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In the wee, early hours of November 15, a baby girl was born in a Manila hospital ward to an unusual reception: Officials from the Philippine Commission on Population and Development stood by, holding a cake and a banner, ready to announce her as the 8 billionth person on Earth.
That status is not official. The United Nations has yet to confirm that this particular baby, Vinice Mabansag, is the bearer of the title. (There’s at least one other contender: a baby born the same day in the Dominican Republic.) The title is symbolic anyway. Even the UN’s identification of November 15 as the day the world’s population passed the 8 billion mark is largely a formality – a choice based on a rough demographic projection.
Still, the number carries tremendous psychological weight. In a time of shortages of everything –energy, semiconductors, baby food, housing– it is tempting to think that any population growth is cause for great alarm. But judging by that number of headlines alone, we’re missing both the bigger picture and the finer details.
In fact, growth is slowing down; this year the world’s population grew by only 0.8%, while in the 1960s it grew three times as fast every year. At the current rate, we may even see a peak in the world’s population: 10.4 billion or so, sometime between 2080 and 2100, before the number starts to decline.
If there are reasons for concern, they lie in it Where populations grow and fall, says Manoj Pradhan, founder of Talking Head Macroeconomics, a London-based research firm, and co-author of a book called The great demographic shift. Pradhan points out that the big demographic dividends – the increase in working-age population – will come in countries that are not yet driving the global economy.
The demographic drag, on the other hand, unfolds in “the economic superstars, if you will,” says Pradhan. This is likely to have huge implications for the functioning of our economies and societies over the next 100 years.
BY THE FIGURES
10.4 billion: Level at which the UN predicts that the world population will peak around 2080
2.1: Average number of births per woman expected by 2050, up from 2.3 in 2021
61: Number of countries whose population is expected to shrink by 1% or more between 2022 and 2050
41-42: Expected median age of the world’s population by 2100, compared to 21 in 1970
1.2 billion: Estimated number of climate refugees in 2050
180%: Size of US federal debt as a percentage of GDP by 2050, up from 100% today
380 million: Estimated number of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 64 in 2100, down from nearly a billion in the mid-2010s
PAY THE PIPER
By the time little Vinice Mabansag is an elderly person, the world will look very different. This is especially true for the most prosperous countries in the world: China, the US and European countries. Their retirement population will grow, but their workforce—and, as a result, their tax revenues—will shrink. And that creates an economic problem. How will these governments pay for pensions, social services and health care for the elderly, even though they have fewer young people to tax?
Inevitably, the governments of aging countries will have to take on more debt so that they can support their elderly citizens. For example, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office predicts such a surge in debt between now and 2050 that pandemic debt would seem like a mere bump by comparison. And in order to support all that debt, these societies will most likely have to accommodate higher levels of inflation.
HOT AND FULL
Among the developing countries, the nine with the largest populations in 2100 will be India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia and Egypt. Even as early as 2070, eight of these nine countries will have many “hot zones” – areas where average annual temperatures are above 29°C (84.2°F). Daily life without refrigeration technology will become extremely difficult, access to water will be scarce and agriculture will be severely disrupted.
Under these circumstances, migration will become unavoidable millions of people leaving their overheated towns and cities in search of a friendlier climate. Just as it is inevitable that much of this migration will be northward – for example from South and Central America to northern North America, or from Africa and the Middle East to Europe.
This could be a gift-wrapped solution for the wealthier countries in the north, where populations are aging and where governments are rapidly run out of workers to tax. Migrants can fill the thinning ranks of the workforce – as long as there is the political will to accept them.
Immigration policy will move ever closer to the center of the political conversation in the developed world. In the short term, measures to encourage immigration will be unpopular, Pradhan said. The kind of nativism you find in Donald Trump’s America, or in the Brexit referendum, or in other movements to the right in Europe, are clear examples of anti-immigrant sentiment. “So we will definitely feel the ill effects of this first,” Pradhan said. “But even if politics are a bit unstable for the foreseeable future, I have no doubt that people will come to view immigration as the great benefit it can be in the long run.”
The UN began identifying symbolic “billionth babies” in 1987, when Matej Gašpar, born in the Croatian city of Zagreb, was singled out as the 5 billionth human on the planet. (The somewhat inscrutable logic of the UN in choosing Zagreb: the 14th World University Games were maintained in the city at the time.) The 6 billionth baby, Adnan Mević, was born in Sarajevo, not far from Zagreb.
For the 7 billionth, the UN objected: they didn’t want to continue making these arbitrary choices, said a spokesperson. Yet several other countries and institutions have made their own choices: a baby in Sri Lanka, another in Bangladesh, another in the UK. However, one nominee is worth noting: Danica May Camacho, a native of Manila, at the same hospital where Vinice Mabansag was named the 8 billionth baby last week. If ever there was a hospital warning about demographic milestones, it’s Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital does.
QUARTZ STORIES TO DEVELOP A CONVERSATION
5 AMAZING STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE
Sponge Cities. Yu Kongjian, a Chinese architect, wants to make cities more climate-proof. After Beijing flooded in 2012, he began pushing the government to build “sponge cities,” which are designed to better absorb heavy rainfall through a combination of natural areas and open spaces. Now the “sponge city” model is being trialled all over China, The associated press explains, but the implementation was far from smooth.
The latest chatter. It is estimated that half of the world’s 7,151 languages will have their last word spoken before 2100, and many will disappear due to systematic deletion. A detailed timeline of e-stream, beginning in the 14th century, reframes the history of nationalism and colonial conquest through the documentation of ‘language politics’. For those who like to read about lesser-known parts of history, this record is a treasure trove.
End of an era. With giants like Meta and Microsoft cutting their workforces, and Musk-led Twitter running to the brink like a lemming, technology is having a rough year. It could mean the end of a technical era. According to Full stack economy, the industry has evolved, matured and become saturated over the last 20 years. Silicon Valley may be entering a new era in which the belt will tighten and the focus will shift from growth to profit.
Shoot for gold. Known as “the beautiful game,” football (or soccer, to Americans) is also caught in the rather uglier net of trying to make a profit. This year’s World Cup, which kicks off this weekend, has been plagued by allegations of bribery between host country Qatar and governing body FIFA in a multibillion-dollar event that relied on exploited migrant workers. The economist looks at how the global match over money plays out.
Sincerely. At a time when firing a “Tks!” about text only takes a second, a handwritten thank you note can have even more impact. The New York Times talk to social etiquette experts who, contrary to what the digital flock may think, argue that showing gratitude by putting pen to paper is far from passé. Counselors also say you don’t need to work out the task – even a three-sentence note may suffice, and the gesture will be appreciated.
Thank you for reading! And don’t hesitate to reach out with any comments, questions, or topics you’d like to learn more about.
Have a totally uncrowded weekend,
— Samanth Subramanian, editor of global news; Ana Campoy, deputy editor of finance and economics; Amanda Shendruk, senior reporter; Clarisa Diaz, reporter.
Additional contributions from Julia Malleck