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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.
China’s Economy: 40 Years of Soaring Exports
China’s economy today is completely different than 40 years ago; in 2021 the country makes up the highest share of exports globally.
Animated Chart: 40 Years of Soaring Exports in China
China has the second highest GDP in the world, and it exports 15% of all the world’s goods. But how did this come to be?
A mere 40 years ago, China’s economy was in an entirely different situation, making up less than 1% of global exports and still in the infancy stages of building its economy. The above animated chart from the UNCTAD showcases China’s rise to global trade dominance over time.
Timeline: The Rise to Power
The China of the mid-20th century looks remarkably different when compared to the modern-day nation. Prior to the 1980s, China was going through a period of social upheaval, poverty, and dictatorship under Mao Zedong.
Beginning in the late 1970s, China’s share of global exports stood at less than 1%. The country had few trade hubs and little industry. In 1979, for example, Shenzhen was a city of just around 30,000 inhabitants.
In fact, China (excluding Taiwan* and Hong Kong) did not even show up in the top 10 global exporters until 1997 when it hit a 3.3% share of global exports.
|Year||Share of Global Exports||Rank|
*Editor’s note: The above data comes from the UN, which lists Taiwan as a separate region of China for political reasons.
In the 1980s, several cities and regions, like the Pearl River Delta, were designated as Special Economic Zones. These SEZs had tax incentives that worked to attract foreign investment.
Additionally, in 1989, the Coastal Development Strategy was implemented to use strategic regions along the country’s coast as catalysts for economic development.
The 1990s and Onwards
By the 1990s, the world saw the rise of global value chains and transnational production lines, with China offering a cheap manufacturing hub due to low labor costs.
Rounding out the ‘90s, the Western Development Strategy was implemented in 1999, dubbed the “Open Up the West” program. This program worked to build up infrastructure and education to retain talent in China’s economy, with the goal of attracting further foreign investment.
Finally, China officially joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 which allowed the country to progress full steam ahead.
Made in China
Today China is a trade giant and manufacturing behemoth. Only the U.S. and Germany come close to its share of global exports, sitting at 8.1% and 7.8% respectively.
|Rank||Country||Share of Global Exports (2020)|
|#6||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||3.1%|
|#7||🇰🇷 South Korea||2.9%|
China’s manufacturing industry has become dominant in producing just about anything from commonplace household items to integral pieces in automotive manufacturing. Some staples of Chinese manufacturing are:
- Precision instruments
- Industrial machinery for computers and smartphones
COVID-19 made China’s integral role in the global economy even more visceral, as major delays in the supply chain occurred when the virus hit the country.
An Economic Superpower
In 2021, China’s trade recovery from the crisis has bested most other countries—in Q1 2021, its exports grew by almost 50% compared to the previous year’s quarter, to around $710 billion.
And the country is not slowing down any time soon. Further plans for economic development are well under way, like Made in China 2025, with the goal of becoming a dominant player in global high-tech manufacturing. Additionally, the famous One Belt, One Road initiative has been funding infrastructure projects globally over the past decade, and the country is also a founding member of the RCEP—which is soon to be the world’s biggest trading bloc.
However, China still faces a series of challenges, such as:
- Population decline
- The onset of labor saving technology
- Trade wars with U.S. and sanctions from other trade partners, like Europe
- The emergence of ASEAN trade powers, like Vietnam
A declining population has many implications like a shrinking workforce and domestic market. Additionally, many companies are setting up shop in less costly manufacturing hubs like Vietnam.
Furthermore, inexpensive innovations in labor-saving technologies, such as robotics and automation, have already begun to undermine the cheap manual labor that has made China the world’s manufacturer.
All of these elements and more could potentially spell a slowing of growth in China’s export dominance. However, while the future for China may not be certain, currently, global trade and production could not function without it.
The Biggest Business Risks in 2021
We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant. Which are the top ten business risks to watch out for?
The Biggest Business Risks Around the World
We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant.
Businesses, too, face rapidly changing environments and associated risks that they need to adapt to—or risk falling behind. These can range from supply chain issues due to shipping blockages, to disruptions from natural catastrophes.
As countries and companies continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, nearly 3,000 risk management experts were surveyed for the Allianz Risk Barometer, uncovering the top 10 business risks that leaders must watch out for in 2021.
The Top 10 Business Risks: The Pandemic Trio Emerges
Business Interruption tops the charts consistently as the biggest business risk. This risk has slotted into the #1 spot seven times in the last decade of the survey, showing it has been on the minds of business leaders well before the pandemic began.
However, that is not to say that the pandemic hasn’t made awareness of this risk more acute. In fact, 94% of surveyed companies reported a COVID-19 related supply chain disruption in 2020.
|Rank (2021)||% Responses||Risk Name||Business Risk Examples||Change from 2020|
|#1||41%||Business Interruption||Supply chain disruptions||↑|
|#2||40%||Pandemic Outbreak||Health and workforce issues, restrictions on movement||↑|
|#3||40%||Cyber Incidents||Cybercrime, IT failure/outage, data breaches, fines and penalties||↓|
|#4||19%||Market Developments||Volatility, intensified competition/new entrants, M&A, market stagnation, market fluctuation||↑|
|#5||19%||Legislation/ Regulation Changes||Trade wars and tariffs, economic sanctions, protectionism, Brexit, Euro-zone disintegration||↓|
|#6||17%||Natural Catastrophes||Storm, flood, earthquake, wildfire||↓|
|#8||13%||Macroeconomic Developments||Monetary policies, austerity programs, commodity price increase, deflation, inflation||↑|
|#10||11%||Political Risks And Violence||Political instability, war, terrorism, civil commotion, riots and looting||↑|
Note: Figures do not add to 100% as respondents could select up to three risks per industry.
Pandemic Outbreak, naturally, has climbed 15 spots to become the second-most significant business risk. Even with vaccine roll-outs, the uncontrollable spread of the virus and new variants remain a concern.
The third most prominent business risk, Cyber Incidents, are also on the rise. Global cybercrime already causes a $1 trillion drag on the economy—a 50% jump from just two years ago. In addition, the pandemic-induced rush towards digitalization leaves businesses increasingly susceptible to cyber incidents.
Other Socio-Economic Business Risks
The top three risks mentioned above are considered the “pandemic trio”, owing to their inextricable and intertwined effects on the business world. However, these next few notable business risks are also not far behind.
Globally, GDP is expected to recover by +4.4% in 2021, compared to the -4.5% contraction from 2020. These Market Developments may also see a short-term 2 percentage point increase in GDP growth estimates in the event of rapid and successful vaccination campaigns.
In the long term, however, the world will need to contend with a record of $277 trillion worth of debt, which may potentially affect these economic growth projections. Rising insolvency rates also remain a key post-COVID concern.
Persisting traditional risks such as Fires and Explosions are especially damaging for manufacturing and industry. For example, the August 2020 Beirut explosion caused $15 billion in damages.
What’s more, Political Risks And Violence have escalated in number, scale, and duration worldwide in the form of civil unrest and protests. Such disruption is often underestimated, but insured losses can add up into the billions.
No Such Thing as a Risk-Free Life
The risks that businesses face depend on a multitude of factors, from political (in)stability and growing regulations to climate change and macroeconomic shifts.
Will a post-pandemic world accentuate these global business risks even further, or will something entirely new rear its head?
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