Disappearing Youth: The World Population in 2050

Could the aging of the world’s population lead to the disappearance of some cultures? One author believes so and he cites the fall of Greek and Roman cultures to support his contention. David P. Goldman analyzed United Nations’ population projections to 2050 in his 2011 book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too).


U.N. projections (http://esa.un.org/wpp/Documentation/pdf/WPP2012_Volume-I_Comprehensive-Tables.pdf) indicate population decreases of 10-25% for many European countries and Japan. Furthermore, a high percentage of the population remaining in those countries in 2050 will be over 60 years of age. While the world’s population age 60 and over is projected to increase from 11.7% in 2013 to 21.2% in 2050, most European countries will have 30-40% of their populations in that age bracket. In Spain, Portugal, Japan, and Korea the figures will be over 40%. (These projections reflect the U.N.’s medium variant series.)


As his sub-title reveals, Goldman finds the trend particularly acute in Muslim countries. He notes that the current population in Iran includes nine people of working age for every elderly dependent. By 2050 that ratio will fall to less than 1.5 working age people per elderly dependent. (Comparable U.S. figures are 5.3 to 2.8.)


This “dependency ratio” is one of two key demographic measures that describe a population’s present and predict its future. The other measure is “total fertility,” which is the average number of children ever born to the population’s females. A fertility rate of 2.1 is required to maintain a constant level of population. Average world fertility is currently 2.5, and is projected (in the medium variant series) to fall to 2.24 by 2050. Interestingly, the U.N. report found a relationship between fertility and religious participation. In the U.S. and Europe, the higher the frequency of attendance at religious services, the higher the fertility.

This is where Goldman finds his most startling demographic change. “The fastest demographic decline ever registered in recorded history is taking place in Muslim countries,” he states. The U.N. figures include the following Muslim countries’ decreasing fertility rates from 2015 to 2050: Afghanistan, from 5.00 to 1.97; Iraq, from 4.06 to 2.69; Mali, from 6.86 to 4.21; Senegal, from 4.98 to 3.17; Sudan, from 4.46 to 2.81; and Yemen, from 4.15 to 2.03. According to Goldman, “The vast majority of educated young Muslims are alienated from the traditional Islamic culture of previous generations and rebel quietly against the Islamists’ attempt to reimpose it on them by force. They have voted with their wombs. Like Europe, the Muslim world is engaged in the slow-motion suicide of failing to create the next generation.”


The Pew Research Center recently released its own projections of population to 2050, but rather than by country, the projections are by religion (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/). Pew projects the world-wide Muslim fertility rate to drop from 3.1 to 2.3. Muslim population will continue to increase, but at a slower rate, challenging Goldman’s contention that Muslims are not replacing themselves. In fact, the Pew study projects a 74% increase in world Muslim population, from 1.6 billion to nearly 2.8 billion. Christian fertility is projected to decrease from 2.7 to 2.3, still above replacement level. As a result, Christian world population will increase by 35%, from 2.2 billion to 2.9 billion. Thus by 2050 Christian and Muslim populations will be about equal, and together will total over 60% of the world’s population. Africa will be the focus of both Muslim and Christian population increases. Of the approximately 2.4 billion increase in world population from 2013 to 2050, 1.3 billion will be in Africa.

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