The adage “demographics are destiny” is increasingly being replaced by a notion that population trends should actually shape policy. As the power of projection grows, governments around the world find themselves looking to find ways to counteract elaborate and potentially threatening population models before they become reality.
Nowhere is this clearer than in China’s recent announcement that it was suspending its “one child” policy. The country’s leaders are clearly concerned about what demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has labeled “this coming tsunami of senior citizens” with a smaller workforce, greater pension obligations and generally slower economic growth.
A second example is Europe’s open migration policy. Despite widespread opposition by its own citizens, and cost estimates that run to a trillion euros over 30 years, Europe’s political and business leaders regard migration as critical to address the Continent’s aging demographics. Germany knows it may not be able to keep its economic engine running without a huge influx of workers.
In defense of the migration policy, European Union economists project that refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia could boost Europe’s GDP by 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent by 2020.
This all speaks to a kind of demographic arbitrage between countries with aging demographics and those with youth to spare. Half the world’s population already lives in countries with fertility rates below replacement level (2.1 per woman).
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.
Photo "Nursery Cart" by flickr user Pieterjan Vandaele