Global population boom goes bust

Our planet will be a lot emptier than we first expected

It’s always been hard to question the status quo, whether it’s speaking out against Apartheid or tackling climate change. Very few people take on the UN over one of the most widespread assumptions in society. But thank goodness someone did.

In 2019 the weak signals were there for those who wanted to see. Whereas the UN projected 9 billion people in 2050 and 11 billion by 2100, a select group of scientists and demographers modelled a different future; one in which the global population stabilizes around 2050, and then starts to decline.

The UN has always forecast population using fertility rates, migration and death rates. They never explicitly included the dynamic of urbanization and improved female education. The fact of the matter is, as soon as a girl gets a smartphone, her world starts to change. When she graduates from university in the city, three children aren’t needed to till the land anymore. Instead, they need phones and want Adidas sneakers.

The replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per adult female is now seldom seen. The latest statistics out of China show that the fertility rate stands at 1.03. In India, it has fallen to 1.9 and in Brazil the average is 1.7. On the African continent, nations like Kenya are seeing the rise of independent, empowered women, but in places like Niger and Mali, wombs are still working overtime.

Investors and urban planners previously focused on the consequences of overpopulation; but now, some governments who believe the new evidence are scrambling to convert schools into retirement villages. In an attempt to boost birth rates, Hungary also continues to promise that women with four kids will be exempt from paying income taxes, for life.

Businesses face the prospect of a shortage of working age labour, as well as a lack of customers for baby products and children’s toys. But, as the head of Deutsche Bank, Wolfgang Müller, aptly said: “It’s a whole lot better to have an uncomfortable truth, than an uncomfortable lie!”

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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