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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Population growth is continuing to slow in the U.S. and China — the world’s top two economies — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Why it matters: While population trends can be difficult to change, there is unlikely to be a “point of no return" where they can't be reversed — if government leaders proactively address the foundational causes, like the burdens and costs of child care or fears of immigration.

  • Population growth impacts economic growth because it can increase innovation, workers, and goods produced and consumed.

By the numbers: The United Nations projects that the world population will grow to 9.7 billion people in 30 years, from about 7.7 billion as of 2019. 

  • More than half of that growth will be concentrated in nine countries, including the U.S.
  • Over the same time period, China will be one of 55 countries or areas where population is expected to decline by at least 1%.
  • Globally, the number of young people entering their reproductive years now is larger than their parents’ generation — so even if the global level of fertility were to fall immediately to around two children per woman, births would still exceed deaths for several decades, according to the U.N.

Yes, but: “We focus way too much on the percent growth like quarterly GDP,” American Enterprise Institute adjunct fellow Lyman Stone tells Axios. “We should think about what people want. What level of immigration people want. What age would people like to die.” 

  • The U.S. is currently failing to achieve the average social preference across all three demographic trackers — immigration, life expectancy, and fertility are all trending down.
  • “When pretty normal desires are not being fulfilled, that’s an indicator that society has a problem," Stone says.

Americans still want multiple children, but they’re worried about child care costs, their own student debt, a lack of family leave policies, and a pause in their careers.

  • These concerns are also limiting family growth in China — on top of a severe gender imbalance caused by the country’s one-child policy and male child favoritism. 

While Beijing has relaxed restrictions on the number of children families can now have in China, the new policy seeks more to bolster its workforce than to promote population. That’s because at the same time, the Chinese Communist Party is also raising the country’s retirement age, eliminating a key source of child care for Chinese families. 

The big picture: Population is a measure of how many options people have for business partners, customers and romantic relationships — the numbers for which are all likely to improve with a larger society, says Stone.

  • What also matters more than absolute population growth is the age distribution of population, especially for economic growth.
  • “If you have a lot of young people and relatively fewer older adults, you basically get the distribution China had in 1990, which will guarantee a [large] labor force for economic growth,” says Emma Zang, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University.
  • There’s no consensus on how many people the planet can support, since there’s no guarantee that populations will grow as projected or that people will consume food and energy in the same wasteful ways as they have.

The bottom line: If countries want population growth to pick up, leaders must first fix the underlying causes for a slowdown.

Go deeper

Oct 7, 2021 - Health

Pfizer asks FDA to authorize COVID-19 vaccine for younger children

Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday said they submitted an official application asking the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

Why it matters: If approved, it would become the first coronavirus vaccine for younger children. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has full FDA approval for people 16 and older and has an EUA for those between 12 and 15.

12 mins ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspend the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.

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