5 Undeniable Long-Term Trends Shaping Society’s Future
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5 Undeniable Long-Term Trends Shaping Society’s Future

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We’re living in a world of rapid change, where disruption is the norm and innovation is the only way to stay relevant.

The dynamic nature of society makes it difficult to decipher. However, despite the world’s complexity, there are some long-term trends that have emerged among the chaos. These help us make sense of the world today, and can give us an idea of what to expect in years ahead.

Here’s a look at five long-term trends that are set to transform society as we know it.

The following article uses charts and data from our new book Signals (hardcover, ebook) which covers the 27 macro trends transforming the global economy and markets. In some cases, where appropriate, we’ve added in the most recent projections and data.

#1: Aging World

With every successive year, our global population is skewing older.

Since 1970, our worldwide median age has grown by almost a decade. By 2100, it’s projected to increase by another 10 years.

global median age chart in the signals book

Of course, not all countries are aging at the same rate.

Using data from the UN, the graph below covers the old-age dependency ratios (OADR) of different regions, showing the proportion of working-age citizens versus the percentage of older people, who are less likely to remain in the workforce.

old age dependency ratios chart from the signals book

What’s the economic impact of an aging population? Some potential risks include rising healthcare costs, a shrinking workforce, and even economic slowdowns.

To mitigate some of these risks, it’s crucial that countries build solid pension systems to support their aging citizens. Other potential solutions include increasing the age of retirement, enforcing mandatory retirement plans, and limiting early access to benefits.

Aging populations are also influencing the make-up of households in many countries. In the U.S., the share of multigenerational family households has been rising steadily since the 1970s.

multigenerational households in the us

At a societal level, people in the oldest age groups often play a different role in society than working age people. Many seniors engage in volunteerism and play a pivotal role in childcare for their families–activities that fall outside traditional measures of economic activity.

#2: Urban Evolution

Another macro trend that’s set to transform many regions of the world is rapid urbanization.

Currently, more than half of the global population lives in urban areas, and this influx of city-dwellers is expected to grow even more in the years ahead.

urban vs rural global population

While urbanization may seem like an long-established phenomenon, it’s actually a relatively new trend, historically speaking.

Throughout human history, populations have typically lived in small villages. All the way up to the early 1800s, close to 90% of the global population still lived in rural areas. Urbanization didn’t take off on a widespread scale until the 20th century.

But once urban migration started, it snowballed, and since then it’s shown no signs of slowing down. By 2050, over two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in urban settings.

The Rise of Megacities

Even in developing countries, urban life is becoming the norm – a shift that is causing a boom in megacity growth.

urban growth in developing countries

The median population size of the world’s top 100 cities has been growing steadily too – from eight million in 2000 to a projected 12 million in 2035.

Why is this happening? People tend to migrate to urban areas for socioeconomic reasons, and these economic pull-factors are particular strong in the developing world. Over time, this migration and increase in the standard of living is lifting millions of people out of poverty. This brings us to our third trend.

If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:


Signals: Book

#3: Rising Middle Class

While poverty is far from eradicated, the global middle class is growing, and fewer people are living in extreme poverty than ever before.

rising global middle class

As the above graph shows, there was an overall increase in daily income from 1971 to 1995. By 2019, income levels had increased even further.

According to Brookings, an average of five people are entering the global middle class per second, and by 2030, the worldwide middle class population is expected to reach 5.3 billion.

global population by wealth category

As the global middle class grows, so does the market for products and services around the world. And as the middle class has more disposable income to spend, these developing markets can create new opportunities for companies and investors alike.

In fact, according to MSCI, although global equity markets are dominated by North American companies (61.5%) in terms of market capitalization, the vast majority of revenues (70.1%) come from outside North America. As the rest of the developing world gets richer, this trend is likely to accelerate.

#4: Rising Wealth inequality

People in lower-income economies aren’t the only people generating more wealth—the richer are also increasing their net worth. By a lot.

Over the last few decades, the wealth of America’s top 10% has increased by billions of dollars, while the middle and bottom wealth groups have stayed relatively stagnant.

share of total wealth by wealth group

What’s driving this wealth inequality? One key factor is the different types of assets each wealth group owns. While the top 10% invest heavily in the stock market, other wealth groups rely on real estate as their main form of investment.

assets vs historical performance

Historically, equities have had higher returns than real estate—making the rich richer and leaving the bottom 90% behind.

#5: Environmental Pressures

So far, we’ve touched on four demographic shifts that are transforming society as we know it. But these changes in our global population size, wealth, and consumption habits have had far-reaching consequences. This last trend touches on one of those consequences—increased environmental pressure.

Since the year 1850, the global average temperature of land areas has risen twice as fast as the global average.

global surface temperatures

Various factors have contributed to increasing temperatures, but one major source stems from human-produced greenhouse gas emissions.

What human activities contribute to global emissions the most? The biggest culprit is industrial activity—32% of total emissions, while energy use in buildings comes in second at 17%.

Our Warmer World

Why is this significant? Rising temperatures pose a risk to our ecosystems and livelihood by changing weather patterns and putting the global food supply at risk.

climate change and extreme weather events

The past half-decade is likely to become the warmest five-year stretch in recorded history, underscoring the rapid pace of climate change. On a global scale, even a small increase in temperature can have a big impact on climate and our ecosystems.

For example, air can hold approximately 7% more moisture for every 1ºC increase, leading to an uptick in extreme rainfall events. These events can trigger landslides, increase the rate of soil erosion, and damage crops – just one example of how climate change can cause a chain reaction.

For the billions of people who live in “drylands”, climate change is serving up a completely different scenario of increased intensity and duration of drought. This is particularly worrisome as 90% of people in these arid or semiarid regions live in developing economies that are still very reliant on agriculture.

As a society, we will need to take a hard look at the way we consume in order to begin mitigating these risks. Will we rise to the challenge?

If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:


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News Explainer: The Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is currently in an economic crisis with over $50 billion in debt and consumer inflation at 39%. So how did they get here?

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sri lanka economic crisis

Explained: the Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is currently in an economic and political crisis of mass proportions, recently culminating in a default on its debt payments. The country is also nearly at empty on their foreign currency reserves, decreasing the ability to purchase imports and driving up domestic prices for goods.

There are several reasons for this crisis and the economic turmoil has sparked mass protests and violence across the country. This visual breaks down some of the elements that led to Sri Lanka’s current situation.

A Timeline of Events

The ongoing problems in Sri Lanka have bubbled up after years of economic mismanagement. Here’s a brief timeline looking at just some of the recent factors.

2009

In 2009, a decades-long civil war in the country ended and the government’s focus turned inward towards domestic production. However, a stress on local production and sales, instead of exports, increased the reliance on foreign goods.

2019

Unprompted cuts were introduced on income tax in 2019, leading to significant losses in government revenue, draining an already cash-strapped country.

2020

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world causing border closures globally and stifling one of Sri Lanka’s most lucrative industries. Prior to the pandemic, in 2018, tourism contributed nearly 5% of the country’s GDP and generated over 388,000 jobs. In 2020, tourism’s share of GDP had dropped to 0.8%, with over 40,000 jobs lost to that point.

2021

Recently, the Sri Lankan government introduced a ban on foreign-made chemical fertilizers. The ban was meant to counter the depletion of the country’s foreign currency reserves.

However, with only local, organic fertilizers available to farmers, a massive crop failure occurred and Sri Lankans were subsequently forced to rely even more heavily on imports, further depleting reserves.

April 2022

In early April this year, massive protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, sparked in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo.

May 2022

In May, pro-government supporters brutally attacked protesters. Subsequently, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of President Rajapaksa, stepped down and was replaced with former PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

June 2022

Recently, the government approved a four-day work week to allow citizens an extra day to grow food, as prices continue to shoot up. Food inflation increased over 57% in May.

Additionally, the increasing prices on grain caused by the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices globally have played into an already dire situation in Sri Lanka.

The Key Information

“Our economy has completely collapsed.”
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament last week.

One of the main causes of the economic crisis in Sri Lanka is the reliance on imports and the amount spent on them. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • 2021 total imports = $20.6 billion USD
  • 2022 total imports (to March) = $5.7 billion USD

In contrast, the most recent reported foreign currency reserve levels in the country were at an abysmal $50 million, having plummeted an astounding 99%, from $7.6 billion in 2019.

Some of the top imports in 2021, according to the country’s central bank were:

  • Refined petroleum = $2.8 billion
  • Textiles = $3.1 billion
  • Chemical products = $1.1 billion
  • Food & beverage = $1.7 billion

Of course, without the cash to purchase these goods from abroad, Sri Lankans face an increasingly drastic situation.

Additionally, the debt Sri Lanka has incurred is huge, further hampering their ability to boost their reserves. Recently, they defaulted on a $78 million loan from international creditors, and in total, they’ve borrowed $50.7 billion.

The largest source of their debt is by far due to market borrowings, followed closely by loans taken from the Asian Development Bank, China, and Japan, among others.

What it Means

Sri Lanka is home to more than 22 million people who are rapidly losing the ability to purchase everyday goods. Consumer inflation reached 39% at the end of May.

Due to power outages meant to save energy and fuel, schools are currently shuttered and children have nowhere to go during the day. Protesters calling for the president’s resignation have been camped in the capital for months, facing tear gas from police and backlash from president Rajapaksa’s supporters, but many have also responded violently to pushback.

India and China have agreed to send help to the country and the the International Monetary Fund recently arrived in the country to discuss a bailout. Additionally, the government has sent ministers to Russia to discuss a deal for discounted oil imports.

A Foreshadowing for Low Income Countries

Governments need foreign currency in order to purchase goods from abroad. Without the ability to purchase or borrow foreign currency, the Sri Lankan government cannot buy desperately needed imports, including food staples and fuel, causing domestic prices to rise.

Furthermore, defaults on loan payments discourage foreign direct investment and devalue the national currency, making future borrowing more difficult.

What’s happening in Sri Lanka may be an ominous preview of what’s to come in other low and middle-income countries, as the risk of debt distress continues to rise globally.

The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) was implemented by G20 countries, suspending nearly $13 billion in debt from the start of the pandemic until late 2021.

Sri Lanka Economic Crisis - countries by level of debt distress

Some DSSI and LIC countries facing a high risk of debt distress include Zambia, Ethiopia, and Tajikistan, to name a few.

Going forward, Sri Lanka’s next steps in managing this situation will either serve as a useful example for other countries at risk or a warning worth heeding.

Note: The debt breakdown in the main visualization represents total outstanding external debt owed to foreign creditors rather total debt.

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.

This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.

How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?

To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.

Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.

Rising Interest Rates and Inflation

With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.

JurisdictionJan 2022 InflationMay 2022 InflationJan 2022 Policy RateJun 2022 Policy Rate
UK5.50%9.10%0.25%1.25%
U.S.7.50%8.60%0.00%-0.25%1.50%-1.75%
Euro Area5.10%8.10%0.00%0.00%
Canada5.10%7.70%0.25%1.50%
Sweden3.90%7.20%0.00%0.25%
New Zealand5.90%6.90%0.75%2.00%
Norway3.20%5.70%0.50%1.25%
Australia3.50%5.10%0.10%0.85%
Switzerland1.60%2.90%-0.75%-0.25%
Japan0.50%2.50%-0.10%-0.10%

The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.

On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.

Pacing Interest Rate Hikes

Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.

However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.

“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.

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