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Why some countries are so worried about ‘population shrinkage’


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Why some countries are so worried about ‘population shrinkage’

By June of this year, India will officially surpass China to become the most populous country in the world. United Nations released data that shows India will have 2.9 million more people than its neighbour, although the number is an estimate – given that we haven’t conducted a census in the country since 2011. 

The UN says their estimate does not include the population of China’s two Special Administrative Regions – Hong Kong and Macau – and the island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be unified with the mainland one day. But Taiwan sees itself as distinct from the Chinese mainland, with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders.

In November 2022, the global population crossed 8 billion. On the other hand, in China, reports suggest that their population will actually start declining next year, despite the country abandoning its one-child policy in 2016 and introducing incentives for couples to have two or more children. Japan, South Korea, and most countries in Europe are already introducing policies to battle a ‘population shrinking’. 

But why is it such a bad thing that the population across the globe is declining? Population decline is not inherently a bad thing, experts have stressed for decades on its positive effects on the environment. It’s rather the way this decline is happening that is cause for concern.

Some of the world’s biggest economies – including India – have been battling with ‘lowering fertility rates’ for decades now, and experts agree it’s getting really bad. Alternatively, life expectancy has increased, which means lower death rates and birth rates. This has led to an aged population. Since 1950, the global median age has grown from 25 years to 33 years – meaning, half of the world’s population is older than 33 years, and half is younger. An older population comes with a number of economic risks, including rising healthcare costs and a smaller global workforce.

Demographers indicate that to maintain a constant population, we need to have a total fertility rate of 2.1. Now, the United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019 shows the fertility rate is 1.8 in the United States, 1.7 in China, 1.6 in Germany, 1.4 in Japan, and 1.3 in Italy and Spain.

These numbers indicate that the total fertility rate in many of the world’s high and middle-income nations is already consistent with negative long-run population growth. Simply put, women have fewer than two children throughout much of the developed world.

This is also part of the reason why Paris is run-down with protests right now. For the past couple of months, French people have been protesting President Emmanuel Macron forcing through an unpopular policy change which raises the pension age from 62 to 64. Aside from the undemocratic way he forced the policy, partly why Macron introduced this policy in the first place is due to France’s dangerously declining fertility rate. France’s social security system is point based: each year, an individual’s contributions are converted to retirement pension points and added to their account. For France, and pretty much everywhere else, lower fertility rates mean that the number of people relying on a government pension is increasing every day – the younger workforce supporting this system is diminishing at the same pace.

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And this is only the surface. There are so many possible ways a diminishing workforce will pressure our economy.

Japan’s population falls below 125 million, shrinking for the 12th straight year. Couple that with the country’s ageing population, the number of working-age people is expected to decline further to around half of the total population by 2060. With that said Japan is bracing for an economic crisis, budgetary challenges, pressure on job markets and depopulation of rural areas.

A lower fertility rate does have some positive effects. One major reason for a decline in birth rates is women’s empowerment in education and the workforce. It impacts women’s education positively, which in turn lowers the fertility of the next generations. With better infrastructure development, better health care, and education, fertility drops and income rises. Falling birth rates have enabled many women to pursue a much greater range of economic and social activities. Across the world, feminist movements are cropping up, like South Korea’s 4b movement – with women renouncing marriage/children.

In India too, fertility rates have fallen substantially in recent decades from 5.7 births per woman in 1950 to 2.2 births per woman today. Demographers although, say that the Indian population overtaking China’s is not a matter of concern and caution. “Instead, they should be seen as a symbol of progress, development, and aspirations if individual rights and choices are being upheld,” the UN report says.

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