The population ‘catch 22’

Abstract: There is a population ‘catch 22’ which means that some countries with underlying  negative population growth are often best placed to artificially counter population decline, and in fact continue to grow.  If you read this, chances are you live in a country that is reversing an underlying population shrinkage through immigration. This keeps the population growth treadmill running for a little, but the population explosion inevitably will stop very soon and the impact will be dramatic.

What countries have an underlying population decline?
In the examination of the feasibility of achieving population decrease I discussed how many countries have birth rates below level needed to sustain current population levels and currently are only growing if at all through immigration.

There are several sources of data on birth rates, for example the CIA fact-book (most up tp date) and woldbank.org (most comprehensive).  Levels below around 2.1 would see a drop in population if not for other factors such as immigration.

The data here is the underlying growth before immigration.  So this data determine underlying population growth.

Data from locations from all of Europe overall shows levels below the sustain level. For example simply looking at locations and finding figures at random yields: Germany(1.43),  Italy(1.42), Spain(1.48), Sweden(1.88).

In North America, the USA is declining at 2.01, as is Canada at 1.59 and Mexico at 2.29 is marginally growing marginally naturally.  In south America, Brazil is contracting at 1.79 but whether other countries are still is open to opinion.  The birth rate data I have says they still should be growing, but I read reports of declining populations.  Emigration? Possibly, so i will leave it as the rest of Latin America still in positive natural growth.

Japan (1.40) and China (1.55) have been at low levels for some time while Indonesia (2.18) and India (2.51) are still growing.

Why do we not have population contraction already?
I have already discused ‘lag’ in this post.  Population contraction shows first in the younger age groups, and we do already have population reductions in younger age groups in key countries.  Significant reduction has already occurred before the total population figures reveal the impact.  I will use China and Japan as key examples.

China has had births below replacement rate for 25 years now and very low rates since the mid 90s.  So how come the population is still growing and projected  to keep growing until around 2030?  Japan has had an even lower birth rate, and a low rate since before the 1970s, but was rising in total population until 2005 and relatively was flat until 2010. Only now is the Japan total population falling, and only slightly.

Neither of these countries is a significant destination for immigration.  The discrepancy between birth rate and actual population is all due to lag.

China may still be growing in total, but consider the figures for the 0..14 age group.  From a peak of 356 million in the mid 1970s, to 261 million in 2010.  A drop of over 25%. (Source data and graph).  Japan shows an even more dramatic decline with a 25% drop in the 20 years to 2010 alone. Both Japan and China will see this drop reflected in their total population as this 0-14 group becomes adult.  The drop is already locked in and the decline in Japan born Japanese and China born Chinese in inevitable now.

So there is typically  40 years in advance signal before the overall population starts to fall.  The effect is like a time bomb and every one knows the timing and how to freeze the timer on the bomb.  If you have the means and the desire to freeze the timer on the bomb, there is plenty of time.

The impact of immigration.
The technique to freeze the clock on the bomb is immigration.  Using people ‘prepared earlier’ means that the fix is far quicker than the flow through from low birth rates.  The means even with the natural population growth engine switched off, the population can grow beyond the lag period.   Significant immigration requires a lot of people to want to immigrate.  As there is some correlation between living standards and low birth rates, almost all countries facing low birth rates have the means to delay  population reductions should they wish.

Economically, almost all countries do wish to avoid population reduction at this time, so given almost all have the means as well, expect actual to population reduction to be very rare while immigration is still a viable solution.  Therefore the global population to continue to climb. ‘Catch 22’.

But also expect the sources of immigration run out.  The most significant destinations for immigration, Australia Canada and the USA, have still been gaining most immigrants from counties just now starting to feel the impact of the ‘lag’ period reaching the end of the lag.  And when immigration sources  run out, then the timer on the bomb resumes.  For everyone. So the real ‘Catch 22’ is that the problem is delayed until all face it at the same time and on a massive scale.  If the remaining time is all used focused on slowing the timer, then countries will be unprepared.   The economic shock from the bomb going off will be very significant unless radical steps are taken to adjust.   The world can be a much better place after this adjustment.  I just hope that is how it plays out.

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One thought on “The population ‘catch 22’

  1. Pingback: Perspectives on future population. | observ8tions

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