The Population Challenge

BRISBANE – When people think of the world’s “population problem,” they often focus on rapid demographic growth in parts of the developing world. But, globally, the population-growth rate is actually falling, and population is expected to plateau later this century. Though we cannot afford to ignore the fact that, according to United Nations estimates, there will be 2.4 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by mid-century, another population problem also merits serious attention: large pockets of demographic decline.

In developed countries, not only is the share of elderly people rising; birth rates are too low to maintain the size of the total population. While the life expectancy gains that are driving this shift should be celebrated, their problematic consequences – forcing a declining number of working-age people to support an increasing number of retired people – must be addressed.

Meanwhile, in developing countries, the opposite is happening, with too many young people lacking employment – or, at least, high-quality, full-time employment. To be sure, it will not be very long before these countries begin to confront the problems of aging and shrinking populations, as well. But, for now, they have plenty of working-age citizens – and they need jobs.

In fact, these contrasting trends present an ideal opportunity for global demographic rebalancing. By easing restrictions on migration, developed countries could bolster their dwindling workforces with young people from developing countries. These migrant workers’ taxes would help developed countries fund services for the elderly, and their remittances would help their home countries.