Blog Post

Demographic Tectonics

What’s at stake The previous issue of the blogs review emphasized the immediate migration challenge following the Arab Spring. This issue looks at longer-term migration challenges posed by a reshaping of the planet’s demographic map. In a recent report, the United Nations Population Division has revised upward its demographic projections. The new calculations, based on […]

By: and Date: June 2, 2011 Topic: Global economy and trade

What’s at stake

The previous issue of the blogs review emphasized the immediate migration challenge following the Arab Spring. This issue looks at longer-term migration challenges posed by a reshaping of the planet’s demographic map. In a recent report, the United Nations Population Division has revised upward its demographic projections. The new calculations, based on improved methods and the most recent demographic trends, essentially add a billion people to the population projection for 2100, and about 150 million to the projection for 2050. Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some poor countries, and has shown a slight increase in many wealthier countries. According to the UN experts, much of the projected rise will occur in a group of high-fertility countries—defined as those where the average woman has more than 1.5 daughters.

Justin Gillis and Celia Dugger outlines the importance of the UN demographic revision in the NYT Green blog: expect a flurry of updates in coming months on projections for climate change, land use, water availability and many other issues as the consequences of these revisions work their way through the world of scientific prognostication.

Long-term migration forces

Pierre Buhler argues in the New-York Times that it is about time for Europeans to address the urgent need for sound management of the inescapable migratory flows from south to north. The latest United Nations population figures provide a dramatic glimpse of how the demographic map of the planet might be reshaped. One consequence of the growth curve is the pressure to emigrate generated by the annual arrival on the African labor markets of some 20 million youths. That bulge is liable to increase year after year, reaching 40 million by 2050.The migratory pressure will be directed in the first place toward Europe, whose population, in sharp contrast with Africa’s, is bound to age and stagnate.The United States and some other countries have long turned immigration into a public policy that, despite some stumbling blocks, has helped preserve a balanced age pyramid. In Europe, recent developments have shown the extent to which immigration can corrode the European construction.

Assaf Razin points in VoxEU that although price wedges for commodities and financial assets rarely exceed the ratio 2:1, wages of similarly qualified individuals in advanced and low-income countries differ by a factor of 10.

Shahram Khosravi
argues in FiveBooks that we have an average of two persons a day who die on the way to Europe. The rate is almost the same between Mexico and the United States. We have an increasing number of stateless people and an increasing number of undocumented migrants. Khosravi also points to the feminization of migration as an important new trend. Last year for the first time 50% of all migrants in the world were women (the figure for Europe is 51%). What is important in relation to the gender aspect is that usually they leave their own family. They leave their own kids to come to Rome or Los Angeles or Dubai to cook for other people’s kids, to take care of other people’s kids. This migration pattern corresponds to the new needs of advanced economies: we don’t need a cheap labour force for factories anymore. We are not in the Europe of the 1960s. We need people who can cook for us, clean for us, and take care of our kids.

Revisiting a two-century long debate: how far can the population curve be bent?

The UN report upward revision for world population has revived a two-century-long debate about the risks and benefits of demographic growth and its interaction with innovation, nutrition and the environment. In the 1960s and 1970s the population growth rates — then of the same magnitude as those of sub-Saharan Africa today — fostered a number of controversies in the West about the capacity of the earth to feed a constantly growing mankind. John Bongaarts gives the history of thought background on whether more population is good or bad. The pessimistic “neo-Malthusian” view of which Paul Ehrlich, author of the “Population Bomb” in 1968, is a leading figure, posits that humanity is doomed due to overpopulation and overconsumption. Conversely the optimistic view, of which Esther Boserup was one of the earliest proponents, considers that technological innovation spurred by population growth will help meet the needs of growing populations. The line of reasoning is that necessity is the mother of invention.

Justin Gillis and Celia Dugger argue that even before the new estimates were issued, it was not at all clear that global agriculture could keep up with demand, which is rising both because of population growth and income growth. Even if food production does keep up, many experts worry that the environmental damage from agriculture, already substantial, will grow worse; it is already one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming. On top of that, an extra billion people will demand energy, much of which may need to come from burning fossil fuels, thus adding to the greenhouse problem.

David Lam
argued – in his presidential address at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America this year – that the challenges we are facing are staggering but really nothing compared to the challenges we faced in the 1960s. In spite of 50 years of the fastest population growth on record, the world did remarkably well in producing enough food and reducing poverty. Joseph Chamie expressed his confidence in the ability of technology to respond to the challenge of less-polluting energy production for a larger population.

Gary Becker and Richard Posner, while recognizing the pressure exerted by population growth on the environment and natural resources, believe that a 10.1 billion strong human population would be a good thing thanks to greater specialization, innovation, the greater supply of geniuses.

Uncertainties: technological progress and fertility levels

Back in 1981, Nathan Keyfitz pointed out the limits of population forecasting concluding that “relatively short-term forecasts, say up to ten or 20 years, do tell us something, but that beyond a quarter-century or so we simply do not know what the population will be.”In particular, past population forecasts have been often off-mark.

Joseph Chamie argues that if the future size of the world’s population was known, living conditions will hinge greatly on technology and lifestyle choices, which are hard to predict. These views echo that put forth in a 1996 article “Population Growth and Earth’s Human Carrying capacity” by Joel E. Cohen who noted that the globe’s capacity to support a larger human population was dynamic and uncertain, determined both by natural constraints and human choices.

The UN report underlines that its projections are highly sensitive to assumptions made about fertility levels in various parts of the world, emphasizing that small deviations can produce large differences over time. Fertility levels and growth rates have been traditionally hard to predict, as evidenced by the failure of all experts to anticipate the post World War II baby boom for instance. But as Ansley Coale established in a 1957 seminal contribution, there are key ingredients for population forecasting as fertility levels primarily determine the structure and rate of growth of a population.

Beyond *the* number

Andrew Revkin argues in his NYT blog that “the overall number, whatever you choose, could be a red herring”, arguing that emerging demographic challenges are best described as “a dangerous scattering of clusters bombs” rather than the “global scale, catastrophic “population bomb” concept that caught on in the 1960s”.

David Bloom stresses how different regions face different challenges, highlighting the “daunting challenge” facing Africa, by far the fastest growing continent currently and in the foreseeable future. Specific demographic challenges and opportunities at the global level that affect different parts of the world in different ways include imbalances in sex ratios, changes in age structure that may result in rapid aging, fast-growing working-age populations (also known as the “demographic dividend” phenomenon), international migrations flows, etc. Addressing these various challenges requires specific policies aimed at generating jobs, fostering knowledge, and increasing accountability, among other objectives.

Bruegel Economic Blogs Review is an information service that surveys external blogs. It does not survey Bruegel’s own publications, nor does it include comments by Bruegel authors.

Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read article More by this author

Blog Post

Vaccine diplomacy: soft power lessons from China and Russia?

The rocky start to the European Union’s vaccination rollout has allowed Moscow and Beijing to score political points in the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe.

By: Michael Leigh Topic: Global economy and trade, Macroeconomic policy Date: April 27, 2021
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

What will the EU's new migration policy do differently?

What does the EU's new migration policy look like and is it likely to succeed?

Speakers: Hanne Beirens, Margaritis Schinas and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Macroeconomic policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 10, 2020
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

An appropriate European Union response to tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

If the European Union can mediate effectively to resolve current Greek-Turkish tensions over energy in the Eastern Mediterranean, it could also provide an opportunity to tackle more deep-rooted problems.

By: Michael Leigh Topic: Global economy and trade, Green economy Date: August 28, 2020
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Has COVID-19 dented the EU’s credibility in the Balkans?

Muddled initial reactions to the COVID-19 crisis tarnished the EU’s image in the Western Balkans. Europe should not take for granted the extent of its influence over its backyard in the face of Chinese and Russian charm offensives.

By: Aliénor Cameron and Michael Leigh Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: June 15, 2020
Read about event

Past Event

Past Event

What help is needed for the EU neighbourhood to come through the COVID-19 crisis?

At this event European Commissioner Várhelyi and EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti will discuss what Europe is doing to help it's neighbourhood respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Speakers: Sir Suma Chakrabarti, Maria Demertzis and Olivér Várhelyi Topic: Global economy and trade, Macroeconomic policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: May 12, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author


Can the EU overcome its enlargement impasse?

The ‘new enlargement methodology’ may help overcome the impasse triggered by the inability of the European Council to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global economy and trade Date: February 27, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Questions to the Commissioner-designate for Neighbourhood and Enlargement

Historically, the EU enlargement process played a powerful role in encouraging the EU candidates and potential candidates to conduct fundamental political, economic and institutional reforms. This has also happened with the Western Balkan countries once they received the EU membership perspective in 2003. However, in the last few years, preparations for their accession slowed down, as a result of limited progress in domestic reforms, unresolved regional conflicts and limited appetite for further enlargement among EU member states.

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: September 30, 2019
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

It’s hard to live in the city: Berlin’s rent freeze and the economics of rent control

A proposal in Berlin to ban increases in rent for the next five years sparked intense debate in Germany. Similar policies to the Mietendeckel are currently being discussed in London and NYC. All three proposals reflect and raise similar concerns – the increase in per-capita incomes is not keeping pace with increases in rents, but will a cap do more harm than good? We review recent views on the matter.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: July 8, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

The breakdown of the covered interest rate parity condition

A textbook condition of international finance breaks down. Economic research identifies the interplay between divergent monetary policies and new financial regulation as the source of the puzzle, and generates concerns about unintended consequences for financing conditions and financial stability.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou and Bruegel Topic: Banking and capital markets Date: July 1, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

The June Eurogroup meeting: Reflections on BICC

The Eurogroup met on June 13th to discuss the deepening of the economic and monetary union (EMU) and prepare the discussions for the Euro Summit. From the meeting came two main deliverables: an agreement over a budgetary instrument for competitiveness and convergence and the reform of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) treaty texts. We review economists’ first impressions.

By: Bruegel and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: June 24, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

The campaign against ‘nonsense’ output gaps

A campaign against “nonsense” consensus output gaps has been launched on social media. It has triggered responses focusing on the implications of output gaps for fiscal policy under EU rules, especially for Italy. But the debate about the reliability of output-gap estimates is more wide-ranging.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou and Bruegel Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: June 17, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

The inverted yield curve

Longer-term yields falling below shorter-term yields have historically preceded recessions. Last week, the US 10-year yield was 21 basis points below the 3-month yield, a feat last seen during the summer of 2007. Is the current yield curve a trustworthy barometer for future growth?

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo and Bruegel Topic: Global economy and trade Date: June 11, 2019
Load more posts