Enacted in 1979 by China’s Communist Party, the controversial “One Child Policy” was primarily meant to slow the country’s rapid population growth, while capping the growing drain on China’s limited resources.
Even though the government’s primary objectives were arguably achieved through these extreme measures, it has been at an extraordinary human cost. The draconian enforcement of these policies, combined with the unintended consequences on families and the cultural preference for male children, will have an everlasting impact on the country’s future.
Fast forward to today, and the policy is still in place, but to a lesser effect. Since early 2016, families have been allowed to have two children – but even with this change in place, China still has a self-inflicted demographic disaster on its hands.
In the below population pyramids created by Aron Strandberg, the very different trajectories of China and India are compared directly. China is not only skewing older and more male – it is also losing its strong base of younger workers that could potentially support the rest of the population.
China’s “population pyramid” is not really a pyramid at all – in the coming decades, it’ll look more like a single pillar stuck propping up a burgeoning elderly demographic of people born before 1979.
And over time, the unintended and ongoing effects of population control will be extremely impactful on China’s future. As one example of the emerging challenges, a recent estimate published in Scientific American pegged China’s shortage of women at 62 million, creating a situation where there’ll be millions of men who are unable to marry.
This gender imbalance exacerbates an already existing shortfall at the younger end of China’s population spectrum – and the end result will be a rapidly falling ratio of workers to retirees in the Chinese economy:
Today, the ratio is roughly seven workers per retiree – and by 2050, when China’s population is 100 million people fewer than it is today, there will be just two workers per retiree.
A New Population Paradigm
As China struggles with a declining population and a lack of young people, India is expected to takes its place as the most populous country in the world by roughly 2027.
This new paradigm will be an incredibly interesting one to watch.
By the year 2100, China won’t be home to a single one of the world’s 20 most populous cities.
Instead, these massive metropolises will almost exclusively be located in places like India and Africa – and some of them, like Mumbai, will hold 60 million or more inhabitants.
China’s New Hope
While this shift in global demographics is going to be extremely difficult to deal with for China, there is optimism that increasing levels of automation and the emergence of artificial intelligence will help make up for any shortfalls.
The AI market alone is expected to drive $7 trillion in GDP growth by 2030, and China’s investments in robotics and automation are sure to keep the country a center of manufacturing in the future – even if those factories are being staffed with robots instead of workers.
Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government
At the start of the 19th century, less than 1% of humanity lived under democratic rule. See how systems of government have changed over the last 200 years.
Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government
Centuries ago, most of our ancestors were living under a different political paradigm.
Although democracy was starting to show signs of growth in some parts of the world, it was more of an idea, rather than an established or accepted system of government.
Even at the start of the 19th century, for example, it’s estimated that the vast majority of the global population — roughly 84% of all people — still lived under in autocratic regimes or colonies that lacked the authority to self-govern their own affairs.
The Evolution of Rule
Today’s set of charts look at global governance, and how it’s evolved over the last two centuries of human history.
Leveraging data from the widely-used Polity IV data set on political regimes, as well as the work done by economist Max Roser through Our World in Data, we’ve plotted an empirical view of how people are governed.
Specifically, our charts break down the global population by how they are governed (in absolute terms), as well as by the relative share of population living under those same systems of government (percentage terms).
Classifying Systems of Government
The Polity IV data series defines a state’s level of democracy by ranking it on several metrics, such as competitive and open elections, political participation, and checks on authority.
Polity scores are on a -10 to +10 scale, where the lower end (-10 to -6) corresponds with autocracies and the upper end (+6 to +10) corresponds to democracies. Below are five types of government that can be derived from the scale, and that are shown in the visualization.
A territory under the political control of another country, and/or occupied by settlers from that country.
Examples: 🇬🇮 Gibraltar, 🇬🇺 Guam, 🇵🇫 French Polynesia
A single person (the autocrat) possesses supreme and absolute power.
Examples: 🇨🇳 China, 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia, 🇰🇵 North Korea
- Closed Anocracy
An anocracy is loosely defined as a regime that mixes democratic and autocratic features. In a closed anocracy, political competitors are drawn only from an elite and well-connected pool.
Examples: 🇹🇭 Thailand, 🇲🇦 Morocco, 🇸🇬 Singapore
- Open Anocracy
Similar to a closed anocracy, an open anocracy draws political competitors from beyond elite groups.
Examples: 🇷🇺 Russia, 🇲🇾 Malaysia, 🇧🇩 Bangladesh
Citizens exercise power by voting for their leaders in elections.
Examples: 🇺🇸 United States, 🇩🇪 Germany, 🇮🇳 India
A Long-Term Trend in Question
In the early 19th century, less than 1% of the global population could be found in democracies.
In more recent decades, however, the dominoes have fallen — and today, it’s estimated that 56% of the world population lives in societies that can be considered democratic, at least according to the Polity IV data series highlighted above.
While there are questions regarding a recent decline in freedom around the world, it’s worth considering that democratic governance is still a relatively new tradition within a much broader historical context.
Will the long-term trend of democracy prevail, or are the more recent indications of populism a sign of reversion?
Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)
Few global trends have matched the profound impact of urbanization. Today’s map looks back at 70 years of movement in over 1,800 cities.
The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)
In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.
A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.
Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?
Out of the Farms and Into the Cities
The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.
Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.
Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.
The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots
Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.
Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.
Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.
It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.
Urbanization and its Complications
Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.
Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.
As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.
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