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The End of Population Growth

Sanjeev Sanyal - June 2012

The global fertility rate is declining much more rapidly than anyone anticipated. Human population may keep growing for a few more decades due to increases in longivity but, in reproductively speaking, the human species will no longer be replacing itself within fifteen years. Thus, world population is likely to peak much sooner than conventional forecasts followed by a sharp decline.

Key Points
  • Latest census data from around the world suggests that human population will peak at less than 9bn in the 2050s, almost half a century sooner than generally anticipated. Furthermore, global fertility will fall below the replacement rate in less than fifteen years. Population may keep growing for a few more decades because of momentum from the age structure and rising longevity but, reproductively speaking, our species should no longer be expanding. This would be a major turning point in the history of the human race.
  • Birth rates have been low in developed countries for some time but they are now plunging in developing countries. The Chinese, Russians and Brazilians are no longer replacing themselves while the Indians are having fewer children. Moreover, the skewed gender ratio in giants China and India imply that their reproductive capacity is significantly lower than headline fertility numbers suggest.
  • For most major economies, the workforce will be either stable or falling over the next three decades. East Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea will suffer sharp declines. In contrast, India will enjoy workforce growth into the 2040s. This will have important implications for the economic geography of the 21st century.
  • Aging societies will respond by extending working lives. Many readers of this report will be both healthy and working at the age of seventy.


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