The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Total fertility rates, which can be defined as the average number of children born to a woman who survives her reproductive years (aged 15-49), have decreased globally by about half since 1960.
This has drastically shaped today’s global economy, but a continued decline could have much more severe long-term consequences. If the world has too many elderly dependents and not enough workers, the burden on economic growth will be difficult to overcome.
Fertility Rates Start to Decline
First, it’s important to address some of the reasons for these falling fertility rates.
In developed nations the introduction of commercially available birth control has played a large role, but this also coincided with several major societal shifts. Changing religious values, the emancipation of women and their increasing participation in the workforce, and higher costs of childcare and education have all factored into declining fertility rates.
Birthrates Wane, Economy Gains
Initially, reduced child dependency rates were actually beneficial to economic growth.
By delaying childbirth, men and women could gain an education before starting a family. This was important in a shifting labor market where smaller, family-run businesses were in decline and a more skilled and specialized labor force was in demand.
Men and women could also choose to start their careers before having families, while paying more in income taxes and enjoying the benefits of a higher disposable income. Increased spending power creates demand, which stimulates job growth – and the economy benefits in the short-term.
A Global Phenomenon
Worldwide fertility rates began to fall substantially in the mid-1960s. While each country has its own underlying causes for this, it is interesting that in developed and developing nations, the downward trend is similar.
Part of this is due to developing countries’ own efforts to rein in their rapidly expanding populations. In China, the One Child Policy was introduced in 1979, however fertility rates had already dropped significantly prior to this. India’s government was also active on this front, sterilizing an estimated 8.3 million people (mostly men) between 1975 and 1977 as a method of population control.
The Age Imbalance
So here we are now, with a global fertility rate of just 2.5 – roughly half of what it was 50 years ago.
Today, 46% of the world’s population lives in countries that are below the average global replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.
Because these countries (59 to be exact, including BRIC nations Brazil, Russia, and China) are not repopulating quickly enough to sustain their current populations, we are beginning to see a substantial imbalance in the ratio of elderly dependents to working-age people, which will only intensify over the coming decades.
By 2100, the U.N. predicts that nearly 30% of the population will be made of people 60 years and older. Life expectancy also continues to increase steadily, which means those dependents will be living even longer. Between 2000 and 2015 the average global life expectancy at birth increased by around 5 years, reaching an average of 73.8 years for females and 69.1 years for males.
What does this mean for the economy?
As this large aging population exits the workforce, most of the positive trends that were spurred by declining fertility rates will be reversed, and economic growth will face a significant burden.
The global increase of elderly dependent populations will have serious economic consequences. Health care costs for the elderly will strain resources, while the smaller working population will struggle to produce enough income tax revenue to support these rising costs. It’s likely this will cause spending power to decrease, consumerism to decline, job production to slow – and the economy to stagnate.
Immigration has been a source of short-term population sustenance for many nations, including the U.S. and Britain. However, aside from obvious societal tensions associated with this strategy, immigrants are often adults themselves when they relocate, meaning they too will be elderly dependents soon.
Several nations are already experiencing the effects of a large proportion of elderly dependents. Japan, with one-quarter of its total population currently over the age of 65, has been a pioneer in developing technologies, such as robotics, as a solution to ease strained health care resources. Many countries are restructuring health care programs with long-term solutions in mind, while others are attempting to lower the cost of childcare and education.
Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?
The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. How have the most competitive economies shifted in the past decade?
Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?
What makes a country successful from an economic perspective? Many think of this in terms of GDP per capita—but in a rapidly changing world, our definitions of progress have evolved to encompass much more.
This animated Chart of the Week visualizes 10 years of global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, and tracks how rankings have changed in this time.
How Do You Measure Competition?
The WEF’s annual Global Competitiveness Report defines the concept of ‘competitiveness’ as an economy’s productivity—and the institutions, policies, and factors which shape this.
This year’s edition unpacks the national competitiveness of 141 countries, using the newly-introduced Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 4.0 which looks at four key metrics:
- Enabling Environment
Includes: Institutions, Infrastructure, ICT Adoption*, Macroeconomic Activity
*Refers to information and communications technology
- Human Capital
Includes: Health, Skills
Includes: Product Market, Labor Market, Financial System, Market Size
- Innovation Ecosystem
Includes: Business Dynamics, Innovation Capability
Each country’s overall competitiveness score is an average of these 12 main pillars of productivity. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the countries which emerge triumphant.
The Most Competitive: Movers and Shakers
The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. In 2019, Singapore wins the coveted “most competitive economy” title, with a 84.8 score on the GCI.
The nation’s developed infrastructure, health, labor market, and financial system have all propelled it forward—swapping with the U.S. (83.7) for the top spot. However, more can be done, as the report notes Singapore still lacks press freedom and demonstrates a low commitment to sustainability.
How have the current scores of the most competitive economies improved or fallen behind, compared to 2018?
|Rank||Economy||2019 Score||2018 Score||2018-2019 Change|
|#2||🇺🇸 United States||83.7||85.6||-2|
|#3||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||83.1||82.3||+0.9|
|#9||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||81.2||82||-0.8|
Finland (80.2) and Canada (79.6) are notable exits from this top 10 list over the years. Meanwhile, Denmark (81.2) disappeared from the rankings for five years, but managed to climb back up in 2018.
Regional Competitiveness: Highs and Lows
Another perspective on the most competitive economies is to look at how countries fare within regions, and how these regions compete among each other.
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the widest gap in competitiveness scores—Israel (76.7) scores over double that of poorest-performing Yemen (35.5). Interestingly, the MENA region showed the most progress, growing its median score by 2.77% between 2018-2019.
The narrowest gap is actually in South Asia, with just a single-digit difference between India (61.4) and Nepal (51.6). However, the region also grew the slowest, with only 0.08% increase in median score over a year.
|Region||Best Performer||2019 Score||Worst Performer||2019 Score||Regional
|Europe and North America||🇺🇸 United States||83.7||🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina||54.7||29|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||🇨🇱 Chile||70.5||🇭🇹 Haiti||36.3||34.2|
|East Asia and Pacific||🇸🇬 Singapore||84.8||🇱🇦 Laos||50.1||34.7|
|South Asia||🇮🇳 India||61.4||🇳🇵 Nepal||51.6||9.8|
|Eurasia||🇷🇺 Russia||66.7||🇹🇯 Tajikistan||52.4||14.3|
|Middle East and North Africa||🇮🇱 Israel||76.7||🇾🇪 Yemen||35.5||41.2|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||🇲🇺 Mauritius||64.3||🇹🇩 Chad||35.1||29.2|
Across all regions, the WEF found that East Asia’s 73.9 median score was the highest. Europe and North America were not far behind with a 70.9 median score. This is consistent with the fact that the most competitive economies have all come from these regions in the past decade.
As all these countries race towards the frontier—an ideal state where productivity growth is not constrained—the report notes that competitiveness “does not imply a zero-sum game”. Instead, any and all countries are capable of improving their productivity according to the GCI measures.
Which Companies Are Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?
Since 1965, over ⅓ of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions can be traced back to just 20 fossil fuel companies. Who are the biggest contributors?
20 Companies Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?
Since 1965, it’s estimated over 1.35 million metric tons (MtCO₂e) of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere—and over a third can be traced back to just 20 companies.
This week’s chart draws on a dataset from the Climate Accountability Institute, and highlights the companies which have been responsible for the most carbon emissions in the past half-century.
The Sum of their Carbon Emissions
Between 1965-2017, the top 20 companies have contributed 480,169 MtCO₂e in total carbon emissions, or 35% of cumulative global emissions. This whopping amount is mostly from the combustion of their products—each company on this chart deals in fossil fuels.
The largest contributor? Saudi Aramco, the national petroleum and natural gas company of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco actually comes in first on another list as well—it’s the most profitable company, making over $304 million daily.
However, this financial gain came at a significant cost: the state-owned giant’s operations have resulted in 59,262 MtCO₂e in carbon emissions since 1965. To put that into perspective, this total is more than six times China’s emissions in 2017 alone (9,838 MtCO₂e).
Explore the full list of companies by location, who owns them, and their total 1965–2017 emissions count below:
|Company||Country||Ownership||All Emissions, MtCO₂e|
|Total Emissions||480,169 MtCO₂e|
|Saudi Aramco||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||State-owned||59,262|
|Exxon Mobil||🇺🇸 U.S.||Investor-owned||41,904|
|National Iranian Oil Co.||🇮🇷 Iran||State-owned||35,658|
|Royal Dutch Shell||🇳🇱 Netherlands||Investor-owned||31,948|
|Coal India||🇮🇳 India||State-owned||23,124|
|Petroleus de Venezuela||🇻🇪 Venezuela||State-owned||15,745|
|Peabody Energy||🇺🇸 U.S.||Investor-owned||15,385|
|Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.||🇦🇪 UAE||State-owned||13,840|
|Kuwait Petroleum Corp.||🇰🇼 Kuwait||State-owned||13,479|
|Iraq National Oil Co.||🇮🇶 Iraq||State-owned||12,596|
|Total SA||🇫🇷 France||Investor-owned||12,352|
|BHP Billiton||🇦🇺 Australia||Investor-owned||9,802|
A Greener Business Model?
According to the researchers, all the companies that show up in today’s chart bear some responsibility for knowingly accelerating the climate crisis even after proven scientific evidence.
In fact, U.S.-based Exxon Mobil is currently on trial for misleading investors: the company downplayed the effect of climate change on its profitability, while internal calculations proved to be much larger. It also sowed public doubt on the immense impacts of rising greenhouse gas levels on the planet.
Growing sustainability and environmental concerns threaten the viability of old business models for these corporations, causing many to pivot away from the fossil fuel focus. Take BP for example—originally named British Petroleum, the company embraced “Beyond Petroleum” as its new rallying cry. More recently, it launched a carbon footprint calculator and is committed to keeping its carbon emissions flat into 2025.
The first step to reducing your emissions is to know where you stand. Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!— BP (@BP_plc) October 22, 2019
However, the Climate Accountability Institute argues that more can still be done, with the researchers calling for these companies to reduce their fossil fuel production in the near future.
Continued pressure on these “Big Oil” companies to peak their carbon emissions, and urgently increase their renewable energy investment, may help curb the climate crisis before it’s too late.
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