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Demographics and Development

WASHINGTON, DC – Achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals – which aim to end poverty, boost shared prosperity, and promote sustainability, between now and 2030 – will require overcoming some major obstacles, ranging from securing enough financing to addressing climate change to managing macroeconomic shocks. But there is one potential obstacle that could turn out to be a blessing in disguise: the diverse demographic shifts that will take place in the coming years.

By the time the SDG agenda reaches its end date, there will be an estimated 8.5 billion people worldwide. Twenty years later – just 34 years from now – there will be nearly ten billion, or nearly 2.5 billion more people than there are on Earth today. What will such a world look like? Where will those additional people live? How will they make their living? Will they bolster or weigh down national economies?

For clues, we can look 35 years in the past, to the early 1980s. US President Ronald Reagan, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, French President François Mitterrand, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev dominated the world’s headlines. Personal computer sales were miniscule. And children competed over Rubik’s cubes, rather than augmented-reality Pokémon.

At that time, the world’s population was about 4.5 billion, 42% of whom – almost two billion – lived in extreme poverty. Excessive population growth, it was feared, would outpace agricultural production and create yet more poverty.