By Robert Seidenschwarz/for MISSOULA CURRENT
Over the last several years, I have lectured to numerous groups on one of the most misunderstood issues of the 21st century. This demographic issue affects the developed world and the countries which are collectively referred to as “the developing world,” also more commonly known as “the third world.”
The current global population is currently estimated to be 7 billion. Population experts estimate that by the year 2050, the global population could exceed 9 billion. The vast majority of that growth will occur in the developing world countries.
Regardless of what the planet’s population will be, there is one irrefutable fact: The population growth will be concentrated in the countries and regions least prepared to deal with the multi-faceted challenges their populations will present.
If asked to list the numerous issues facing our planet’s future, you would hear this common refrain: “There are too many people consuming ever fewer resources. If there were fewer people consuming resources, there would be less impact.” I wouldn’t argue with that linear thinking, but I believe it reflects too simplistic a rationale. The current and growing youth imbalance has consequences not just for the regions directly affected, but for the whole of the developed world as well.
With the exception of the United States, the rest of the developed world is in a stagnant or declining population trend. Countries such as Russia, Japan and South Korea are in declining population trends. Russia’s issue is so severe that Putin has implemented aggressive economic incentives to encourage women to have more children.
It might not surprise you that China, with over 1 billion people, has population issues. A society that has long favored male children over females has created a significant imbalance of males to females due to their one child policy. At the same time, a rapidly aging population has had impactful economic consequences. China has acknowledged this policy failure to a degree, but as Chinese consumers have gained wealth, decisions of family size have become an economic one.
The lack of available females of marrying age has led Chinese males to seek mates outside of the country. The rapidly aging population has shifted the burden of health care and housing from what have traditionally been the role of the family onto the state. The development of safety nets to address these issues, such as health benefits and housing facilities, reflect a changing demographic population shift.
In an article written by Somini Sebgupta and published in the New York Times on March 6, 2016, Ms. Sebgupta asserts that “at no point in recorded history has our world been so demographically lopsided, with old people concentrated in rich countries and the young in not-so-rich countries.
Much has been made of the challenges of aging societies. But it’s the youth bulge that stands to put greater pressure on the global economy, sow political unrest, spur mass migration and have profound consequences for everything from marriage to Internet access to the growth of cities.
The parable of our time might well be: mind your young, or they will trouble you in your old age.
A fourth of humanity is now young (ages 10 to 24). The vast majority live in the developing world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
Nowhere can the pressures of the youth bulge be felt as profoundly as in India. Every month, some 1 million young Indians turn 18 – coming of age, looking for work, registering to vote and making India home to the largest number of young, working-age people anywhere in the world.
Already, the number of Indians between the ages of 15 and 34 – 422 million – is roughly the same as the combined populations of the United States, Canada and Britain.
Make a list of your most important political, social, economic and environmental issues. Go ahead and rank them in order of which you find most concerning. Regardless of your ranking, there won’t be one issue that is not affected in a compelling manner by this “youth bulge” in the developing nations by the rapidly aging population in the developed world.
In the Arab countries, young people are the fastest growing segment. Some 60 percent of the population is under 25 years old, making it one of the most youthful regions in the world. This pattern to varying degrees repeats itself across the continent of Africa, Central America and parts of Asia. What many of the countries and regions have in common that affect their youthful populations are the following:
- Lack of economic opportunities.
- Corrupt political systems.
- Authoritarian or dictatorial regimes.
- Lack of institutional accountability (Governance institutions)
- Civil society exists but may be compromised.
- Lack of ownership of private property and non-corrupt court systems in place to protect property rights.
The Middle East exemplifies the above issues and the world feels the anger, frustration and siren song of Jihad that becomes tantalizing to disenfranchised youthful populations. Access to modern technology exposes the failing of their own systems while giving a window upon the world of what opportunities exist beyond their borders.
Contrast this to the institutional systems that exist in the developed world for a moment. While there is much for which to be critical within our own system, there exists through the peaceful process of voting the ability to enact institutional change.
You may remember that Paul Ehrlich (author of “Population Time Bomb”) predicted dire consequences to an over populated planet. The irony of the situation may not be too many people, but rather the unbalanced demographic population, access to resources and governments accountable to their populations.
Advancements in technology and our relentless drive to innovate have staved off many of these predictions of food and energy shortages while acknowledging new sets of issues to be dealt with. Access to resources and their usage will continue to put immense strain on our ability to coordinate our disparate interests and nationalist tendencies.
While part of a panel several years ago discussing energy related issues, a young man stepped up to the microphone and, with much consternation and applause, stated that the world is running out of resources and that we have too many people on the planet. I responded in my typical understated fashion: “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” My response was that we will run out of people long before we run out of resources.
Fast forward 2016. The world is awash in oil and natural gas. Environmentalists are concerned that with the projected abundance of natural gas supplies that this may act as a disincentive to convert to non-carbon emitting power generation. Did you hear the one about nuclear energy? I’ll leave that for another day.
Robert Seidenschwarz is chairman of the Board of Directors for the Montana World Affairs Council and lives in Missoula.