Observations on World Population

January 11, 2010

World population did not always advance as rapidly as it has been doing since the American and French revolutions.  It took 1.5 millennia for the world population to expand by 200 million, or 67%, to roughly a half-billion around 1500 and a further 300 years to double to a billion people.  The doubling interval more than halved to 123 years, as the two billion level was attained by 1927, and halved again to 67 years with global population reaching 4 billion by 1974.  Another doubling is expected by 2025.  Experts project a slower percentage rise thereafter but a significant rise of 1.5 billion nonetheless in the ensuing quarter century to 2050.

One inference of the rapid growth in world population that is expected to persist this decade is that demand for commodity resources is likely to continue outstripping the growth in supply, keeping costs very pricey.  It will be very hard for nations to strike multilateral political deals that promote conservation.

The projected change in population varies widely across regions.  Among advanced industrialized economies, Euroland will experience almost no net change between the present and 2025 and a rise of little more than 10 million through the middle of the century.  Britain’s population will likely hover between 61 million and 64 million throughout the period, while Japan is expected to lose almost 10 million by 2025 and over 34 million people by mid-century.  The United States, in contrast, is on a projected trajectory that will climb some 45 million by 2025 and by over 110 million in the coming 40 years.

Whatever one thinks about each nation’s fiscal fortitude to cut spending and government deficits, countries with stronger population expansion rates will be much better able to service government debt. Where population climbs briskly, it also stays young, and that means more people of working age to fund social services that are spent disproportionately on older retirees.  The implications are very dire for Japan and also much better for the United States with a projected population of 420 million in 2050 than for either Euroland or Britain.  U.S. population would exceed the number of people in the current 16 nations using the euro by over 25% in mid-decade, and that swing from presently similar sizes argues against the dollar being supplanted by the euro as the global economic hegemon.

Among major developing economies, India is expected to easily pass China as the world’s most populated country.  China’s size is expected to advance some 11% by 2025 but to fall subsequently to a net gain of only 7% from now by 2050.  India’s population is estimated to be about 25% greater than now in 2020 and more than 50% bigger by 2050.  Pakistan, Mexico and Indonesia also will grow very rapidly and, together with India, will account for about 900 million of the world’s incremental population growth between now and mid-decade.  Russia, like Japan, faces a substantial 20% or more reduction in its population by mid-century.  The combined population of these two nations will slump by more than 60 million by 2050 and then amount to only two-thirds of Indonesia’s.

Shifting populations of the magnitude outlined above will have a profound impact on the relative economic importance and geopolitical influence of different nations.

Copyright Larry Greenberg 2009.  All rights reserved.  No secondary distribution without express permission.


One Response to “Observations on World Population”

  1. Jimbo says:

    The projected population growth for India assumes India will have water resources. India has over- used their aqua-fers and the glaciers are still receding.

    An interesting look would be to project what happens when severalhundred million people have to leave an area for lack of food.

    Land and water are linear – population growth is exponential.