Towards the end of this century, the world has completely changed.
The UN’s latest shocking figures indicate that the entire global balance of power will be overturned in the coming years.
The big loser: China.
China has been the world’s most populous country for as long as anyone has been able to measure. Historical estimates suggest that around one in four or five people on earth have been Chinese for thousands of years.
But the next few years will see a dramatic change.
Not only will India for the first time ever replace China as the world’s most populous country (it may even have already happened):
According to UN projections , China’s population will plummet by the year 2100.
The median estimate shows a halving, from over 1.425 billion people to around 770 million.
But in the UN’s most dramatic scenario, China’s population falls even more – down to around 450 million people.
That means China could actually end the century smaller than the US, which in the UN’s most optimistic scenario has over 550 million inhabitants by 2100.
China’s journey has begun
Something like this has never happened in a developed country. In the past, however, there has been a favorable demographic development with many young people entering working life. It is an essential explanation for the rapid economic growth in China. Now we are entering another stage, where the population is aging.
There are, of course, plenty of industrialized countries whose populations have stagnated or begun to decline. Italy, Spain, South Korea, and Japan are some examples.
But China is now starting its journey towards a shrinking population from a much lower economic level.
China’s GDP per capita is not even half that of any of the four countries mentioned above. China has significantly greater challenges than Japan and South Korea have had because when the trend took over in those countries, they were in a better economic situation.
Lowers motivation for more children
That fewer children are born in developed countries is natural. Demand for longer education means that establishment in society is delayed, women work more, and having many children becomes a financial burden rather than an asset.
But in China, there is also a basis for the problems in the so-called one-child policy, which was implemented between 1979 and 2016, where Chinese families were prohibited from having more than just one child.
That policy has been abandoned, but Björn Gustafsson believes that China needs to make more changes to moderate the trend. An inspiration could be Swedish politics from the 1930s and 1940s, he believes.
In China there is no child allowance, the parental allowance only lasts a few months and preschools are expensive. Mothers and fathers have to leave childcare to grandparents – which is one of the reasons why Chinese women stop working already in their 50s.
Paying for a child’s university studies can be a strain on the entire extended family’s finances, says Björn Gustafsson, something that also lowers the motivation to have more children.
“Will not become dominant globally”
Another way to increase its population is, of course, through immigration. But the language barrier is high – learning Mandarin both spoken and written is difficult – and as an authoritarian, dictatorial society, China has limited appeal to well-educated people with options.
It has long been seen as almost a matter of time before China would overtake the United States as the world’s largest economic and military superpower.
But more and more are now saying that it may never happen.
Earth’s population as a whole recently passed 8 billion and we will continue to grow.
In the UN’s median scenario, the population peaks at just over 10 billion between 2080 and 2090, and then declines slightly. But the range is wide. The most extreme estimates range between 6 and 14 billion people.
China’s dramatic decline is the biggest reason why Asia’s population as a whole looks set to decline from a peak of around 5.2 billion around 2050 to around 4.7 billion by the end of the century.
South America’s population also increases for a few more years and then declines, while Europe’s population decreases steadily from today’s 750 million to under 600 million.
In North America, the population increases from 375 to 450 million, mostly due to immigration – but a big boom is expected in Africa. There, in the median scenario, you see an increase from today’s scant 1.5 billion people to almost 4 billion in the year 2100.
In 2050, 60 percent of all the world’s young people will be in Africa south of the Sahara or in India. I think they will be responsible for a great deal of innovation, creativity, and research.
At the end of the century, Europe’s star continues to decline, North America maintains its global influence decently, while South Asia and Indonesia step forward. Alongside China, Russia will definitely be a country that has extremely little geopolitical influence in the future.
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