The New Population Order
Joseph Chamie is director of the UN Population Division.
New York - With increasing globalization, population trends and
demographic differences are having greater significance and consequences
than in the past. Rapid rates of population growth in some regions, population
decline in others, population aging, international migration, urbanization,
HIV/AIDS and other critical demographic trends are ushering in a New International
This new order profoundly affects social and economic conditions, political
representation and influence, and international relations, as well as
interactions between groups within countries.
An important aspect of the new order is the regional shift in world population.
After World War II, for example, Europe accounted for 22 percent of the
world's population, and Africa 8 percent. Today, both regions have approximately
the same share of world population, about 13 percent. By 2050, Africa
is expected to be three times as populous as Europe.
A second example is population growth in India and the European Union.
With 1 billion people, India is about two and a half times as populous
as the combined populations of the 15 countries making up the European
Union. For the entire year 2000, the natural increase of the population-births
minus deaths-of the European Union was 343,000 persons. India achieved
this amount of population growth during the first week of this year.
A comparison of the world's two largest economic powers further illustrates
the new order. Because the United States and the European Union are following
distinctly different demographic paths, the US population, which today
is about 93 million smaller than the European Union's, is projected to
be 58 million larger than the European Union's by 2050.
Differential rates of growth also have significant consequences at the
sub-regional level. Fifty years ago, for instance, Spain's population
was three times larger than Morocco's; in 50 years, Morocco is expected
to be 60 percent more populous than Spain. In 1950, the population of
Japan was about four times that of the Philippines; by 2050, the population
of the Philippines is expected to be close to 20 percent larger than Japan's.
Again, 50 years ago, the Russian Federation was close to three times more
populous than Pakistan. Fifty years from now, Pakistan will be three times
more populous than the Russian Federation.
Due to low fertility, increased longevity and limited migration, the populations
of Japan and virtually all countries of Europe are becoming smaller and
older. For example, by mid-century, the populations of 39 countries are
projected to be smaller than they are today (e.g., Japan and Germany,
14 percent smaller; Italy and Hungary, 25 percent smaller; and Russian
Federation, Georgia and Ukraine, between 28 to 40 percent smaller).
Population aging will also be pervasive, bringing the numbers and proportions
of elderly to historically unprecedented levels. Globally, the number
of people 65 and older will triple by 2050. In many countries, one person
out of three is expected to be 65 or older, and the ratio of working-age
people to older people will be halved, from 4:1 to 2:1.
Today, many developed countries already rely on international migration
to compensate for modest population growth. For instance, net migration
to the European Union in 2000 was more than twice the natural population
growth (816,000 versus 343,000).
Although fertility may rebound in the coming decades, few believe that
fertility in most developed countries will recover sufficiently to reach
replacement levels in the foreseeable future. Moreover, without migration,
the population of more developed regions would start declining in 2003,
rather than in 2025; and by 2050, the population would be 10 percent less
than projected under the assumption of continued migration.
Thus, international migration from developing countries to developed countries
will play an increasingly important role in the new order.
While the less developed countries are experiencing declines in fertility
and population aging, their populations continue to grow. The populations
of Africa, for example, are growing very rapidly. In the past 50 years,
Africa's population more than tripled, from 221 million to 794 million.
In the coming decades, even taking into account the devastating AIDS epidemic,
Africa's population is expected to more than double, reaching 2 billion
by 2050. The case of Kenya illustrates the incredible demographic changes
taking place on the continent. In 1950, Kenya's population totaled 6 million;
today is is 31 million; and by 2050, it is expected to reach 55 million.
Another salient feature of the new order is the increasing urban population.
Most of the world's population growth is taking place in urban areas.
Over the next three decades, for example, urban areas in less developed
regions are expected to double in population, from 1.9 billion today to
As a result, world population will see a historic shift in its urban-rural
composition. Thirty-five years ago, about two-thirds of the world lived
in rural areas. However, 35 years from today, we will be approaching a
world where two-thirds of the population will be living in urban areas.
Also noteworthy in the new order is the emergence of mega-cities-agglomerations
of 10 million or more inhabitants-that have grown rapidly during the second
half of the 20th century. In 1950, there was one city in this category:
New York, with 12.3 million inhabitants. By 1975, the number increased
to five: Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. Today there
are 19 mega-cities, and many of them have reached unprecedented size,
exceeding 15 million or even 20 million inhabitants. By 2015, the number
of mega-cities is projected to increase by four additional Asian cities,
thereby reaching 23.
A notable aspect of the emergence of mega-cities is that it bypasses Europe
entirely. In addition, the relative position of the European cities on
the world stage has changed markedly over the past 50 years. For example,
in 1950, Europe had 10 of the world's 25 largest cities, but today it
has just three, and by 2015 it will have none.
The current world population of 6.1 billion will increase by another 3
billion in the next 50 years. Nearly all of the newcomers will be born
in less developed regions. At present, in fact, six countries-India, China,
Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Indonesia-account for half of the world's
annual population increase of 77 million people.
In sum, the future will be characterized by a world population that is
significantly larger, substantially older, more urban, more concentrated
in developing countries and more ethnically and culturally diverse.
Just as tectonic plates moving beneath the Earth's surface will mean profound
change, even though they remain unrecognized at the moment, the trends
bringing about this new order go largely unnoticed today. In order to
avoid political and social calamity ahead, governments and policy-makers
need to grasp now how these seismic shifts will fundamentally alter established
assumptions about the future.
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