A generation ago, it was predicted that the world’s population would rise to 24 billion. Since then demographers have been rowing back, and now the best estimate is that the global population will stabilize at 10 billion – still a huge number but less daunting.
Exceptionally, this issue of The World Today focuses on a single topic: how to survive in a rapidly greying world.
As Professor Sarah Harper explains in her essay, the key issue is not so much that we are living longer but that, in most countries of the world, women are having dramatically fewer children.
Ours will be the last century of abundant youth.
One consequence is that the cost of looking after the old will fall on a shrinking number of shoulders. The contract between the generations – with the young responsible for looking after their elderly parents – is likely to fracture. Each generation will have to save for its own old age.
But how? Norma Cohen sets out a disturbing link between rising stock markets and growth in the working age population. When pensioners outnumber workers, all stock markets may be as listless as Japan’s.
We are used to thinking that demography is a European concern. Not any more. Our global review sees China preparing for the time when it runs out of cheap labour, Iran crashing its successful birth control programme into reverse and the East Asian Tigers pulling every policy lever – with little success – to get women to have more babies. At the other end of the scale, India and many African countries are poised to reap a demographic dividend – if only they can fashion the right policies to benefit from it.