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Global population projections to 2100. Credit: The Lancet. Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: a forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study

New projections suggest the human population will be smaller and significantly older by the end of the century.

Why it matters: As fertility rates continue to drop around the world, economic and political power among nations will shift rapidly, creating an international landscape radically different than it is in 2020.

Driving the news: A new report in the Lancet by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecasts the global population will peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion before declining to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.

  • That slowed growth in the decades ahead followed by outright decline is chiefly caused by drastically falling total fertility rates, from 2.37 women per child globally today to 1.66 in 2100.
  • The fertility rate required to keep population stable is 2.1.
  • Not only will humanity shrink — especially in countries like Japan where fertility has long been below replacement level — it will become much older. By 2100 projections suggest there will be twice as many adults over 80 as there are children under five.

The big picture: The projected population changes won't play out evenly around the world, which means we could well see major adjustments to the international order.

  • China is set to become the world's biggest economy and is challenging the U.S. for international dominance. But decades of enforced low fertility means that China is set to age and then shrink, potentially setting it on a path of decline shortly after the country reaches the peak of its power.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to escape population decline, which means that what is currently the poorest part of the world is the one that will have a surplus of an endangered resource: working-age adults.
  • The U.S. is expected to be more resistant to decline than most developed nations, with a population in 2100 projected to rise just slightly higher than current levels. But it will be much older, and those numbers could be skewed if immigration — the main source of growth going forward — is further curtailed.

Yes, but: These projected population declines are in some ways a measure of global success.

  • As countries have grown richer and, especially, as women have become freer and more educated, fertility rates have fallen around the world.
  • A smaller human population should slow the effects of climate change, though it's important to remember that wealth has a much bigger effect on carbon emission than sheer numbers.

The catch: Any forecast that attempts to peer 80 years into the future inevitably rests on assumptions that may be — and almost certainly are — flawed.

  • The UN's latest projections, for instance, are for global population to reach nearly 11 billion by 2100.
  • While economic power has chiefly been driven by large, working-age populations in the past — hence the demographic dividend that has powered growth in parts of Asia and Latin America in recent decades — there's no guarantee that will continue in the future.
  • AI could help economies get far more out of a shrinking population — or possibly, dispense with the need for workers altogether.

The bottom line: By the time my 3-year-old reaches his grandparents' age, the world could be a lonelier place — and a much different one as well.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Sep 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Why the real estate boom could keep going for years

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even after reaching all-time high average prices and sales numbers not seen since the height of the 2000s boom, the housing market still has lots of room to run, experts say.

What's happening: There were fears in late 2019 and early this year that price levels had outpaced income growth and become unsustainable — but record-low mortgage rates and promises by the Fed to keep U.S. interest rates at zero through at least 2023 have lit a new fire under the market.

Updated 7 mins ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

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