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Demographics

Animation: The Rapidly Aging Western World

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From issues such as declining fertility rates to the ongoing complications resulting from China’s famous “One Child Policy”, there are many demographic challenges that the world must grapple with in the coming years.

However, one problem of particular importance – at least in places like Europe and the Americas – is a rapidly aging population. As the population shifts grayer, potential consequences include higher dependency ratios, rising healthcare costs, and shifting economies and cities.

Europe: A Prime Example

We’ve discussed Germany’s demographic cliff before, but it’s not only Germany that will be impacted by a rapidly aging population.

Europe median age

The above animation from data visualization expert Aron Strandberg shows the median age of European countries between 1960 and 2060.

Starting about a decade from now, you can see that the U.N. projects some European countries to start hitting a median age of 50 or higher. This includes countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece, and then later Germany, Poland, Bosnia, and Croatia.

The UK, France, Ireland, Scandinavia, and former Soviet countries will be younger – but only slightly so. Median ages in these places by 2060 will be in the early to mid-forties.

The Americas

Populations in North and South America are also graying fast, though not quite at Europe’s pace.

Here’s a similar map of the Americas that highlights median age between 1960 and 2060, based on U.N. projections.

Americas median age

Chile and Brazil, in particular, are trending older. Meanwhile, Canada is not far behind with an expected median age of 45 in 2060. Interestingly, the United States is anticipated to only hit a median age of 42 by 2060, which is lower than almost all Western countries.

While this makes the U.S. look younger in comparison, the country will still experience the same type of economic burden from an aging population. In fact, it’s expected that the population of Americans older than 65 years will nearly double from 48 million to 88 million over the coming three decades.

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Demographics

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.

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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:

RegionPopulation
North America, South America, and West/Central Africa1.9 billion
Europe, East Africa, Middle East, and Northern Asia1.9 billion
South Asia1.9 billion
Most of Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania1.9 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:

Circle population

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.

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Demographics

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.

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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:

Growth in world population from 1950 to 2100

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.

World Population Pyramid transition

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:

YearGlobal Population SizeMedian Age
19502.6 billion23.6 years
20187.6 billion30.0 years
20509.7 billion36.1 years
207510.7 billion39.0 years
210011.2 billion41.6 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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