Drivers of Change 2022 – Population Dynamics

Drivers of Change 2022 – Population Dynamics

SAMI continually monitors emerging events and tracks them against our standard set of 6 major drivers of change.  Many events simply reinforce or confirm our previous view, but some may indicate an acceleration or deceleration of the trend.  In this first of our update of drivers of change, we are looking at Population Dynamics.


Since the publication of Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline in 2019 and the population forecasts by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in 2020, we have been flagging the change in base case assumptions about population growth.  IHME forecast global population to peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion people and fall to 8.8 billion by the end of the century. Other forecasts are even lower.

IHME concluded that:

– By 2100, projected fertility rates in 183 of 195 countries will not be high enough to maintain current populations without liberal immigration policies.

– 23 countries. including Japan, Thailand, Italy, and Spain, will see their populations shrink by more than 50% by the end of the century.

– Dramatic declines in working age-populations are predicted in countries such as India and China, which will hamper economic growth and lead to shifts in geo-political dynamics.

The widespread and sustained declines in fertility are due to improvements in access to modern contraception, and the education of girls and women. In the West, there is a feeling that some young people are put off having children because of the state of the world. And it is unclear how much an impact declining sperm counts caused by micro-plastic pollution may be having.

Fertility rates in Italy and Spain will be at 1.2; even Nigeria will see rates fall from 4.6 births per woman in 2017 to just 1.7 by 2100.

Europe is the continent with the lowest total fertility rate: 1.50 births per woman in the EU in 2020, well below the replacement rate.

China’s population is reaching its peak now – it grew by just 1% between 2020 and 2021, with a fertility rate as low as 1.15. India’s fertility rate in 2021 was 2.1 (replacement rate) and  India surpasses China round about now. However, its population is also projected to drop before the end of the century.

Graphic by Axios with data from UN


An obvious consequence of this pattern is an ageing population. IHME suggest that as fertility falls and life expectancy increases worldwide, the number of children under 5 years old is forecast to decline, whilst the number of individuals older than 80 years is projected to increase six fold, more than double the number of under-5’s.

Furthermore, the global ratio of non-working adults to workers was around 0.8 in 2017, but is projected to increase to 1.16 in 2100 if labour force participation by age and sex does not change.

In England and Wales, latest Census figures show that over one-sixth (18.6%, 11.1 million) of the population in 2021 were aged 65 years and over, up from 16.4% in 2011.

Demographic dividend

Some countries, however, may be fortunate to experience a “demographic dividend”, where the working population has a lower proportion of young dependents. This leads to larger investments per child, more freedom for women to enter the formal workforce and more household savings for old age.

Latin American countries were thought to have had a demographic dividend during to 2000’s, but the window of opportunity seems to be passing.  Tanzania has the number of dependents per 100 in working age falling from 96 in 2015 to 60 by 2100. Seizing the opportunity of a demographic dividend requires simultaneous investments in decent job creation, good governance, infrastructure and a functioning business climate.

Policy reactions

Governments in several countries are attempting to turn the tide of falling fertility rates.

  • Hungary: introducing nationalised IVF clinics; “baby-expecting loans”, written off if a couple have 3 or more children
  • Italy and Greece have introduced “baby bonuses”.
  • China: having eliminated its one or two children policy, China is encouraging companies to give incentives for child-bearing; but has yet to see a positive reaction from young women
  • Russia offers bonuses for two or more children. In January 2020, president Vladimir Putin suggested extending the maternity capital program in the country to include births of first children. Furthermore, the program’s financing was planned to rise each year.
  • Discussing a childfree lifestyle and homosexuality in public could soon be banned in Russia under a proposed law that claims they are as harmful as extremism and drug use. Draft legislation introduced to parliament alleged that “new values” were undermining Russian society and exacerbating the demographic crisis.
  • Anti-abortion practices are on the increase: in Poland, and in Republican states in USA following the overturning of Roe v Wade.
  • Overturning Roe v Wade could threaten the court’s 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right to privacy and legalized birth control since it was based on similar legal grounds. Some Republicans have already expressed opposition to Griswold, suggesting that precedent could be challenged in court next.


Continued conflicts around the world, and increasing challenges from climate change will inevitably drive increased migration. Nearly 90 million people were forcibly displaced in 2021, compared with 40 million in 2011. 53 million of these were displaced internally.  More than two thirds (68 per cent) of all refugees displaced abroad came from just five countries – Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Turkeyhosted nearly 3.8 million refugees, the largest population worldwide.

In addition to these forced migrations, the appeal of economic migration increases.  A survey of 18-24 year olds in Africa showed dissatisfaction with their countries: 52% planned to move abroad in the next three years, with the number increasing to three-quarters in Nigeria and Sudan.

In recent years there has been resistance to immigration in the West.  The demographic challenges described above however could be slowly changing perceptions. Labour shortages in the UK have already led to industry groups asking Government to relax quotas. Might we soon see competition for young and healthy immigrants to provide dynamism to ageing economies?


The number of Africans living in urban areas keeps increasing and it is expected that by 2050 the number will exceed 950 million. While this urbanization brings opportunities, it is also and above all a source of real challenges, particularly for intermediate cities which will be affected by two thirds of this growth.

In 2018, 55% of world’s population lived in urban areas, up from 30% in 1950. By 2030 this will grow to 60%. Northern America was the most urbanized region in the world, with 82 per cent of its population living in urban areas

Between 2018 and 2050, the urban population of Africa is projected to triple and that of Asia to increase by 61 per cent, so that by 2050 most of the world’s urban population will be concentrated in Asia (52%) and Africa (21%)


Demographics is one of the more predictable drivers of change, yet even here we are seeing radical departures from previous orthodoxy.  The size and structure of countries’ populations has implications for so many other aspects of their global position, economic strength and even military power. The interaction with social attitudes – open or restrictive – is a choice each country must make. Impending political challenges could be messy.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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