This summer, James Gallagher wrote in an article that there will soon be a “‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash” in birth rates. He determined this based on a study headed by ABC and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The study concludes that because of exponentially declining birth rates, the world population will be older and shrinking in 80 years.
By 2100, 183 of the 195 countries are predicted to have total fertility rates below replacement (2.1), causing an inversion of age structure, with the older, non-working population outweighing young, able bodied working individuals.
The study finds that the more educated a population is, the lower its birthrate. “In many ways,” Gallagher says “falling fertility rates are a success story.” And yet even if only some of these predictions become true, the study claims there will be major “economic, fiscal, and geopolitical… decline” (18).
For economically prosperous countries, the study calls for “liberal immigration policies” as “the most immediate solution” (19). Although potentially a short-term fix, this is not sustainable. Murray claims there will be a “competition for migrants [among more prosperous countries], as there won’t be enough [migrants].” Even Elon Musk, along with Jack Ma at the 2019 World Artificial Intelligence Conference, warned against the possible problems of this option. Commenting on the “accelerating collapse” of the population, Musk observes “[t]he common rebuttal is like, ‘Well what about immigration?’ I’m like, ‘From where?’”
Over 93% of countries will not be replacing themselves in 2100. Interestingly, the countries expected to have a significant population increase are considered the least prosperous. In 80 years, even after a higher mortality risk factor is taken into account, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to triple to more than 3 billion. Unprosperous countries will grow, and prosperous countries will decline.
This situation is strange. Largely due to the modern reforming of family life, reproductive technology has allowed for a universal drop in birthrates. Usually in the past, a prosperous country implied a prosperous population, pointing to a thriving society. In contradiction, this study shows that what is considered prosperity today will lead to major decline in the future.
Although population growth and decline is multifaceted and complex, let this study’s predictions, at the very least, prompt us to re-consider our understanding of success. How must we re-orient our priorities, so that long- term growth is considered prosperous and life, a success?
Vollset, Stein Emil, Christopher J L Murry, et al. Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100. 13, October, 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930677-2
Gallagher, James. “Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born.” 13 October 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53409521
Clifford, Catherine. “Elon Musk and Jack Ma agree: The biggest problem the world will face is population collapse.” 13 October, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/30/elon-musk-jack-ma-biggest-problem-world-will-face-is-population-drop.html