UN forecast

55 countries will see their population shrink by 2050

The world population is still growing, but ageing at the same time. That is evident in the UN report World Population Prospects 2019. Birth rates are falling and life expectancies are increasing. Migration also has an impact on how individual countries’ populations develop.
Without immigration, Italy’s population would have dwindled: Pope Francis visiting a regional migration centre in Bologna in 2017. Bianchi/picture-alliance/AP Images Without immigration, Italy’s population would have dwindled: Pope Francis visiting a regional migration centre in Bologna in 2017.

In 2050, the average global life expectancy will be 77.1 years – 4.5 years more than today. That is the assessment of the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), which launched the report. The authors note, however, that the average life expectancy in prosperous world regions exceeds the one of disadvantaged countries by more than seven years today.

The data show that nine countries will account for about half of the global population growth: the DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and the USA. On the other hand, the populations of 55 countries are forecast to shrink by at least one percent by 2050. The UN even expect reductions of 20 % and more in some countries, including Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

There are typically two reasons that make a country’s population dwindle, according to the UN: fewer births and outward migration. Bangladesh and Nepal are listed among the ten countries said to be most affected by emigration because people hope to find better livelihoods elsewhere. Syria and Myanmar are included too, the reason is that people flee civil strife.

The statistics reveal that 36 countries took in more than 200,000 people from 2010 to 2020. These figures include temporary migration in search of livelihoods. In nine countries where population ageing has already advanced considerably, the number of immigrants exceeded those of emigrants, cushioning the population decrease. According to the UN, the populations of Germany and Italy actually increased due to immigration.

The UN experts generally consider migration to be good because it allows millions of people to escape poverty. As they point out, safe and regulated migration is necessary to best tap the potential.

On the other hand, the authors warn that demographic trends will make it harder to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as planned by 2030. They stress that countries with comparatively young populations, where many young girls are not yet of childbearing age, will still see the numbers of births increasing for some time. The same countries have comparatively high rates of maternal mortality and the greatest unmet need for contraceptives and family-planning information (see Mahwish Gul in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/04). The report points out that they must prepare for many more children, especially in the health and education sectors.

At the global level, however, the age group of those over 65 is the fastest growing cohort. In 2018, it included more members for the first time than the age group under five, according to the UN. By 2050, there will be more than twice as many people over 65 as under five. To ensure elderly people’s welfare, their access to health care must be guaranteed, and pension systems must improve, the authors demand.

World Population Prospects 2019, Highlights:

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to transform economies in an environmentally sound manner, leaving no one behind.