The number of people on the planet has hit a huge milestone at 8 billion, but fertility rates are falling fast in many countries, which means planning for an older population
9 November 2022
THERE are soon to be 8 billion of us and counting. Yet while the world’s population is still growing fast overall, in many countries, the numbers are declining or will do soon.
Take the three largest. The population of China will begin to fall soon and could halve by 2100. India’s will peak around 2050. And the US population would fall from the 2030s if not for immigration.
So there are two distinct issues to deal with: rapid population growth in some nations and population declines in others.
Many see limiting population growth as vital for tackling various environmental catastrophes unfolding around the world, as we report on in our article “What will a population of 8 billion people mean for us and the planet?” Yet for wealthy Westerners to call for lower-income countries to control their populations simply in the name of protecting nature is hypocritical in the extreme, given that the rich have vastly larger environmental footprints. What’s more, there is often more than a whiff of racism to such calls.
That said, there are good reasons for fast-growing countries to try to limit further population growth, as discussed in our article “Tackling population growth is key to fighting climate change”, not least because rapid increases can lead to more poverty. What’s more, two of the key factors in lowering fertility rates are educating women and respecting their rights, which all countries should be doing anyway.
Declining populations can be seen as a good thing in some ways – less pressure on wildlife, more space and so on. But having fewer working-age people and more older people is a huge economic challenge.
Apart from increasing immigration, there is no sure-fire way to stem individual nations’ population decline. This means that, in many parts of the world, governments need to be readying care and pensions systems to cope with ageing populations.
These trends are highly predictable over the next few decades, so there is absolutely no excuse for failing to prepare. It is also hugely important to invest in health. An ageing population has much less impact if people remain healthy well into old age.
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