Financial Times: Navigating the Demographic Crossroads of Falling Birth Rates and Aging Populations

The world is grappling with one of its most significant challenges: a falling birth rate amidst unprecedented longevity. While increased life expectancy has ushered in numerous opportunities and challenges, the real demographic shift lies in the declining birth rate. This dual phenomenon of longer lives and fewer births is reshaping global dynamics, the Financial Times reports.

The concept of "demographic transition" has been around for nearly a century. Historically, human societies maintained a stable population with high mortality rates balanced by high birth rates. However, with economic growth and advances in medicine and healthcare, a rapid demographic boom occurred. Over the past century, the global population has quadrupled from 2 billion to 8 billion.

Yet, the author notes a significant decline in birth rates worldwide. In 2021, fertility rates in more than half of the countries and territories fell below the population replacement level. Globally, the fertility rate was 2.3 in 2021, barely above the replacement level, down from 4.7 in 1960. While poorer countries still have higher fertility rates than richer ones, these rates are also declining.

A major factor in this decline is the increased survival rate of children, prompting families to adopt birth control measures. The desire for large families has waned, replaced by a preference for fewer, well-educated children, as noted by the late economist Gary Becker. This shift aligns with economic demands for skilled workers, making long-term education a costly investment in both time and money. Additionally, women's increased participation in the workforce, especially in skilled professions, has heightened the "opportunity cost" of childbearing, leading to delayed or forgone childbirth.

Implications of Low Fertility

This global trend towards low birth rates, with sub-Saharan Africa as a notable exception, stands as one of the world's most significant events. By 2060, Africa's population is projected to surpass that of all current high-income countries combined with China.

The extremely low birth rate poses significant challenges. One pressing issue is sustaining pension and healthcare systems amidst a declining working-age population. Potential solutions include extending working lives and promoting immigration. However, the scale of immigration needed to stabilize populations in low-birth-rate societies may be politically and practically unfeasible.

Furthermore, there is concern that a shortage of young people could stifle economic innovation and risk-taking, which are essential for progress. Conversely, a long-term population reduction might balance human needs with the planet's capacity and the health of other species, the author suggests.

Addressing these demographic shifts is complex, especially in influencing the reproductive behavior of well-educated and successful young people. Policies should focus on enabling people to have children in line with their personal plans and aspirations.


These demographic changes are profound and transformative. Whether welcomed or not, they demand a strategic and thoughtful response. As 2024 approaches, it marks a potential turning point for the European Union, where the population of 448 million is projected to decline, continuing at an unprecedented peacetime rate, according to UN forecasts.

The global community must navigate these demographic crossroads with careful consideration and innovative policies to ensure a balanced and sustainable future.

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