The consequences would be felt much sooner and with greater impact
July 15, 2020 9:44 AM   Subscribe

World Population Could Peak Decades Ahead of U.N. Forecast, Study Asserts (NYTimes) A study published in The Lancet Tuesday (link to press release, not paywalled), suggests that the forecasts used by the UN till now, predicting a peak in the global population at just under 11 billion in 2100, may not be accurate. Instead the population may peak already in 2064 at 9.7 billion and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100. In some countries, the populations will also age considerably.

The authors write:
Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth. A sustained TFR lower than the replacement level in many countries, including China and India, would have economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences. Policy options to adapt to continued low fertility, while sustaining and enhancing female reproductive health, will be crucial in the years to come.
posted by mumimor (51 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sure there is a downside but on the whole that is good news! Maybe we won't completely choke and f%#k the planet after all.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:52 AM on July 15 [14 favorites]


It is good that we are getting to the point where we can talk about "peak population" and associated challenges as opposed to "overpopulation" which is so often employed as a racist trope.

This piece from 2017 takes a look at that: I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:01 AM on July 15 [20 favorites]


Something sure seems to be slowing population growth in the US.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:03 AM on July 15 [9 favorites]


Good. Now let's talk about understanding steady-state (or very slow growth) economics and UBI.

Because if we don't get ahead of the conversation and start defining the debate's parameters now, the oligarch crowd will make those things inconceivable until it's too late.

(Maybe it's already too late.)
posted by tclark at 10:32 AM on July 15 [27 favorites]


It is good that we are getting to the point where we can talk about "peak population" and associated challenges as opposed to "overpopulation" which is so often employed as a racist trope.

This piece from 2017 takes a look at that: I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why.

DirtyOldTown

Yeah, it's always been a really weird and disturbing element in these conversations on both the left and the right. You expect right wing Club of Rome types to go on about needing to sterilize and control the teeming black and brown hordes, but left wing environmental discussions, including on this very site, too often have almost gleeful comments about the predicted deaths of billions.
posted by star gentle uterus at 10:56 AM on July 15 [13 favorites]


Here's a short compendium on Wikipedia of population projections made since the 1950s. Interestingly, the first one, made at that time, predicted 9 billion sometime in the 21st century followed by a decline. So not a great deal of difference between that one, 65 years ago, and this latest one. A 2012 projection by Jørgen Randers is cited, which predicted a peak of 8.1 billion in the 2040s. Some of this depends on factors not related to fertility, such as longevity. And pandemics. My feeling is that just as global warming outcomes keep exceeding (being worse than) forecasts, population curves will keep being lower than forecasts and the ultimate peak will be lower and sooner than anybody expects right now. And the current economic turbulence we are seeing because of Covid-19, tensions with China, and climate change will continue and move right into turbulence (or difficult adjustments, if you like) due to slowing population growth followed by the peak and the shrinkage period.

An interesting question, not being addressed by any of the forecasters, is what happens, besides some period of shrinkage, after the peak. How long will the decline last? Will it keep declining, will it stabilize, or will there be a dip followed by a new period of growth? Much depends on how humankind collectively addresses the economic challenges that come with shrinkage, such as populations top-heavy with old people.
posted by beagle at 11:33 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]


I've done some work in this area. I can very confidently say that both sides - though highly expert - are blowing smoke out of their ass if they think they can project population levels 50 years out. Fertility rates can change relatively quickly and have a huge effect on population levels. (Mortality is also impossible to predict well, but generally doesn't the same effect on total population variation as fertility.) The UN projects convergence to a total fertility rate (lifetime births per woman) of 1.75; the Lancet paper projects 1.66. Who the hell knows?

Playing around with these scenarios is useful to some extent, but I can't think of how projections of births in 2070 would affect any policy decisions we make today. Either way, women should have women control over their own fertility: That means not only access to contraception but the support they need to raise their preferred number of children. The right conditions generally lead to a a TFR of around 2, which means a stable population.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:33 AM on July 15 [25 favorites]


Previously, with a look at how trends in different countries and regions around the world are changing, and differing from the U.N. forecast.

But as Mr.Know-it-some noted, so much can change in 50 years that pinning hopes to these distant figures is of limited benefit.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:37 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]




Because if we don't get ahead of the conversation and start defining the debate's parameters now, the oligarch crowd will make those things inconceivable until it's too late.

(Maybe it's already too late.)


what if screwfly solution but for billionaires
posted by lalochezia at 11:40 AM on July 15 [8 favorites]


I'm pretty certain this is going to break one of 2 ways: either overshoot to the upside with waaaaay more people living waaaay longer (if resource challenges are resolved) or (more likely) a much bigger collapse driven by some catastrophic event (or combination of catastrophic events) including but hardly limited to war, plague, famine, climate or an asteroid strike. The idea of a peak and then gentle fall because finally we are all educated & middle class & using contraceptives seems ... optimistic.
posted by chavenet at 11:43 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Because if we don't get ahead of the conversation and start defining the debate's parameters now, the oligarch crowd will make those things inconceivable

In 2019 US population growth was 0.5%. Meanwhile, half of the political spectrum is frantically trying every possible way to limit immigration while also talking in semi-coded ways about the need for more babies (of a particular racial background only, of course). China, home of the most spectacularly brutal fertility control system ever devised, will shortly be facing a demographic collapse barring significant intervention and you'd better believe they're gonna intervene in every way they can. RSS-aligned interests in India have been muttering about muslim birth rates and "love jihad" for years now, and I personally believe they're gearing up to do something about it near-term. Even Europe won't fully escape this (cf. Hungary, Poland, etc.).

So it seems pretty likely that things are going to go really really poorly for a lot of women in the not too distant future. Maximum fertility restraint for some, mandatory children for others. The time to prevent that is now (or, well, really yesterday but now is what we've got to work with).

Politicians will rant about "teeming hordes of invaders" while simultaneously decrying "freeloaders" who aren't having enough kids. We've seen where that leads before, and it's gonna lead there again.
posted by aramaic at 12:11 PM on July 15 [8 favorites]


Methods: We modelled future population in reference and alternative scenarios as a function of fertility, migration, and mortality rates. We developed statistical models for completed cohort fertility at age 50 years (CCF50). Completed cohort fertility is much more stable over time than the period measure of the total fertility rate (TFR). We modelled CCF50 as a time-series random walk function of educational attainment and contraceptive met need. Age-specific fertility rates were modelled as a function of CCF50 and covariates. We modelled age-specific mortality to 2100 using underlying mortality, a risk factor scalar, and an autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) model. Net migration was modelled as a function of the Socio-demographic Index, crude population growth rate, and deaths from war and natural disasters; and use of an ARIMA model. The model framework was used to develop a reference scenario and alternative scenarios based on the pace of change in educational attainment and contraceptive met need. We estimated the size of gross domestic product for each country and territory in the reference scenario. Forecast uncertainty intervals (UIs) incorporated uncertainty propagated from past data inputs, model estimation, and forecast data distributions.

Their model does not include the impact of climate change on agriculture. I'd be pleasantly surprised if the planet has the ability to feed our current population in 2050.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:12 PM on July 15 [5 favorites]


Something sure seems to be slowing population growth in the US.

Decreasing immigration. Native population growth crashed back in the 60's and the US has been increasing population mainly due to immigration. As other countries have been improving the immigration pull to the US has been weakening. Also Congress and the current Administration haven't exactly made it easy for people to immigrate to the US anymore.
posted by jmauro at 12:13 PM on July 15 [7 favorites]


The event of a catastrophe is easy enough to fix: governments can provide incentives for childbirth, and spend on early development and education. Yeah, your population's going to be young for a while, but we're a species that can reproduce fairly prolifically.

Longer life spans will come to be in a slower trend. Unless they suddenly find a way to halt aging or prevent cancer(s), you won't see a massive spike. If anything, it'll be quite slow (these sorts of treatments won't just be available to all immediately), and society will change to adapt to the new normal.

Changing life expectancy from 80 to 100 effectively anticipates 20% more people if nothing else changes, but it could take decades for that life expectancy to change, and so it'd be a blip compared to other trends.
posted by explosion at 12:18 PM on July 15


I have nothing useful to add to the discussion other than that the absolute number of babies being born in Canada has remained roughly steady for the past 70 years or so, which I find amusing. The population is three times higher but the birth rate is one-third, leading to similar absolute numbers. Every year for the past 70 years we've had around 375,000 babies, give or take 50,000 depending on the year.

This contributes nothing to the discussion, but I thought y'all might find it amusing, too.
posted by clawsoon at 12:20 PM on July 15 [8 favorites]


To extend tclark's comment, we really need to address the economic implications of this earlier rather than later. There has been lots of talk about the economic challenges facing societies where the population skews young (such as some countries in the Middle East where as much as half the population is younger than 25), and there are other issues that arise when the distribution skews toward the older end.

In the U.S., already the Social Security system is projected to go from 5 people paying in for every person taking benefits, down to 2-3 people paying in for every person taking benefits. The detailed math is more complicated, but the need to figure out ways a diminished population of younger individuals can support what will be a growing proportion of elders is vital.
posted by PhineasGage at 12:44 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Women’s Rights are Key in Slowing Down Population (from a year ago)
By Sivananthi Thanenthiran
Sivananthi Thanenthiran is the executive director of the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), a regional feminist NGO based in Malaysia championing sexual and reproductive health and rights in Asia Pacific.
It is also predicted that half of the world’s population growth will be concentrated in just nine countries: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the United States of America, Uganda and Indonesia.

However, women’s rights are key in slowing down population. It is no coincidence that in many of the above countries in our region as well as others, the status of women and girls is low. It is a fact that sexual and reproductive rights are integral to individual autonomy, to freely decide on matters of sexuality and reproduction, to have the right to consent and bodily integrity. Women need to have control over their bodies and should be able to decide whether or not to have children, when to have children, how many children to have.

In 2016, a study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Asian Demographic Research Institute (ADRI) at Shanghai University showed that if the world could achieve the 17 SDGs by 2030, it could slow down global population growth to 8.2 to 8.7 billion by 2100.
It's not so much about everyone being middle class. It's about women having basic human rights. If women can choose, most do not choose to have many children. And the thing is, as many of us know from personal experience, men also benefit from a more equal (if not perfect) gender balance. In Europe, no government measure has been succesfull in incentivizing women to have more than 2 children since the 1970's, and I don't see any coming. Several countries, including the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy cannot function without migrant workers.

A lot of things are going to change during the next 50 years, and it can go in all directions. We already know it will be scary in some ways and that old white people (and quite a few young white people) will do what they can to remain in control.

I agree that you can't predict much of what will happen in fifty years from now. That's why the economists have to keep on revising and fine tuning their models.
posted by mumimor at 12:47 PM on July 15 [14 favorites]


The event of a catastrophe is easy enough to fix: governments can provide incentives for childbirth, and spend on early development and education.

Not easy at all. Many governments have tried, and most have failed.

MORE COUNTRIES WANT MORE BABIES: AN ANALYSIS:

"While family-oriented measures may encourage some women to have children, those policies are costly and their overall effect on fertility is weak or unclear. The many forces pushing fertility to low levels are simply too powerful for governments to overcome with dictates, financial incentives, and public relations campaigns."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:49 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Not easy at all. Many governments have tried, and most have failed.

Birthing a child is not the same as raising a child, and it's generally expected that someone who does one is responsible for doing the other. These could be decoupled if the survival of the human race required it.

Raising a child has both a monetary and temporal cost to it. No government as of today makes raising a child 100% free, so that someone could raise a child without cost to themself.

If society needed to adjust to "I'm raising this child for the continuance of our society/species," instead of "I'm raising this child because I wanted a kid," we could do that, but we'd have to massively adjust the incentives and recognize "parent" as a full-time job. Or off-load a lot of parenting duties to the community and move to a community-raised children model.

It's a serious change to how we'd look at things, but it can be done. It feels intractable in our current society because they're giving only the tiniest nudges to a few economic levers for fear of upsetting the capitalist apple cart.

It's no different than how we currently shrug our shoulders at our "inability" to house every American.
posted by explosion at 1:01 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


PUTTING THE PLANET ON A DIET (from National Geographic)
An international team of 37 experts called the EAT-Lancet Commission has generated the first scientific targets for a nutritionally sound and sustainably produced planetwide diet. Global consumption of foods such as fruits and nuts would double, while the world’s appetite for red meat and sugar would be cut in half. The aim? To feed 10 billion people by 2050 while also protecting the environment.
posted by mumimor at 1:16 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


and sugar would be cut in half.

I'm surprised by that, given that sugar cane is one of the most efficient converters of light to food energy:
One of the things we have learned is that overall, photosynthesis is relatively inefficient. For example, based on the amount of carbon fixed by a field of corn during a typical growing season, only about 1 - 2% of the solar energy falling on the field is recovered as new photosynthetic products. The efficiency of uncultivated plant life is only about 0.2%. In sugar cane, which is one of the most efficient plants, about 8% of the light absorbed by the plant is preserved as chemical energy.
posted by clawsoon at 1:26 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


but left wing environmental discussions, including on this very site, too often have almost gleeful comments about the predicted deaths of billions.

Yeah. On MetaFilter, throwing out "solutions" that conveniently leave out the "...and then the streets ran 6ft deep with blood.." steps in the middle. It's one of our favorite past times.

what if screwfly solution but for billionaires

Lol, see? Only took 45 mins.
posted by sideshow at 1:35 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


The event of a catastrophe is easy enough to fix: governments can provide incentives for childbirth, and spend on early development and education.

Doesn't necessarily work -- at least how Metafilter often imagines it to do. The so called happiest country on earth certainly is not reproducing.
posted by zeikka at 1:43 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


As it turns out, many women don't want to raise a lot of babies, even if it's easy to do so. Because even if it were financially "free" it wouldn't be free in terms of time and effort. Kids take a lot of raising.

And kids don't seem to thrive in institutional settings, oddly, so you can't just open giant national daycare/orphanages and turn out functional adults.

It makes sense to have no kids or a few kids. Some women will want more, but most will find just a few to be all the effort they want to expend.

If that's a problem, economically, then the solutions need to be creative. I remember hearing lots of chatter about automation taking our jobs; isn't it better to have fewer people, then? Maybe we should speed that up instead of fretting that women aren't having enough kids to enslave in terrible dangerous labor that we apparently have to have to keep functioning.

At the end of the day, I think the "solution" to this is the same as elsewhere; tax the resources hoarded by the 1% and distribute what's needed to the people actually doing the work. Social Security only exists to try to soften the brutalities of capitalism without a safety net for the old. We could build a better net.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on July 15 [11 favorites]


I just read an article this morning about how birth rates are going to crash down so...should be interesting to see which happens.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:33 PM on July 15


Something sure seems to be slowing population growth in the US.

An artist's impression of what might be going on.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:45 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


METAFILTER: some catastrophic event (or combination of catastrophic events) including but hardly limited to war, plague, famine, climate or an asteroid strike.
posted by philip-random at 4:56 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Bricker and Ibbitson made a similar argument in last year's Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. They think that UN figures badly overestimate population growth.

We had a good discussion with one of the authors two weeks ago.
posted by doctornemo at 6:57 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


To extend tclark's comment, we really need to address the economic implications of this earlier rather than later. There has been lots of talk about the economic challenges facing societies where the population skews young (such as some countries in the Middle East where as much as half the population is younger than 25), and there are other issues that arise when the distribution skews toward the older end.

In the U.S., already the Social Security system is projected to go from 5 people paying in for every person taking benefits, down to 2-3 people paying in for every person taking benefits. The detailed math is more complicated, but the need to figure out ways a diminished population of younger individuals can support what will be a growing proportion of elders is vital.


As you note, the impact doesn't come so much from absolute decline in numbers (although that does have an effect) but from the change in the demographic structure. Note that this happens regardless of economic system or retirement arrangement, the ratio of retired to working people drives the system in big ways and whether part of the output from the latter goes to support the former works broadly the same way whether that transfer happens through taxes or through investment returns in pension funds / 401Ks.

That a lower population leads to a lower GDP is probably true but doesn't really matter. That it might lead to lower GDP per capita is more concerning.

There's a bunch of different ways to look at this, but the easiest is to split the population into a few groups:

1) Children (up to working age, so includes college students). Consume resources but do not take part in production.
2) Young adults. Starting their adult lives, taking out mortgages, car loans, etc. Drive consumption in our society. Net debtors.
3) Older adults. Also big consumers but less so than young adults. Accumulating wealth. (n.b. even if all they are accumulating a claim on social security or another sort of state pension, this still takes the form of part of their income effectively being deferred for future withdrawal)
4) Retired adults. Withdrawing from the store of wealth accumulated.

The macroeconomic effects of demographic structure come from the interaction between the size of the adult groups and their respective investment and consumption profiles. (children are more of leading indicator and drive the split of what young adults spend their consumption on.)

Young adults : Consumption++ Capital-
Older adults : Consumption= Capital+
Retired adults : Consumption- Capital--

So over the last 20 years, in many developed countries we've seen a capital glut as more late career people frantically stuff money away for their imminent retirement. At the same time as the core "Young adults" group is the smaller Generation X, the lower number of young adults means there is less net demand through consumption or borrowing. This leads to a rapidly dropping cost of capital. As a result, you see capital bubbles as all this money sloshes around looking for somewhere to go.

As that demographic bulge transitions from capital accumulation to drawdown though, you're left with an ever increasing ratio of people who are not working to workers (the dependency ratio). Whether that manifests in the form of high taxes, high costs of capital, or otherwise depends on the economic system.

Things are slightly different in the US because Millennials / echo boomers are a bigger generation than Gen X so after a decade or so, the situation starts to reverse as the oldest boomers die, the (numerically smaller) Gen X starts to retire, and Millenials hit their peak earning years. Countries that can handle substantial immigration can effectively increase the size of their younger generations. (There is a theory, which I do not fully buy, that Angela Merkel's decision to admit a very substantial number of refugees into Germany was partially a pension planning exercise).

It is totally possible to have population decline with only a modest demographic shift but that requires the decline to be really slow, a sudden decline driven by a reducing birthrate always eventually leads to this kind of shift in dependency ratio.

Other ways of coping only postpone the situation. Yes, people can work longer but nobody is particularly eager to have a shorter retired life just because of the effects that demographics have on macroeconomics!

[Note that this picture is fully compatible with a Marxist view of economics as well and does not require accepting the neoliberal economic consensus to make sense]
posted by atrazine at 4:49 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


Using immigration to boost population growth seems to be outsourcing reproduction to other countries rather than addressing the economic disincentives to having children. It's probably good for our environmental sustainability if we do reduce our population, but negative population growth rates lead to extinction in the long term. What happens in 1000 years or 10,000 years? What happens when the outsourced countries start having the same declining population issues? A culture that is unable to reproduce to grow children would be replaced by one that does. France appears to have population growth rates to be at replacement levels, but if other countries are using immigration to grow their population, it's more because they don't want to pay or acknowledge the true costs raising children. Just like with vaccine research, states need progressive taxes to socialize the cost of raising children. Conservative politicians are unwilling to raise them.
posted by DetriusXii at 8:36 AM on July 16


In Ethan of Athos, a SF novel by one of my favorite authors, the planet Athos can't afford a spaceship because they keep track of the cost of childcare and make sure to prioritize it. My favorite bit is the Athosian agent's incredulous response to being told that, on other planets, the labour costs of raising children are considered to be zero.
posted by Mogur at 8:42 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


We are one species. Right now and probably still in 50 years we will be reproducing ourselves just fine. During the entire history of mankind we, as a species, have been moving around to find places where we can live. Otherwise we would all still be in East Africa, and that would be a bit overwhelming, I think.

What we really need to do is begin to plan as one species on one planet. We can't have ten percent of all the people using nearly all the ressources, leaving the rest in poverty. We can't have the same ten percent making the whole planet uninhabitable for all the rest of the people and many other species. We really need to think in new ways. It's hard, but IMO, hard is fun. That's when the particular creative talent of our species comes into its element.
posted by mumimor at 8:49 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


atrazine: So over the last 20 years, in many developed countries we've seen a capital glut as more late career people frantically stuff money away for their imminent retirement. At the same time as the core "Young adults" group is the smaller Generation X, the lower number of young adults means there is less net demand through consumption or borrowing. This leads to a rapidly dropping cost of capital. As a result, you see capital bubbles as all this money sloshes around looking for somewhere to go.

One helpful simplification is that your retirement and social security savings are your claim on total world production in the future. If the world is creating a lot less stuff in total when you retire, your savings will get you a lot less stuff. If the world is creating a lot more stuff, you get more stuff.

This is complicated by inflation and relative power between capital and labour and changes in patterns of world trade and per capita productivity and whatnot and whatnot, but it's a handy way to get the brain past some of the economic abstractions.
posted by clawsoon at 9:03 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Bringing in immigrants to support Social Security is fine in my book, but "young people putting in to this particular support fund" is not the only way to deal with this situation.

I am tired of alarmist approaches that focus on "oh no not enough babies to be our workers" instead of ones that take as a given that population will go down, there will be some weird demographic humps in the meantime, and we will have to use the levers of economic power (taxes and social programs) to adjust in that situation, provided we aren't prevented from doing so by a capitalistic death cult.

Long-term, a smaller population is beneficial in many ways for our species' survival, and if our current society is not set up to function in that scenario, then we can fucking change it.

And no, we are not going to die out because people won't having enough babies. That kind of hand-wringing nonsense needs to not be part of this conversation. We are far likelier to die out because we off ourselves due to our own stupidity.
posted by emjaybee at 10:42 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


provided we aren't prevented from doing so by a capitalistic death cult

That's the trick, isn't it! What with AI and robots and all, there is no reason we cannot be working much much less than we do now - if only the robots and AIs were not all owned by the cultists.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:07 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Bringing in immigrants to support Social Security is fine in my book, but "young people putting in to this particular support fund" is not the only way to deal with this situation.

The biggest problem is everything that could be done to solve this particular problem besides getting women to have more babies starts with "25 years ago,"

"25 years ago, remove the social security contribution cap"
"25 years ago, increase the payroll tax during booms and lower it during recessions"
"25 years ago, make the effective tax rate 15% or even 18%"
"25 years ago, have employers make mandatory contributions to private savings accounts"
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:47 PM on July 16


All of that happened 25 years ago in Finland, and more, and they still aren't having the babies. The majority of women who can choose don't want more than two babies. Some don't want babies at all. It's fine. It will be fine.
posted by mumimor at 9:07 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


The biggest problem is everything that could be done to solve this particular problem besides getting women to have more babies starts with "25 years ago,"

Even there it's the same. It's a lack of working age adults that drives these cycles, not a lack of newborns.
posted by atrazine at 2:16 AM on July 17


Even there it's the same. It's a lack of working age adults that drives these cycles, not a lack of newborns.

That's true to an extent. But part of it is that the millennial adults of today, who are kids of boomers, aren't having the kids that will be needed to keep the cycle going. Millennials might be double fucked with a social security system that's criminally underfunded and the next "boom" generation disappearing. When I was growing up the average family had 2.3 children. Now my compatriots who are deciding to have a family are only putting out 1.9.

The social shockwave of this will reverberate for decades to come and I don't think we've even begun to come to terms with it.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:18 AM on July 17


The social shockwave of this will reverberate for decades to come and I don't think we've even begun to come to terms with it.

I don't know. First Japan, then Europe and China have dealt with this for decades. It is not like it is painless, and there are many issues that need to be dealt with more sensibly. But we are not struggling.
Things that really need to be done if they haven't happened already:
- pension reforms. With constant population growth, you can in effect borrow from the future. With stagnation or reduction of population, you have to find a way to make the actual money people pay into their pensions work. Macron is struggling with this.
- immigration. Japan, China and Northern Europe except the UK are not used to immigration and that is a complicated political issue. Immigration needs to be framed positively by those nation's leaders.
- improved productivity. This is already a huge thing in Japan and most of Europe. It can be done. But a lot of things in the world will change if higher productivity in China is combined with higher incomes across the board as it has been in Japan and Europe. It's already happening and the changes are already happening.
- education reform. A prerequisite for better productivity and better outcomes for immigration is education for all, up to graduate levels. This has actually been demonstrated in the UK, where the Tories then abandoned it. Weird. On the other hand, we now know the Tories are really, really stupid and act against their own interest.
posted by mumimor at 11:39 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


The social shockwave of this will reverberate for decades to come and I don't think we've even begun to come to terms with it.

What social shockwave? What's to not like about less crowding, less traffic, cheaper housing, and higher wages?

This notion that social security is going to collapse due to fewer workers is just fear mongering by the right wing. What really matters is GDP per capita. As long as we are producing more stuff and more services with less people, everyone gets richer, not poorer.

Increasing productivity more than compensates for population decline. Sure, there are fewer workers but increased productivity means that those fewer workers can produce more than their ancestors with more workers. More than enough to cover the increase in the elderly.

Are we all starving because there is only 1% of the farm workers of a century ago?
posted by JackFlash at 12:01 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


mumimor: immigration. Japan, China and Northern Europe except the UK are not used to immigration and that is a complicated political issue. Immigration needs to be framed positively by those nation's leaders.

A question I've never really thought about before: If immigration solves the demographic problems of rich countries by bringing in working-age adults, doesn't that mean it makes the demographic problems of poor countries worse by taking out working-age adults?
posted by clawsoon at 12:50 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


A question I've never really thought about before: If immigration solves the demographic problems of rich countries by bringing in working-age adults, doesn't that mean it makes the demographic problems of poor countries worse by taking out working-age adults?

It does, when those working age adults are the best educated working age adults, as they often are.
posted by mumimor at 1:06 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


If immigration solves the demographic problems of rich countries by bringing in working-age adults ...

What demographic problems? What are the assumptions of your premise?
posted by JackFlash at 1:58 PM on July 17


JackFlash: What demographic problems? What are the assumptions of your premise?

The entire discussion above. :-) Fewer working-age people having to produce everything that's needed for the old and the young.
posted by clawsoon at 3:04 PM on July 17


Fewer working-age people having to produce everything that's needed for the old and the young.

And that is simply a myth. It isn't true. Worker productivity is greater than the decline in worker population, so you have more than what is needed for the old and the young.

This is right-wing propaganda to undermine social benefits like Social Security. A smaller population is fully capable of producing everything needed for the old and young and more. The real problem is that more and more of that production is being funneled to a tiny minority of the rich at the top. That is a political problem. It is not a demographic problem and the right-wing would like you to believe otherwise.

There is no demographic problem with a shortage of workers.
posted by JackFlash at 5:59 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


And the irony of ironies is that it's the very same people saying that there is a demographic problem of too few workers simultaneously find excuses for low wages saying that automation and robots are taking all the jobs. These two beliefs cannot be simultaneously true. They are gaslighting you.
posted by JackFlash at 6:03 PM on July 17


JackFlash: Worker productivity is greater than the decline in worker population

Is this true in the caring professions, though, which is (I assume) where much of the need will be? Have nurses and homecare workers and childcare workers and teachers seen productivity increases in any meaningful way, other than running them ragged and lowering the quality of care by making each worker look after more and more people? Won't this need mean a shifting of workers out of industries that have seen big productivity increases and into caring professions that haven't (and probably shouldn't)? The "sandwich generation" writ large?
posted by clawsoon at 6:04 AM on July 18


Won't this need mean a shifting of workers out of industries that have seen big productivity increases and into caring professions that haven't (and probably shouldn't)?
One of the learning health care assistents at my mums nursing home is a 57 year old man. Because of corona I haven't had the chance to talk with him yet, but I am curious about where he comes from.
Looking at Japan, I think there is some space for higher productivity in the caring professions through automation, I mean, why don't they already have roombas in nursing homes? But obviously there is a limit to that and some people will have to shift into caring jobs. And everyone will have to pay more taxes. But none of those things are the end of the world.
posted by mumimor at 6:31 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Have nurses and homecare workers and childcare workers and teachers seen productivity increases in any meaningful way,

As long as bodies are cheap, there is no incentive to increase productivity. Many of those nursing home assistants earn near minimum wage. If you have lots of people earning minimum wage, that means you are far from a shortage of workers, just the opposite of the problem you are worrying about.
posted by JackFlash at 8:12 AM on July 18


What social shockwave? What's to not like about less crowding, less traffic, cheaper housing, and higher wages?

The elephant and the room is that this demographic cycle theory is strongest in societies where economic growth, such as it is, is driven by consumption of unnecessary stuff. Otherwise there actually would not be a substantial difference between the consumption habits of young adults, middle aged adults, and retired adults since they need basically the same stuff.
posted by atrazine at 11:14 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


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