The population growth benefits the countries

Global challenge population growth

By 2100 there could be up to 12.3 billion people on earth. The highest growth is in sub-Saharan Africa.

When thinking of the “population problem”, many people immediately think of the rapid population growth in developing countries. In fact, however, population growth is declining worldwide and is expected to stabilize in the further course of this century.

While we cannot afford to ignore the fact that the United Nations estimates that there will be 2.4 billion more people to feed around the world by mid-century, there is another population problem that deserves special attention as well: large islands of declining population .

In industrialized countries it is not only the proportion of older people that is increasing. The birth rates are so low that the total population is shrinking. While increasing life expectancy should be hailed as a major contributor to this change, we must address the problematic consequences: a falling number of people of working age are being forced to support an increasing number of retirees.

Contrasting trends

Meanwhile, the opposite is the case in developing countries - too many young people there lack employment opportunities, or at least high quality full-time jobs. In the not too distant future, however, these countries too will face the problems of an aging and shrinking population. But right now they have a large number of working-age citizens - and these people need jobs.

In fact, these opposing trends would be an ideal way to rebalance global demographics. Developed countries could strengthen their shrinking workforce through young people from developing countries by easing migration restrictions. The taxes on these labor immigrants would help the industrialized countries finance benefits for the elderly, and their home remittances would benefit their countries of origin.

There would be enormous potential benefits to this approach. Indeed, a modest three percent increase in the number of people employed in industrialized countries would do more to the economy than removing all remaining trade barriers. In addition, every dollar invested in this initiative would produce nearly $ 50 in economic benefits, making it an extremely effective use of limited resources.

These impressive numbers are the result of an extensive analysis carried out by a team of leading economists. They were hired by the Copenhagen Consensus Center to assess population-based targets to identify the best global investment opportunities. (Other teams have dealt with issues in 18 other areas.)

Such objective, empirical analysis should guide ongoing efforts - the United Nations, national governments, NGOs and other stakeholders - in developing the next global development agenda to be launched in the coming year.

In fact, it is the only way to ensure that the worst-hit people get the most from investment and that government money is well spent.

Access to contraception

The current agenda - which focuses on the so-called Millennium Development Goals - has achieved considerable success. But the lack of weight that was attached to such cost-benefit analyzes prevented those entrusted with the implementation from using the limited resources as optimally as possible.

Another benefit of such an analysis is that it can highlight future risks related to longer-term trends such as global population growth. This is important because a growing population could be an even bigger problem than previously thought.

According to a new study, the likelihood that the world's population will not peak this century is currently 70 percent; the prognosis that between 9.6 and 12.3 billion people will live on earth by 2100 should come true with an 80 percent probability. Sub-Saharan Africa - still the poorest region in the world - will see the highest population growth.

Fortunately, there is a cost-effective way to curb this growth: access to modern contraception for women. It would cost around $ 3.6 billion a year to provide contraception to 215 million women worldwide - most of them in Africa - who want to avoid pregnancy. When you consider the extent to which this investment can pay off, the total looks ridiculous. It is estimated that there would be 640,000 fewer newborn deaths each year, 150,000 fewer fewer mothers would die in childbirth, and 600,000 fewer children would lose their mothers - a development that would generate around $ 145 billion in economic benefits.

More time for education

Not only that, better access to contraception would enable mothers to spend more time raising - and educating - their existing children. Fewer children also mean a larger percentage of the population would work and the economy would boost the economy by around $ 288 billion annually over the course of a generation. All in all, every dollar spent on family planning programs generates a whopping $ 120 in benefits.

Of course, it wouldn't be enough to just hand out contraceptives. People in poor countries - especially in African countries with high birth rates, which make up only 18 percent of the world's population but where 38 percent of all newborns are born - would benefit from educational initiatives with a focus on health and family planning.

The best guide

Improving the condition of the world's poorest people as much as possible means managing strong forces, ingrained habits and, most importantly, severe constraints of financial, temporal and human capital. For this reason, objective, data-driven analysis is the best guide.

Translated from the English by Sandra Pontow.

Copyright: Project Syndicate 2014

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Bjørn Lomborg
(* 1965 in Frederiksberg, DK) studied political science in Århus and taught statistics. He wrote several hotly debated books on climate change, including “Cool It! Why we should keep a cool head despite climate change ”. Currently head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and ao. Professor at Copenhagen Business School. [ Private]

("Die Presse", print edition, November 24, 2014)