Both the U.S. and world populations are forecast to shrink by the end of the century, causing major shifts in global economic power, a study published Tuesday reports.
“The 21st century will see a revolution in the story of our human civilization,” said Dr. Richard Horton, editor in chief of the British Journal The Lancet, which published the study. “Africa and the Arab world will shape our future, while Europe and Asia will recede in their influence.
“By the end of the century, the world will be ‘multipolar,’ with India, Nigeria, China and the U.S. the dominant powers. This will truly be a new world, one we should be preparing for today.”
The U.S. is projected to have population growth until just after midcentury (364 million people in 2062), followed by a decline of less than 10% to 336 million by 2100, according to the study.
The total U.S. fertility rate – which represents the average number of children a woman delivers over her lifetime – is predicted to steadily decline from 1.8 in 2017 to 1.5 in 2100. This is well below the minimum birth rate (2.1) considered necessary to maintain existing population levels long term without immigration, the study said.
By 2100, the U.S. is predicted to have the fourth-largest working-age population in the world (around 181 million), after India, Nigeria and China – and immigration will likely sustain the U.S. workforce. However, the researchers warn that U.S. immigration policies have faced a political backlash in recent years, threatening the country’s potential to sustain population and economic growth.
Worldwide, improvements in access to modern contraception and the education of girls and women are generating widespread, sustained declines in fertility, according to the study. World population will likely peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion, and then decline to about 8.8 billion by 2100 – about 2 billion lower than some previous estimates.
“Continued global population growth through the century is no longer the most likely trajectory for the world’s population,” said the University of Washington’s Christopher Murray, who led the research.
By 2100, the world’s four most populous countries are predicted to be India, Nigeria, China and the U.S.
The study also suggests that some countries’ population decline could be offset by immigration, with countries that promote liberal immigration better able to maintain their population size and support economic growth, even in the face of declining fertility rates.
“This study provides governments of all countries an opportunity to start rethinking their policies on migration, workforces and economic development to address the challenges presented by demographic change,” Murray said.
The study authors also warn that nations’ response to population decline must not compromise progress on women’s freedom and reproductive rights.
Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to become an increasingly powerful region on the geopolitical stage as its population rises, according to the study. Nigeria is projected to be the only country among the world’s 10 most populated nations to see its working-age population grow over the course of the century (from 86 million in 2017 to 458 million in 2100).
On the other end of the global population spectrum, many of the fastest-shrinking populations will be in Asia and Europe. Populations are expected to more than halve in 23 countries and territories, including Japan, Thailand, Spain, Italy, Portugal and South Korea.
“For high-income countries with below-replacement fertility rates, the best solutions for sustaining current population levels, economic growth and geopolitical security are open immigration policies and social policies supportive of families having their desired number of children”, Murray said.
“However, a very real danger exists that, in the face of declining population, some countries might consider policies that restrict access to reproductive health services, with potentially devastating consequences,” he said. “It is imperative that women’s freedom and rights are at the top of every government’s development agenda.”
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