of migration, the maintenance of a stable population requires, on average, a birth rate of 2.1 children per female. The birth rate for the EU is now 1.8, and it is just 0.8 in Japan.

In the U.S., the birth rate is falling, but not as dramatically as in other developed countries. The fertility rate is 2.01 babies per woman. While this is slightly below the replacement level of 2.1, America ranks first among the industrialized nations. However, as Phillip Longman points out in his book The Empty Cradle,3 the relatively low American birth rates in recent years mean that the number of U.S. workers between the ages of 25 and 54 will not grow for the next two decades, even if immigration continues at current levels. Fortunately, it’s unlikely to shrink, either.

Because birth rates are falling around the world while life spans are increasing, older citizens are making up a larger and larger share of the population. This leads to the second major demographic trend: the graying planet...

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