This week’s featured graphic points out the interdependencies of trends relevant for the Swiss Civil Protection System. For more on uncertainties, challenges and opportunities of trends in civil protection, read Andrin Hauri, Kevin Kohler, Florian Roth, Marco Käser, Tim Prior, and Benjamin Scharte’s CSS’ Risk and Resilience Report here.
By 2024, India will slip past China to become the most populous country and must rapidly prepare for a fast-changing economy.
India will likely hold that rank throughout the 21st century. Its population is 1.34 billion, nearly a fourfold increase since independence 70 years ago. China’s population, at 1.41 billion, roughly doubled over the same period. The pace of India’s population growth, now at 15 million per year, is the world’s largest. The two nations alone have more than a billion people, and their population gap is projected to widen to 500 million by 2100. By comparison, the third and fourth most populous countries in 2100, Nigeria and the United States, are projected to have populations of nearly 800 million and 450 million, respectively.
The long-term growth of India’s population, largely a function of fertility rates, is less certain. UN population projections indicate a range of possible scenarios. For example, if India’s current fertility of 2.3 births per woman remains constant, its population would grow to 1.8 billion by 2050 and 2.5 billion by 2100. Even under the instant-replacement fertility variant, with the country’s fertility assumed to fall immediately to 2.1 births per woman, India’s population would reach 1.9 billion by the century’s close.
In 1970, Chinese women were having an average of nearly six children each. Only nine years later, this figure had dropped to an average of 2.7 children per woman. This steep fertility decline was achieved before the Chinese government introduced the infamous one-child policy. Today, at 1.5 children per woman, the fertility rate in China is one of the lowest in the world. Such a low fertility level leads to extreme population aging–expansion of the proportion of the elderly in a population, with relatively few children to grow up and care for their aging parents and few workers to pay for social services or drive economic growth. China’s birth-control policies are now largely relaxed, but new programs are needed to provide healthcare and support for the growing elderly population and to encourage young people to have children. It will be increasingly difficult to fund such programs, however, as China’s unprecedented pace of economic growth inevitably slows down.
China’s Fertility Decline
Most of China’s fertility decline took place in the 1970s, before the government launched its one-child policy in 1980 (see Figure 1). During the 1980s, fertility fluctuated, for the most part above the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman, which would maintain a constant population size. Then in the early 1990s, fertility declined to below-replacement level, and since then it has further declined to around 1.5 children per woman today. If very low birth rates persist, eventually the population starts to shrink, and it can shrink very quickly. Today’s low fertility could lead to a decline in China’s population by as many as 600 million people by the end of the 21st century.
“Political demography is a discipline whose time has come,” said Rob Odell of the National Intelligence Council at a gathering of demographers and researchers in New Orleans. “You can sense this inherent dissatisfaction” with a lot of analytical and predictive tools in international relations, he said, and “political demography provides policymakers a way to think about long-term trends.”
The study of population dynamics’ effects on political affairs, from the stability of states and conflict to regime types, economics, and state behavior, is relatively new. The International Studies Association (ISA), a professional group founded in 1959 with over 6,500 scholars and political scientists today, only added a sub-group for political demography in 2011.
The remarkable ageing of the populations in most advanced economies is no more evident or precipitate than in Japan. Earlier, Japan’s and other countries’ anti-natal policies encouraged a lowering of birth rates in an attempt to boost the chances of economic advancement.
In a decade or two, the impact of China’s one-child policy, and the subsequent low Chinese fertility rate, will also lead to a rapid decline in its population and acceleration of the ageing of its population. China may get old before it’s rich, as the popular aphorism now suggests, but most agree that while a reversal of the one-child policy may alleviate the decline in its fertility rate witnessed over the past several decades, that is hardly likely to entirely take the pressure off China’s coming demographic crunch.