Is demographics destiny?

This is fascinating, and I have no idea what the consequences will be. The populations of many countries are rapidly shrinking, and it defies simplistic explanations.

Is that good? Bad? I don’t know. Reducing the human population is good for the planet overall, but how these countries will respond is an open question. Also, modern capitalism seems to be a gigantic Ponzi scheme that relies on continuous growth — what happens when the base of the pyramid shrinks?

The decline in growth isn’t entirely universal. Some countries continue to expand that population base, largely through the mechanism of immigration. Look at the difference between China and the US!

My grandchildren are going to grow up in a different world than I did. We need to accept the fact of change and prepare to adapt with it.


  1. John Harshman says

    Very interesting, but there’s a serious lack of data. What’s the original source of these graphs? What are they based on?

  2. jrkrideau says

    Some of that population decline in Latvia and Greece, and maybe Croatia, is almost certainly out-migration as younger people head to (what were) more prosperous pacts of the EU. Maybe Germany, Netherlands and Belgium?

    It would be interesting to see projections for the EU as a whole.

  3. Rich Woods says

    This was one of my arguments against Brexit, that no-one was talking about how the socio-economic necessities imposed by the demographic profile of the UK would only end up inflaming the xenophobes more, right after they thought they’d won such a landmark victory.

    Obviously, no-one listened. I should change my name to Cassandra (and thus attract the ire of the anti-woke culture warriors with nothing better to do).

  4. birgerjohansson says

    Nihon/Japan is plagued by chauvinism that makes it politically impossible to admit enough immigrants to make up for the effects of the ageing of the population.
    If the MAGAists are successful, USA will enter a phase of similar demographic mismatch, followed by economic stagnation.
    Fun fact; Brexit Britain is a nation-scale english language experiment on not admitting enough immigrants to keep the wheels moving.

  5. tacitus says

    Also, modern capitalism seems to be a gigantic Ponzi scheme that relies on continuous growth

    I’ve been saying exactly this for many years. The problem is, if you even suggest doing something else, people jump down your throat calling you a communist, but when you ask them what’s going to happen when we inevitably run out of resources, they simply put their hands over their ears. I guess the hope is we’ll all be heading out into the Universe on solar-powered Musk drives before that happens…

    About 15 years ago I attended a talk about this problem by a former moderator of the Church of Scotland, and his solution was essentially socialism (major government action to curtail the excesses of capitalism and enforce a doubling down on the use of sustainable and renewable resources) which I was pretty much in agreement with but having lived in the US all I could think was “Yeah, we’re not even remotely ready to have this conversation yet.” We still aren’t and we probably won’t be until us boomers are no longer relevant.

  6. tacitus says

    Brexit Britain is a nation-scale english language experiment on not admitting enough immigrants to keep the wheels moving.

    Unfortunately, it’s already hurting people. My dad’s in a care home and even though it’s one of the better run facilities, it’s been chronically understaffed since Brexit came into force, and there are reports of care homes where residents are being left on their own for over a day at a time, with fights breaking out and all kinds of abusive behavior going on. Just about everyone living in a care home these days either has dementia or is severely physically impaired and they’re not getting the round the clock care they need any more.

  7. outis says

    After reading books and articles about the world’s population explosion, this should be good news… but there’s a catch of course, there always is.
    If the total pop is going down, a time will come when older people are many, and young ‘uns few. It will correct itself after all the seniors “leave”, but until then there will be fewer younger citizens to hold up the system. Crunch time.
    Immigration is a way, but many idiots/racists/whathaveyou around the world have found politically advantageous to deny it.
    Don’t know how the future will be, but some of the more sober-minded govs have already grudge-accepted the inevitable. In Germany, idots notwithstanding, there is an effort towards Einbürgerung, having immigrants taking up citizenship. In Italy, where a bunch of fascistoid creeps are poised to take power, there’s some recognition that some sectors (senior care, agricultural) would be 100% flicked without immigrants. And I hear even Japan is officially calling for new arrivals, to the tune of 400,000 or so. Turns out those trucks and bins won’t drive and empty themselves!

  8. Dennis K says

    Curious. No mention of the slated effects of climate change over the next 80 years. Maybe if we pretend it doesn’t exist it will just go away?

  9. springa73 says

    Modern capitalism is based on assumptions of constant growth, but so are aspects of the modern welfare state. You need a growing population of young and middle-aged workers paying taxes to help support a growing population of older retirees/pensioners with their expenses. Things get tough when the population stagnates and even tougher when it starts to shrink. I support the welfare state, but I do wonder if it will be possible to sustain it properly with a shrinking population.

  10. anat says

    springa73 @10: Making the taxes more progressive should help support the welfare state for a while. The billionaires could support the entire welfare state if we made them.

  11. lotharloo says

    It would be pretty funny if we go extinct not because of all the other serious issues but because human babies are a pain in the ass to raise.

  12. says

    I’m highly suspicious of that China graph. A sharp peak with ‘now’ placed dead centre? Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, though I’m likely much less qualified than the person who made it.

    If this is true, the question in my mind is whether it’s driven by socioeconomics, and people can’t afford children, or if it’s just a consequence of the world burning. There’s probably no future, I certainly wouldn’t condemn a child to live in the coming century.

  13. StevoR says

    @ ^ Ian King : Probly both and more. Multiple factors.

    Including China’s one child policy given for a long tiem that was themostpopuluosu nation on Earth and the impacts of Global Overheating, Covid, poverty and wealth, feminism and the contraceptive pill & otehrprophylactics, the introduction of modern medicine, sanitation, agriculture, etc .. Mix of socio-cultural &technlogical factors combined. / Cap’n Obvious?

    Is Demographics Destiny


    Isn’t there some sort of rule about headlines that applies here?

  14. chrislawson says

    Just be aware that these projected population drops are more than offset by population increases in Sub-Saharan Africa. The total world population, by the same projections, will keep going up until it levels off at around 10.5 billion somewhere around 2070-2080.

    And these projections obviously cannot incorporate future policy or behaviour changes. They’ve added projection lines for +/- 0.5 of a child and even this small difference puts the projections way outside the 95% prediction intervals based on observation — even small changes in behaviour can have huge effects on population outcomes.

  15. John Morales says


    And these projections obviously cannot incorporate future policy or behaviour changes.

    No, but people only age one year per year, and the realities of the demographic pyramid are as inescapable and as consequential as the realities of greenhouse gases.