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In the early morning hours of November 15, in a Manila hospital ward, a baby girl was born to an unusual welcome: officials from the Philippine Commission on Population and Development stand by, with a cake and a banner, ready to announce it. as the 8 billionth person on the planet.
This status is not official. The United Nations has yet to confirm that this particular baby, Vinice Mabansag, is the bearer of the title. (There is at least one other suitor: a child born the same day in the Dominican Republic.) The title is symbolic, in any case. Even the UN’s identification of November 15 as the day the world’s population passed 8 billion is largely a formality – a choice drawn from a rough demographic projection.
Even so, the number carries tremendous psychic weight. In an age of shortages of everything—energy, semiconductors, baby food, housing—it’s tempting to think of any population growth as cause for concern. But relying on just that headline number would miss both the big picture and the finer details.
Growth is indeed slowing down; this year, the world population increased by only 0.8%, whereas in the 1960s it increased three times more each year. At the current rate, we can even spot a peak in the world’s population: around 10.4 billion, arriving sometime between 2080 and 2100, before the numbers begin to decline.
If there are reasons to worry, they lie in where populations rise and fall, says Manoj Pradhan, who founded Talking Head Macroeconomics, a research company in London, and co-authored a book called The great demographic shift. Pradhan points out that the big demographic dividends – increases in the working-age population – will come to countries that are not yet the engine of the global economy.
Demographic drag, on the other hand, unfolds in “economic superstars, if you will,” says Pradhan. This is likely to have huge effects on the functioning of our economies and societies over the next 100 years.
BY THE FIGURES
10.4 billion: Level at which the UN predicts the world’s population will peak around 2080
2.1: Average births per woman expected by 2050, up from 2.3 in 2021
61: Number of countries whose population is projected to decline by 1% or more between 2022 and 2050
41-42: Expected median age of the world population in 2100, up from 21 in 1970
1.2 billion: Estimated number of climate refugees by 2050
180%: Size of US federal debt as a percentage of GDP by 2050, up from 100% now
380 million: Estimated number of Chinese aged 15–64 in 2100, up from nearly 1 billion in the mid-2010s
PAY THE PIPER
By the time little Vinice Mabansag is an elderly person, the world will look like a very different place. This is especially true of the most prosperous nations in the world: China, the United States and European countries. Their retiree populations will swell, but their numbers – and therefore their tax revenues – will shrink. And that poses an economic problem. How will these governments pay pensions, welfare and healthcare costs for the elderly, even if they have fewer young people to tax?
Inevitably, the governments of aging nations will have to take on more debt in order to be able to provide for the needs of their older citizens. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office, for example, forecasts such an increase in debt by 2050 that pandemic debt looks like a mere hump by comparison. And to support all that debt, these companies will in all likelihood have to adjust to higher levels of inflation.
HOT AND FULL
Among developing countries, the nine most populous in 2100 will be: India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia and Egypt. By 2070, eight of these nine countries will have numerous “hot zones,” regions where average annual temperatures are above 29°C (84.2°F). Daily life without cooling technology will become extremely difficult, access to water will be scarce, and disruption to agriculture will be severe.
Under these circumstances, migration will become inevitable, with millions of people leaving their overheated villages and towns in search of a milder climate. Just as inevitably, much of this migration will be northward – from South and Central America to northern North America, for example, or from Africa and the Middle East to Europe.
This could be a gift solution for the wealthier countries of the north, where populations will have aged and where governments will quickly run out of workers to tax. Migrants can fill the thinning ranks of the labor force, as long as the political will to accept them exists.
Immigration policies will move closer and closer to the center of political conversation in the developed world. In the short term, any move to encourage immigration will be unpopular, Pradhan said. The kind of nativism found in Donald Trump’s America, or in the Brexit referendum, or other right-wing shifts in Europe, are ready examples of anti-immigrant sentiment. “So we will definitely feel the ill effects of this premiere,” Pradhan said. “But even if the politics are a bit unstable for the foreseeable future, I have no doubt that in the long term people will start to see immigration as the great benefit it can be.”
A 👶 THING
The UN began identifying symbolic “billionth babies” in 1987, when it chose Matej Gašpar, born in the Croatian city of Zagreb, as the planet’s 5 billionth human. (The UN’s somewhat inscrutable logic for choosing Zagreb: the 14th World University Games were taking place in the city at the time.) The 6 billionth baby, Adnan Mević, was born in Sarajevo, not far from Zagreb.
For the 7 billionth, the UN objected: it did not want to continue to make these arbitrary choices, said a spokesperson. However, several other countries and institutions have made their own choice: a baby in Sri Lanka, another in Bangladesh, another in the United Kingdom. One candidate, however, is worth noting: Danica May Camacho, born in Manila, at the same hospital where Vinice Mabansag was declared the 8 billionth baby last week. If there was ever a hospital alert at demographic milestones, it was Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.
QUARTZ STORIES TO START THE CONVERSATION
5 GREAT STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE
🧽 Sponge cities. Yu Kongjian, a Chinese architect, wants to make cities more climate-resilient. After Beijing flooded in 2012, he began pushing the government to build “sponge cities,” designed to better absorb heavy rains through a combination of natural areas and open spaces. Today, the “sponge city” model is being tested across China, says the Associated Press, but implementation is far from smooth.
🗣️ The latest chatter. It is estimated that half of the world’s 7,151 languages will have their last spoken word before 2100, and many will disappear due to systemic suppression. A detailed e-flux timeline, beginning in the 14th century, reframes the history of nationalism and colonial conquest through its documentation of ‘language politics’. For those who enjoy reading about lesser-known parts of history, this disc is a treasure trove.
🌄 End of an era. With giants like Meta and Microsoft downsizing and Musk-led Twitter running to the edge like a lemming, tech is having a rough year. This could mark the end of a technological era. According to Full Stack Economics, the industry has evolved, matured and saturated over the past 20 years. Silicon Valley could be entering a new era of belt-tightening where it shifts its focus from growth to earnings.
⚽ Shoot for gold. Known as the “beautiful game”, soccer (or soccer, to Americans) is also caught in the rather ugly net of trying to make a profit. This year’s World Cup, due to start this weekend, has been haunted by allegations of corruption between host country Qatar and governing body FIFA, in an event that cost billions of dollars and based on exploited migrant workers. The Economist looks at how the global money game is going.
✍️ Sincerely. At a time when firing a “Tks!” more text only takes a second, a handwritten thank you note can be even more impactful. The New York Times speaks to social etiquette experts who say, contrary to what the digital herd might think, showing gratitude by putting pen to paper is far from outdated. Advice givers also say that you don’t need to work too hard – even a three-sentence note can be enough, and the gesture will be appreciated.
Thanks for reading! And feel free to send us any comments, questions, or topics you want to learn more about.
Have a totally uninhabited weekend,
— Samanth Subramanian, Global Editor; Ana Campoy, deputy finance and economics editor; Amanda Shendruk, Senior Reporter; Clarisa Diaz, journalist.
Additional contributions by Julia Malleck
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