AFRICANGLOBE – The United Nations Population Division, which tracks demographic data from around the world, has dramatically revised its projections for what will happen inthe next 90 years. The new statistics, based on in-depth survey data from Africa, tell the story of a world poised to change drastically over the next several decades. Most rich countries will shrink and age (with a couple of important exceptions), poorer countries will expand rapidly and, maybe most significant of all, Africa will see a population explosion nearly unprecedented in human history.
If these numbers turn out to be right – they’re just projections and could change significantly under unforeseen circumstances – the world of 2100 will look very different than the world of today, with implications for everyone. It will be a place where today’s dominant, developed economies are increasingly focused on supporting the elderly, where the least developed countries are transformed by population booms and where Africa, for better or worse, is more important than ever.
Here is the story of the next 90 years as predicted by UN demographic data and explained in nine charts.
(1) The Big Story Will Be Africa
Right now, with a couple of exceptions, Africa’s population density is relatively low; it’s a very big continent more sparsely populated than, say, Europe or East Asia. That’s changing very quickly. The continent’s overall population is expected to more than quadruple over just 90 years, an astonishingly rapid growth that will make Africa more important than ever. And it’s not just that there will four times the workforce, four times the resource burden, four times as many voters. The rapid growth itself will likely transform political and social dynamics within African countries and thus their relationship with the rest of the world. (More on this further down.)
Asia will continue to grow but its population growth, already slowing, is expected to peak about 50 years from now then start declining. As has happened in the West, rising economies will lead to declining birth rates. And that downturned curve could represent some problematic demographic issues; more also on this further down.
The story in those three little lines at the bottom is less promising. Europe will continue to shrink, which is worsening its economic problems. South America’s population will rise until about 2050, at which point it will begin its own gradual population decline. North America is the least ambiguous success story: it will continue to grow at a slow, sustainable rate, surpassing South America’s overall population around 2070.
(2) China Shrinks, India Plateaus; Nigeria is a Very Big Deal
This chart shows the futures of what are, today, the world’s five most populous nations. The two big stories here are China and Nigeria, the latter of which will have almost a billion people by 2100 and will be within range of surpassing China in population. Given that Nigeria is about the area of Texas, that’s a truly astounding possibility.
Nigeria, currently Africa’s most populous country, is poised for one of the world’s most rapid population booms ever. In just 100 years, maybe two or three generations, the population is expected to increase by a mind-boggling factor of eight. The country is already troubled by corruption, poverty and religious conflict. It’s difficult to imagine how a government that can barely serve its population right now will respond when the demand on resources, social services, schools and roads increases by a factor of eight. Still, if they pull it off – the country’s vast oil reserves could certainly help – the rapidly growing workforce could theoretically deliver an African miracle akin to, say, China’s.
Chinese leaders know their demographic crisis is coming. It’s not a mystery: the country’s massive working-age population is only allowed to have one child per couple, which means that when the current generation retires, there will be a rapidly growing pool of retirees just as the workforce starts to shrink. Those aging retirees will be an enormous burden on the Chinese economy, which is just beginning to slow down. As China ages and shrinks, its workforce will get smaller at precisely the moment that it needs them most. Make no mistake, China will continue to be an enormous, important and most likely very successful country, but its demographics are going to quickly shift from a big help to a major hindrance. Keep this in mind the next time someone tells you that China is about to take over the world.