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.
Mapped: The World Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations
This simple map visualization will change how you think about global population, and how people are distributed throughout the planet.
World Map: Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations
View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here
At the most basic level, a standard world map tells us almost nothing about human population.
While the borders on a map may give us an idea of political boundaries or even aspects of continental geography, in reality they have little to do with showing population density.
That said, it is possible to apply one simple alteration to the world map so that we can make it more interesting from a population perspective – and it turns out that doing so can help us gain insight on where regional population density is the greatest.
Splitting Up the Map
Today’s map comes from Reddit user /u/OrneryThroat and it breaks up the world by grouping countries into four equally populated regions.
While both simple and crude, this mechanism does have some profound results:
|North America, South America, and West/Central Africa||1.9 billion|
|Europe, East Africa, Middle East, and Northern Asia||1.9 billion|
|South Asia||1.9 billion|
|Most of Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania||1.9 billion|
More specifically, there is one area that stands out from a visual standpoint, and it resides clearly in the southern portion of Asia.
Home to 1.34 billion people, it’s well-known that India already holds roughly 20% of the global population – but add Pakistan (195 million) and Bangladesh (165 million) into the mix, and you’re already closing in on one quarter of the global total.
Meanwhile, to get to a similar number, you’d need to add the entire populations of North America, South America, Europe, and Oceania together to even come close.
Shown Another Way
While splitting it into four equal portions is one way to transform the world map, here is another geometric route to conveying a similar idea about the world’s population density:
On a previous Chart of the Week, we showed that 22 of the world’s 37 megacities are located in the small circle above, putting into perspective the region’s population density in a similar but different way.
These simple transformations of the world map are not only memorable, but they also give our brain an easy heuristic to better understand the planet we live on.
The World Population Pyramid (1950-2100)
The world is in the midst of a notable demographic transition. Here’s how the world population pyramid will change as we close in on the year 2100.
The world is in the midst of a notable period of demographic transition.
Back in the 1960s, global population growth peaked at a 2.1% annual rate, but since then it has been on a historic downtrend.
In fact, according to the most commonly cited United Nations projection, which is based on a medium fertility rate scenario, it’s expected that annual population growth could drop all the way to 0.1% by the end of the 21st century.
Visualizing a Demographic Transition
Today’s powerful charts come from Our World in Data by economist Max Roser, and they show how global demographics will shift over the next 80 years.
Below you can see one major catalyst of this change, which is the peaking (and then falling) population growth rate:
Why has population growth been dropping since the 1960s?
A variety of explanations factor into this, including:
- Falling fertility rates:
Birth rates tend to fall as nations get richer. First, this happened in the developed world, but as the century progresses this phenomenon will impact more and more developing nations.
- Government policy:
China’s “One Child Policy” in particular had an effect on global population growth, and the aftermath of the policy is still contributing to a shrinking Chinese population over the long term.
- Rural flight
Urban dwellers tend to have fewer babies – and by 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities globally.
Fewer births combined with improving healthcare – especially in developing nations – will dramatically alter the composition of the world population pyramid, creating both economic opportunities and challenges in the process.
The Changing World Population Pyramid
The following graphic charts how these changes affect the makeup of the world’s population.
Over time, the shape of the world population pyramid is expected to shift from Stage 1 (high birth rates, high death rates) to something closer to Stage 4 (low birth rates, low death rates).
As the population distribution skews older, here is how population size and global median age will change:
|Year||Global Population Size||Median Age|
|1950||2.6 billion||23.6 years|
|2018||7.6 billion||30.0 years|
|2050||9.7 billion||36.1 years|
|2075||10.7 billion||39.0 years|
|2100||11.2 billion||41.6 years|
Dates past 2018 are projections by the United Nations
Global median age is projected to surpass 40 years by the end of the century, and it will be considerably higher in many Western nations, especially in Japan and Europe.
With the future demographic composition looking very different than today, it will be fascinating to see how the economy responds to these potential tailwinds. Further, it will be even more interesting to see what role automation will play as the old-age dependency ratio hits historic highs.
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