“We already have the statistics for the future: the growth percentages of pollution, overpopulation, desertification. The future is already in place.”
– Günter Grass
We live in a time of four major population related mega-trends that are shaping our future. Three of them relate to how many we are, where we live and how we interact, and they are globalisation, urbanization and demographic change. The fourth population related mega trend is climate change, it it is a consequence of the other three.
In this article, we will take a look at how demographic change already has and will continue to re-shape the world as we know it. For this I will re-use some illustrations from a speech I gave about economic development earlier this year.
Let us start by looking at how the population of the world was distributed at three points in time. 1900, today 2014 and the expectations for 2050.
The population of the Earth in 1900
At the turn of the previous century, the population of the world was 1.6 billion people. More than half of them were in Asia and one fourth in Europe. Europe dominated by economic and military might and colonisation. This all changed with “The Great War” 1914-1918. North America did not gain prominence until the United States Army helped to turn the fortune of the first World War in 1917-1918.
The population of the Earth today, 2014
Today we live in a world that is much different. The population of the world is now seven billion people and four billion of us live in Asia. The Asian population has quadrupled. The population of the Americas has developed even quicker, to a large extent by immigration.
We still consider the “Western Economies” as leading, but that is no longer true. Especially not when we take not only income levels but also the balance sheet of public debt levels into consideration.
The demographic trends are shadowed by economic development. In 2013, for the first time since the industrial revolution, the majority of goods and services in the world were produced outside of the traditional industrialized world. The ”Third World” is no longer emerging. It is now leading the economic development and future export customers, tourists, and investors will come from the big cities in Asia and Africa.
Where the people in Asia lives
If we zoom into Asia, more than half of the population of the Earth live on ten percent of the globes surface, inside a circle centred on the South China sea.
A Majority of the Worlds Population now live in Cities
We also tend to cluster into cities. People move to cities as they have become the main engine of economic growth, as we have left the rural focused economy and increasingly develop our economies around manufacturing and services.
The expected population of the Earth in 2050
In the upcoming three decades, Africa will gain prominence. Seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the World are currently in Africa, and early mortality levels are going down as the health care improves with the economic development. People in Africa will live longer and African economies are on a trajectory of even stronger growth, as we noted in Sub-Saharan Africa Building Momentum in a Multi-Speed World last year.
Further back – Historic population development
We can look further back in time, courtesy of Wikipedia, for the following table of world population development by continent since 1750.
By comparison, it is interesting to review the economic development of major countries. In the absence of sufficient data for nearly all economies until well into the 19th century, past GDP per capita cannot be calculated, but only roughly estimated mainly based on estimates of output of the agricultural sector. The table below contains measures in inflation adjusted USD with 1990 as baseline. The data is from the 2007 book Contours of the World Economy, 1–2030 AD by the British economist Angus Maddison.