A Tale of Four Pyramids

by Carl Haub, senior demographer, PRB

There has been quite a bit made in the media and in blogs about low birth rates in industrialized countries. Quite correctly, many people (and countries!) are concerned that unprecedented aging and a dearth of younger people are leading to serious pressure on national budgets from a rising burden of support for the elderly because of  a declining group of tax-paying workers. But the situation is far from equal everywhere, and less is written about that.

The contrast between the age structures of the two country pairs below is striking, to say the least. All four countries have rather stable birth rates. If they stay that way, the demographic future of all four seems quite clear but in very different ways. These differences have profound implications for the future. Sharp shifts to an aging population will result in growing budgetary constraints, less ability to provide aid, and limited foreign policy options.

Populations of France and Germany, by Age and Sex

France and Germany

Source: for France: Institut national d'études démographfiques; and for Germany: United Nations Demographic Yearbook 2011.

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Writing About Population Projections: Beware

by Carl Haub, senior demographer, Population Reference Bureau

It’s quite common to see reports such as “The United Nations projects that world population will be 9.3 billion in 2050,” a perfectly true statement. Many readers will most likely take that at face value and move on. But they should be asking questions! There are over 200 countries in the world with birth rates from 1.1 children per woman (in Taiwan) to 7.6 (in Niger). In most of those countries, it is the future course of the birth rate that will largely determine population size. The projection of 9.3 billion is just the sum of all the country-level population projections. What should those readers ask? For starters: What does the United Nations assume will happen to all those birth rates over the next few decades?

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