March 15, 2010

THE NEXT AMERICAN CENTURY:

What American Demographics Will Look Like in 2050 (Joel Kotkin 03/15/2010, New Geography)

Of course the percentage of childless women is rising here as elsewhere, but compared to other advanced countries, America still boasts the highest fertility rate: 50 percent higher than Russia, Germany or Japan, and well above that of China, Italy, Singapore, Korea and virtually all of eastern Europe.

As a result, while the U.S. population is growing, Europe and Japan are seeing their populations stagnate -- and are seemingly destined to eventually decline. Russia's population could be less than a third of the U.S. by 2050, driven down by low birth and high mortality rates. Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken of "the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."

In East Asia, fertility is particularly low in highly crowded cities such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing and Seoul. And China's one-child policy -- and a growing surplus of males over females -- has set the stage for a rapidly aging population by mid-century. South Korea, meanwhile, has experienced arguably the fastest drop in fertility in world history, which perhaps explains its extraordinary, if scandal-plagued, interest in human cloning.

Even more remarkably, America will expand its population in the midst of a global demographic slowdown. Global population growth rates of 2 percent in the 1960s have dropped to less than half that rate today, and this downward trend is likely to continue -- falling to less than 0.8 percent by 2025 -- largely due to an unanticipated drop in birthrates in developing countries such as Mexico and Iran. These declines are in part the result of increased urbanization, the education of women and higher property prices. The world's population, according to some estimates, could peak as early as 2050 and begin to fall by the end of the century.

Population growth has very different effects on wealthy and poor nations. In the developing world, a slowdown of population growth can offer at least short-term economic and environmental benefits. But in advanced countries, a rapidly aging or decreasing population does not bode well for societal or economic health, whereas a growing one offers the hope of expanding markets, new workers and entrepreneurial innovation.

In fact, throughout history, low fertility and socioeconomic decline have been inextricably linked, creating a vicious cycle that affected such once-vibrant civilizations as ancient Rome and 17th-century Venice and that now affects contemporary Europe , Russia and Japan.

Within the next four decades, most of the developed countries in both Europe and East Asia will become veritable old-age homes: a third or more of their populations will be older than 65, compared with only a fifth in the U.S. By 2050, roughly 30 percent of China's population will be older than 60, according to the United Nations. The U.S. will have to cope with an aging population and lower population growth, in relative terms, but it will maintain a youthful, dynamic demographic.


As a certain fellow was wont to say: You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2010 2:14 PM
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