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Hopping a ride in Jalandhar, India. Photo: Shammi Mehra / AFP / Getty

Earth will have almost 10 billion people by 2050, according to the United Nations, and yet another billion by the turn of the century, creating a substrate of tension under climate change, aging, and automation. But Vienna-based demographers say these forecasts overstate the population trend. Instead, they say, we are headed for a population plateau and decline — in short, "peak human."

Why it matters: The basis of modern economics is how to manage crisis and progress for a fast-growing human population. But for several years, researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis have been saying that while the human population will balloon to 9.5 billion people by 2070, it will peak there, and decline below 9 billion by the end of the century.

  • That is 2.3 billion fewer than the U.N. forecast. And if IIASA is right, the function of future experts will revolve around how to manage during population shrinkage.

What's behind the contrarian forecast: The lead IIASA researchers, Samir KC and Wolfgang Lutz, have said the key difference in the forecasts is educated women. In countries like India and Nigeria, female literacy will rise and mute the population surge forecast by the U.N. (they explain in this piece at Brookings). In Nigeria, for example, they say, the population will triple to 576 million by 2100, but that it won't quadruple to 794 million, as the U.N. projects.

  • Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, who teaches economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, tells Axios that, if IIASA is right, one enormous potential benefit is that per capita wealth can improve without an increase in production.
  • "We can be richer without having to produce more," he said. "You can get people out of poverty without harming the environment."
  • Cuaresma foresees much more attention to environmental quality, simply because wealth will rise, and with it a demand for better air and water.

On the disadvantageous side, the world will be aging while it is shrinking, and hence the concentration of elderly people will be greater than already forecast. As of now, the U.N. forecasts that the number of people 60 or older in the world will double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, rising to 3.1 billion people.

  • That raises the question of who will care for the elderly, and how it will be funded when the working-age population will be smaller proportionally.

Go deeper

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

House will transmit article of impeachment to Senate on Monday, Schumer says

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the House will deliver the article of impeachment against former President Trump for "incitement of insurrection" on Monday.

Why it matters: The Senate is required to begin the impeachment trial at 1pm the day after the article is transmitted.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Private equity bets on delayed tax reform in Biden administration

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In normal times, private equity would be nervous about Democratic Party control of both the White House and Congress. But in pandemic-consumed 2021, the industry seems sanguine.

Driving the news: Industry executives and lobbyists paid very close attention to Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen's confirmation hearings this week, and came away convinced that tax reform isn't on the near-term agenda.

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