Professor David Coleman
On: What Demographic Trends Portend
14 October, 2009
George Guise: ‘I’m very pleased indeed to see my old friend David Coleman, who worked in the government when I was an advisor to Margaret Thatcher in Number 10, and he was at both the Home Office and the Department of the Environment – not at the same time. We are very lucky indeed to have him with us tonight because demography is a subject which a lot of people aren’t aware of quite how powerful the concepts and the evidence that’s coming out of it is. There’s a little creature in Africa, I think it’s a part of the chameleon group, and it moves so slowly that the fly or the smaller insect on the branch doesn’t think it’s moving at all, and then suddenly its tongue comes out and the insect is gone. The Africans are terrified of it, they call it “creeping death,” perhaps it’s “silent death “Shongalola.” So we’re going to hear a lot about that from the professor.’
Professor David Coleman: ‘Thank you, Mr Chairman. I’m very pleased to be addressing this distinguished audience. I’m sorry that my talk will bring to an end your very animated conversation. (Laughter). I often feel when, starting my lectures, that my students are happily chattering away, that if I crept silently away and did something else, in an hour’s time they’d still be chattering away and wouldn’t miss my absence at all!
Many of you know a lot about demography and all know something. One of the things you will certainly know is that all demographers always get it wrong when they talk about the future! You might therefore ask what am I doing having the impertinence to stand up here trying to address you in part, at least, about the future. There is, I think, a get-out clause here. Two things on that: First of all, I’d be prepared to put a great deal of money on three or four major trends which are certain to happen, to some degree or other. There are going to be at least three billion more people on the planet by mid-century. That may be the end of population growth, or it may not be, but at least another three billion, another fifty percent or so, on top of the existing world population. Almost all of that additional population is going to be in the poorer countries of the third world. Almost all of that additional population is going to be living in cities.
Almost all birth rates are going to be going down. Therefore, as a consequence, almost all populations will be aging, however youthful they may now appear to be. One of the reasons why I feel reasonably confident in making some kind of broad brush prediction about the future is that there is a demographer’s friend called ‘Demographic Momentum.’ What this means is that if you know what the age structure of a population is, then you can tell, given that death rates don’t alter all that much, how many mothers there are going to be in twenty-five, thirty-five, even forty years time. What that means is that you can tell for certain that, if you take Niger, for example, in West Africa, the ladies of Niger want to have seven babies, and they’re having seven babies on average, so that even if the ladies of Niger decided to have only two babies, from tonight onwards, the population of Niger would still increase between two and three times because of this momentum phenomenon. Likewise, if you look at Italy, where for many years now ladies of Italy have been having not more than about 1.4 babies each on average, so even if they resumed their maternal duty (laughter), and had two babies each henceforth from tonight, the population of Italy, of Italian origin(leaving aside the question of the immigrants) would certainly still decline for some decades before it stabilized at a new level. So we have some certainties which work in our favour, and give us some confidence about talking about the future.
I shall first of all talk about the British scene then talk about Europe, and then move on to the rest of the world. I’ll try to tease out some of the consequences of what’s going on for the future, and then leave it to you to ask questions for there’ll be many things which I will neglect to mention.
The British scene is an extremely interesting one at the moment. All sorts of unexpected things are transforming British society in really quite new ways. That is happening also to many other populations in the industrial countries. We all vaguely thought that demographic history would kind of come to an end when we emerged out of the 1950s and 1960s with low birth rates, low death rates and low population growth rates and not many immigrants. It all seemed to be a fairly steady stage for the future. That is not the case.
It was supposed back in the 1960s that the improvement in survival, which had taken expectation of life to about 70 years, had ground to a halt for fundamental and ineradicably, genetic and biological reasons. That was quite wrong; it was due to the smoking epidemic. That’s now passed on, and the improvement of survival is now moving onwards. Expectations of life are increasing in a straight line upwards, and have been doing so for decades now, and actuaries are constantly taken by surprise at how the survival of people in countries like ours gets better and better and better. The fact that they refuse to believe it is one of the several reasons why we have a serious pension crisis and underfunding of pensions, because, of course, if you underestimate increased survival, you won’t collect enough in terms of pension contributions either through tax or through private funded pensions. The birth rate was thought to have stabilized at quite a low level at about just under the replacement rate. Generally speaking, in a society like ours where everyone survives up to age 50 or 60 or so, if you have an average of 2 children, then the population will, in the long run, replace itself, ignoring migration. Our birth rate has been below that level, a bit below, ever since the 1970s, of the order of 1.7 / 1.8 children per woman on average over all that time. So we probably were looking forward to a period of slow population decline, stabilization and all the rest of it. All that has been turned on its head.
As I’m sure you know both in Britain and in most of the other countries in North Western Europe, in the English-speaking world overseas, in fact generally in the industrial countries, except in the Far East, birth rates are going up again. That is partially because of the flow of immigrant populations, but it is not just the immigrants, in fact it’s not primarily the immigrants. This is a phenomenon of women; it appears, deciding to have in their late 20s in their 30s and even nowadays in their 40s, those babies which they have put off in their early 20s and late 20s some decades previously. It is because they wanted to go to tertiary education; they wanted to build up their careers, though now of course they are realizing that you can’t go on postponing babies forever because they become cancelled! And a large number of those babies which were put off in previous years are now being produced by women who are now older. That is very general throughout the industrial world. Birth rates are not declining as the papers all still invariably say; they are going up, and they’re going up quite remarkably. The French birth rate is now back up to replacement level. The British birth rate is now about 1.95, which is just a hair’s breath off of replacement level, and it may still have some increase left. So that is something that some people thought had to happen but nonetheless, generally speaking, it was a bit of a surprise.
We also, of course, had an enormous increase in immigration, which is transforming society in other ways. In the 1980s, immigration in net terms declined to low levels, in fact, in net terms immigration was negative. More people were leaving the country than were entering it. Those who were leaving, of course, tended to be British citizens, those who were entering, not British. But nonetheless, in terms of people, it was population loss not population gain. That has slowly been reversed and since late 1990s in reverse going rapidly. In the early 1990s, we had about 40,000 net acquisitions to the population by migration every year. In Britain it’s now up to about 200,000 net gains per year, that’s about 500,000 an inflow of foreign citizens and an outflow of about 200,000 UK citizens making up the balance.
So, all sorts of things are starting to happen; some inevitable, almost certainly the improvement in survival inevitable and desirable.
The recovery of the birth rate is desirable as long as it doesn’t go too high, but not really expected. The migration was not expected and was not. I don’t know if it exactly was planned, it was certainly intended by the Labour government to be a new beginning of migration policy because of the supposed advantages to the economy, and the supposed social advantages of diversity, and all that, but the consequences in terms of projected population growth were not, I think, understood.
So we have a population which is aging, it’s aging because the death rate has been going down, but primarily because of previous falls in the birth rate. Populations mostly age because birth rates go down. Only when the birth rate’s been low for a long time does the more obvious cause of population aging, that is to say, longer lives, take over. From henceforth it’ll mostly be the effect of longer lives, up until now, it’s been the effect of low birth rates which have made the population age. That is inevitable.
An aged population is an absolutely inevitable consequence of the two desirable things we’ve achieved, that is to say, putting off death for as long as possible, and controlling our family size to levels which we can afford down to about two per woman. So, none of these changes were introduced as government policy, some were inevitable, some were avoidable.
As far as survival is concerned, we don’t know when the improvement in survival is going to stop. It used to be assumed, unreasonably, there had to be biological limits to human survival. You can’t obviously live forever. Nonetheless no one has yet shown any credited scientific reason why death rates shouldn’t go on improving, more or less at the current level for quite some time to come. The government actuaries department expects that the current improvement in survival reduction in death rates of just under 2% per year will continue until about the 2030s. And then they assume it will tail off. There are no really compelling reasons for supposing why it will tail off.
If it does not tail off then we’ll be reaching expectations of life of well into the 90s for women by mid century and that doesn’t seem implausible. It may well come to pass. And these things, which you may have read in the paper, about children being born today having the possibility, a very good possibility, of living to 100 are by no means science fiction. We have to wait and see.
So, all sorts of exciting things are happening to the population in this country. How representative is that of Europe? One might say in demography there’s no such thing as Europe, because while it was assumed in the past that at the end of the demographic transition we should see all the Britain societies develop in the same sort of way, they’ve annoyingly refused to develop in the same sort of way. And we have populations in the developed world which drive similar cars, do similar jobs, watch similar television programs, have similar diets, having very, very different demographic patterns, and very, very different demographic futures. The pattern is one of diversity, not of uniformity. And we don’t entirely understand why that should be. But it certainly makes a very big difference to whether we regard the demographic composition of different countries in Europe as being manageable, favourable, acceptable, on the one hand, or dire, damaging, and dangerous on the other.
As I suggested earlier, in North Western Europe, in Scandinavia, in Britain, in France, and in the English-speaking world overseas, birth rates are relatively high by developed world standards, around about two per family, and they’ve been going up. Survival is pretty favourable, and it is going up. Immigration is very high. Those countries, on the whole, although they face population aging, and population aging is universal, they don’t face population decline, as once appeared before the Second World War and disappeared again back in the 1950s. Instead they face very considerable population growth. You probably know that the government actuaries department in this country has made projections every two years, and that in 2006 expected the population of Britain to grow from just over 60 million in 2006 to 77 million in 2051 and 84 million in 2081. Now, 2081 is an awfully long time in demography, clearly.
Nonetheless, that is the implication of the continuation of current trends and if those numbers are not to come to pass, then one of those three variables have got to change substantially: the birth rate or the death rate or the migration rate. It is unlikely, I think very unlikely, that the death rate will change in any important way. It certainly won’t be increased by government action. I think the birth rate will hover around the two level, plus or minus, not .I, I suppose, for the foreseeable future, for as long as women keep on saying that they want to have at least two children, I’ll come back to that in a moment.
The major cause of this projected increase is, of course, international migration. When you are adding about 200,000 people to the population every year, through international migration, then of course the cumulative effect is very great. The main reason why population will grow from the 61 million or so to 77 by mid century is international migration. But of course it means the greater part of additional population will be population of foreign origin. I’ll come back to that later on. And that is pretty common elsewhere in Europe.
The British population growth projected is somewhere over 20 percent by mid century and similar sorts of rates of growth between 15 and 20 percent are projected for all the Scandinavian countries, for the Netherlands, for France, and for Ireland. And ours, according to the United Nations, is on top of all of them. The United Nations projects not only that we will, as it were, beat the French, in this demographic race, if you can call it that, which will cause the French no end of annoyance (laughter), but also that by mid century we will just be over topping the German population, because Germany does not belong to this high growth club. Germany has a declining population, and the projection is that Germany will be overtaken by the British population just before 2050.
I don’t regard that as being anything to shout about, it’s a bizarre conclusion, I think, and it’s an undesirable one, for all sorts of reasons. I don’t believe that this country needs an additional 17 million people by mid century or whatever it is. And if it were not for migration, then the population would increase to about 65 million and then go down to the present level by mid century.
This is somewhat replicated in most of the countries in the ‘more healthy demographic zone’, if you like. The contrast is with those countries in Southern Europe, in Eastern Europe and also in the industrial countries in the Far East: Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (if you still call that a country.) They are in a very different situation altogether. Their birth rate for some time has been down to about 1.2 /1.3, equivalent to 1.2 / 1.3 children on average per woman. The survival rate is even greater in some of these countries, especially in Japan, also in Italy, than it is.
Those two things together mean that very severe population aging, of a kind much more difficult to manage by non-demographic means, is written into their future, unless something quite substantial happens to that birth rate, or unless their immigration is greatly increased, which has, of course, the consequence of greatly increasing the immigrant origin fraction of the population.
If we continue as we are at the moment then about 25 percent of our population would be aged 65 or over by mid century, compared to 16 percent now. The potentials of port ratio, currently 4.2 – that’s a ratio people of nominal working age per person and nominal retirement age – would change from 4.2 to 2.5. That may seem pretty dire, but I think, for reasons I’ll go into shortly, it’s manageable, although not without pain.
Countries like Italy, Greece, Spain, Japan, and Korea can expect at least 35 percent of their population to be aged 65 and over by mid century, and possibly 40 percent. That poses very much more serious difficulties for management from the point of view of pushing back retirement age, increasing work force participation rates, which are already very high, and so on. They also face population decline.
For myself, I don’t think that population decline is much to be feared as long as it is slow and as long as it comes to an end. Smaller populations, anyway, do not appear to disadvantage the inhabitants of small countries. There is no relationship across the industrial world between population size, on the one hand, and GDP per head on the other. If you use GDP per head as a measurement of average income, and average —————– are indeed more prosperous than the average in Europe.
Population decline is a different thing. We haven’t faced that really, for 250 years. It used to be not uncommon. We’ve gotten used to the idea that growth is perpetual. Growth of course can’t be perpetual. The chickens, as it were, are coming home to roost, at least in Eastern Europe, in Southern Europe, and the Far East. We are going to watch with great interest what happens to Germany, Japan, Ukraine and Russia, which are the major countries experiencing population decline at the moment, and which have population decline forecast for the foreseeable future. They don’t like it very much, as you might imagine, although there are nuanced feelings about population decline in many of these countries. It is not regarded as being universally bad in Germany, for example. It is in the more nationalistic countries, like Russia and, as one might also say, Japan. So, there are very divergent futures facing different countries in the developed world.
What underlies these things? What about fertility in particular? The birth rate is crucial in these matters, of course, in determining population aging and its level, population decline or population growth, as well as immigration.
There are two major questions here, for neither of which I’m afraid do demographers have a complete answer. The first question is: why, in countries where women are as highly educated as men, where literacy is universal, where knowledge of contraception is universal, why do women keep on having children given the enormous trouble and expense when they are avoidable? (laughter). The direct cost of having a child is normally estimated at about £90,000 up to the time he reaches maturity. The opportunity cost of taking the conventional time off to look after children, say seven years for two children, going back to work part-time, then going back to work full-time, although usually at a lower level than would have been achieved had the woman continued her trajectory from early adulthood onwards, is estimated at £300,000 – £400,000.
Presented with that kind of bill, plus the inevitability of 20 years partial house arrest (laughter), no rational person, one might say, would want to go on and have children. Especially if they knew that survey after survey shows that marital satisfaction and sexual satisfaction starts off high at the beginning of the marriage, declines as children appear, reaches its nadir when children are teenage, and then staggers back to something like its previous level once they’ve finally left home. Some women, of course, have come to this conclusion.
While involuntary childlessness is a tragedy for those who suffer from it, it only affects between 5 and 10 percent of couples. The rest of childlessness is some accidental and otherwise voluntary. Childlessness altogether in Britain, as in many of the other countries I’ve been talking about, is approaching 20% of women; in Germany it’s close now to 30%. One wonders how high this can go. And if 30% of German women can decide, most of them anyway, those children are not for them, could it reach 40%? Could it reach 50%? The logic is behind them, from the listeners point of view, because although it would not do to discount what children can bring both to their young parents and also to them in old age, nonetheless it is not the custom for children to support their parents in old age. It has not been the custom, in Western Europe, for children to support their parents in old age since at least the 16th century. And therefore the maternal benefits are a little bit thin.
The other puzzle is: why do birth rates vary so much over time and space in equivalently rich countries? Why should it be that women in Britain, in France, in Scandinavia have nearly two children each on average at the moment, and haven’t gone much below that ever? While in Italy and Japan and Korea, it is down to the equivalent of 1.1 / 1.2 / 1.3, with very severe consequences for aging and eventually for decline.
There are lots of theories about this. Fundamentally, although it’s a fuzzy explanation, I think the reason is a cultural one and therefore one which is very difficult to shift. Fundamentally, the reason, according to many demographers, is the very long tradition of a more individualistic culture in north Western Europe, inherited, of course, also by the English-speaking world overseas.
This is to be compared with a more family-oriented culture in southern Europe, in east Europe and in the Far East and in many other parts of the world as well. By this I mean a culture which puts huge emphasis on the family, and the extended family around it, as the source of support, loyalty, of interest and concern, which produces very tight-knit small groups, of course, a great deal of care for children, care for old people, care of various kinds. But can it be regarded as being the enemy of the family, of children rather, when women are emancipated and can go into the work force and can compete on equal terms with men, in educational terms, move into politics, and all the rest? It works fine, when the men go out and earn the living, and the women’s task is to stay at home and look after children, mind the house and do the cooking and cleaning and so on. It doesn’t work anymore when women are moving into the workforce, but are still expected, in ‘a familist’ culture, to do all the cooking, all the childcare, all the care for the parents, all the care for dependents. They get grossly overloaded. Being noble creatures they try and do all of these things, but of course they’ve got to minimize it in every respect, in particularly that means minimizing children.
Until that culture can change, the argument goes, those birth rates are going to remain low, and that requires, in society if women are behaving more like men, moving into the workforce, and becoming equally or better educated, then it behoves men to behave more like women. And men particularly in Japan and Korea don’t think much of the idea of behaving like women, in terms of the things I’ve been talking about. Until all that changes they’re stuck, according to this view.
The demographic consequences of these phenomena are really very interesting. It is important to realize that there is no solution to population aging. Population aging, as I tried to point out earlier on, is a fundamental consequence of these two very desirable achievements that we now have – of long life and a controlled fertility. For as long as life remains long, and as long as fertility remains controlled, then populations are going to be very much older, on average than they were in the past. …and with 25 % or so. Aging doesn’t particularly get worse as time goes on.
We are experiencing a transitional position at the moment. We are still experiencing the long-term consequences of the so-called demographic transition, whereby we moved in the 18th and 19th century from a position of 35 expectation of life and six children per woman into the present stage. That created new transitional shapes in the age structure, which first of all were beneficial, a so-called demographic bonus, which China and India are currently experiencing to their great economic benefit. Then that demographic bonus, a bulge of people in the working age population, has to be paid for when those people move into the retirement age, and a new stable population structure emerges, which will then remain constant in the future.
It doesn’t go on getting worse, but we do have to face the fact that it is not, in a sense, soluble. Two solutions, of course, have been proposed by governments, by journalists, and by others less versed than they ought to be in demographic terms.
One is immigration. Immigration, of course, tends to be – immigration to western countries anyway – people who are somewhat younger than the population average into which they’re moving by ten or fifteen years. That, of course, brings the population average down, not by that much because to do that they really ought to come in as babies, or they ought to be captured as babies and brought across (laughter), but nonetheless it does bring the average age of the population down. It does moderate population, and there’s not doubt about that, but those immigrants themselves also age. You then need to bring in more immigrants in order to compensate for the additional population which is now moving up into the aged groups, and the penalty for trying to moderate population aging by means of immigration is very rapidly increasing population.
Take the reduction of ———- Four people of the nominal working age, one person of retired age, then you would need up to mid century to enforce over one million new immigrants net every year to mid century, and then you would need to increase that, as time went on, to a maximum of five million new immigrants per year. The consequence would be that the population of the UK would rise to 112 million by mid century on that assumption, and to 360 million by the end of the century, going up in an exponential curve.
Of course, with a big population, you can do all sorts of things. We could invade Iraq all by ourselves (laughter) and all sorts of other things, but I think conditions of life, you might agree, would be absolutely intolerable, and of course almost all the population would be immigrant, and not of native origin in that process.
That’s an extreme example, and you might say a silly one, but that is the mathematical consequence of trying to solve population aging by migration. You can moderate it a bit, but you have got to be very careful with what happens to population growth.
Likewise, couldn’t you put the birth rate up? Yes, putting the birth rate up, persuade women to have more children has a moderating effect and it’s a more efficient one, but it doesn’t necessarily involve population growth as long as the birth rate doesn’t go above two per family. But in order to solve population aging and preserve the status quo, the ladies would have to have 3 ½ children each on average. I don’t think the ladies of Britain are going to have 3 ½ children each on average, or in France, or in Sweden, or anywhere else. So that’s out as well.
So, moderation is possible, and solution is not. I don’t, however, think that demography is everything in this matter. Heresy to say so, no doubt, but it’s not. The non-adaptive time bomb scenarios are absurd. We’re told in some papers that we are headed for a catastrophe because if things continue then we’re going to have these completely insupportable ratios of dependent elderly age compared with people who are producing. That’s like saying that a car is destined for a total crash because it’s going along a road, which happens to be straight, and at the end of the road there’s a bend. The crash will only happen if the driver doesn’t have the sense to seize the steering wheel and gradually steer the car round the bend. Likewise, these silly demographic time bomb scenarios assume that there’ll be no adaptation on the part of wise people, or even occasionally wise governments in terms of creeping up the retirement age, in terms of changing pension expectations and pension contributions, in terms of moderated workforce participation rates, in terms on the continent of bringing down absurd lengths of time spent unprofitably in university up to the late 20s and early 30s and all of that.
As long as the birth rates are reasonable, non demographic adaptations, I think, enable us to get round this one with some pain, with some reduction in growth rates in the economy inevitable. Those days are over, but it’s only in countries like Korea, with a birth rate half of ours, that are really going to have to face serious problems if nothing changes.
So, finally, the consequence of migration even at the present level, never mind the reduced level, at an absurd amount I’ve been talking about, aren’t very interesting in terms of changing the composition, the ethic composition, the language composition, the religious composition of the countries which are experiencing that migration. At the moment, the countries of western Europe, which are receiving most of the migrants, and also, of course, the English-speaking world overseas, have between 8 and 16% of their populations of immigrant descent, and when continental demographers and statisticians talk about immigrant descent, they mean essentially immigrants and the children of those immigrants born in the country of settlement, first and second generation.
So at the moment it varies between 8 and 16%, 16% in the Netherlands. The projections which some countries have made, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Greece, and the US, all point to, if current trends of migration continue, that proportion the population of immigrant origin, will rise more or less in a straight line for the present time up to something like 25 or 30% of the total population by mid century. And of course, therefore, a much higher proportion of the population in urban areas where settlement tends to takes place and also much higher proportion in the younger age groups.
So it’ll be a concentration, a growing proportion of people of immigrant origin in younger age groups and, of course, a smaller one at the top.
How far this matters is a matter of debate. It does seem though to be a matter of some concern to some people, particularly in terms of the growth of Islam, although the projections – well, I wouldn’t call them projections, but the speculations – about the growth of Islam which I’ve seen from most countries in Europe do seem to be grossly exaggerated. The only projections that I’ve seen on a scientific basis for that is for Austria, and that was, depending on assumptions that were made, that proportion of Muslims in Austria would increase from about 5 % at the present time to, I think it’s between 14 and 28% by mid century, depending upon which of several different combinations of factors pan out. So the idea of a majority of Muslim Europe by mid century is, I think, something which is just a fantasy. Nonetheless, the growth is considerable. In this country the Muslim population has been growing at about 5% per year. We know that pretty well because of the labour force survey now asking questions on religion ever since 2003
A few points to end on: ‘So what?’, you might say. Well, some trends as I suggested are unavoidable, some trends are desirable, others can be adapted to, I think, particularly in respect to aging, especially in countries like ours, although if I were in Korea, I would be less sanguine. The dimension of ethnic change and of population growth and migration is avoidable, because of course that is something which normally is under the government control. Governments in liberal democracies always find it more difficult to control immigration than to encourage it, as we’ve seen in the past 10 years or so. Nonetheless, it is feasible to cease control of some aspects of migration and moderate it in a way which we can’t really tamper so easily, anyway, or properly, with the other two major dimensions, the birth rate and the death rate.
The last watchword is this extraordinary diversity which is going on both in the developed world and also in the rest of the world. We have some countries in the poorer parts of the world where the birth rates are now down to the same level as in this country: Brazil, Thailand, China, well below, Vietnam, well below. They’re facing population aging, sometimes very rapidly so then they become old before they can become rich, which will be a problem for them. Others, like the ladies of Niger, which I mentioned right at the beginning, are still having seven babies each. Their population is doubling every 70 or 80 years at those rates. Huge diversity of experience is unfolding in the world, not just within the developed world that we know, but also in the world as a whole.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I think we should think about some questions and possibly more than just questions. Perhaps we should think what the implications of what Professor Coleman has just told us. What, perhaps, it might mean in terms of what governments should be thinking of doing, and what sort of action we should take to avoid that bend in the road leading to a crash? So I want to encourage a debate rather than just simple question-and-answer session.
Q & A session
1. In China, despite what is enjoined by law, population is creeping up. And it is a country where any major increase in population would, by definition, will influence the rest of the world.
Coleman: China is of course fascinating precisely because of its large size, and the one-child policy, which we draw attention to. The one-child policy is incompletely effective and was never expected I think to be completely effective, and of course there have always been formal exceptions to it, and there are exceptions to it now concerning people who are themselves lone children, concerning those who have a daughter first in rural areas, ethnic minorities and people in poor areas are exempted, etc. Nonetheless, partly as a consequence of that and partly as a consequence of earlier, and actually more effective family planning programs before the one-child policy was thought of, the birth rate in China, although uncertain, because of avoidance of registration for obvious reasons, is thought to be now down to about 1.5, well below that of most countries of western Europe, somewhat above the German level, a lot below our level. That is perfectly compatible for a while, with continued population growth, because of this phenomenon of population momentum, which I spoke about at the beginning. That is to say the age structure of China, inherited from a period of time in the past where the birth rate was very much higher, still has successively large number of women moving into the fertile age groups, and therefore producing more babies, even though only one and a half each. Until that age structure has worked its way up through time, as it were, babies will continue to be born in excess of the number of deaths. But that period is rapidly approaching. The population of China is projected to be in decline well before the turn of the century, by about 2040, something of that time. And it is of course already aging rapidly and will age even faster. The extent to which the Chinese can get into place pension systems and security systems to compensate for this before aging really becomes very severe is uncertain. The same applies for a number of other countries of that kind. The same applies to Vietnam, for example, which has an almost as fierce a population policy as China.
Questioner: When you talk about birth rates, and how they vary over different countries, are you talking about net birth rates, survival say to the age of five or something, because there’s presumably quite a considerable spectrum of variation of infant mortality?
Coleman: Yes. These birth rates relate strictly and exclusively to fertility. They don’t dictate, or pay any attention to, death rates. There are rates which do take into account mortality, child and others, but in the developed world it doesn’t matter because 97 percent of babies survive to age 50 at the present time.
Questioner: Is that true in China?
Coleman: It’s not far off. But it doesn’t matter because you’ve got to measure things separately. You’ve got to measure mortality and fertility separately, though there are studies which put them together. But the birth rate refers solely to live births.
Josie Eldridge: I used to work in House of Commons as a clerk advisor. One of the papers which I’ve read some five or six years ago was a sort of panic from the Commission about demographic trends. I wonder really whether, of course they saw this imbalance between carers, young people who are young enough to care, and the older population. If we’re all going to work longer, can you see pressure coming from, let’s say, care homes from people who still want to pay roughly what they’re paying now for help and care homes, what they feel people can afford, to allow far more immigrants from Niger or wherever, because the sort of, elderly middle aged, who might at the moment, a lot of them are carers, maybe going on to work in order to earn a living? So can you see that putting the pressure on the government? And just to add to the conversation, my impression in part has been that the government and the CBI were really quite pleased to have cheap labour coming into the country. They didn’t try terribly hard to keep everybody, a lot of immigrants, out, and I don’t know that they really worked out the mathematics of it. It’s very interesting to hear you say that some of the smaller countries are not really that much worse off. And I wonder if, in government, let’s say here, are any serious evidence placed studies and thinking going on?
Coleman: I don’t think there’s any serious evidence based, or even non-evidence based, studies have been done by the government on matters of population. They’ve encouraged migration for what they claim to be the economic benefits of it and also the social benefits of it. When I challenged officials of the Home Office a while ago about the inevitably predictable consequences of the very high levels of migration which the government has been encouraging, on future population growth, population structure and population composition, they simply said “Oh, well that’s not the business of the Home Office.” It is not the business of any governmental department at the moment.
Some perceptions of our demographic sensibility is creeping in. We have an assurance off the cuff on some Friday night television programs by Mr. Woolas (sic), I think it was, that he wouldn’t allow the British population to go above 70 million. I think this is the first time that there’s ever been a population policy for this country, and this momentous development was invented in the twinkling of an eye in a television interview by Mr. Woolas. 70 million is still 9 million more than we have at the present time, and I think it’s something devoutly to be avoided.
To go back to your earlier point, of course the CBI and employers in general are very often in favour of immigrant labour. Immigrant labour can be much more hard working and effective, especially in lower grade jobs. The British labour that hasn’t become infected with British welfare-ism and other kinds of diseases which we’ve been so prone to over so many years. This applies particularly to the Poles and other eastern Europeans who are very well regarded.
It doesn’t apply to other immigrants because immigrants in general are over represented in the unemployed population, and in some categories of immigrant and domestic minority populations the levels of the work force participation are exceedingly low. And so there are different immigrant groups that vary greatly in the extent to which they’re amenable to the labour market. I don’t see, myself, that it’s a long term strategy to go on acquiring immigrant population which is prepared to work as 18 percent of eastern Europeans are for £5.99/hour or less in the long run, particularly if that means that the intractable and initially very difficult and awkward problem of mobilising the very large numbers of young people in Britain who are not in employment or education or training. That’s one of the great downsides of what otherwise may seem to be a beneficial policy of facilitating migration is it enables you to forget about the underclass, to forget about the unemployed, not reform your labour laws.
It seems to me the labour laws, particularly in Europe, and much more so here, are very much responsible for keeping unemployment among young people on the continent, especially in Spain and elsewhere at 25 percent. And of course for as long as employers can get around that by bringing in possibly more docile and amenable labour from overseas, government haven’t got to tackle this terrible problem of reforming the labour legislation. We saw it happen to Richard Villepin, I think it was, a couple of years ago, when he tried to reform strict French labour protection laws for the benefit of young people so they could get into work. The young people rioted on the streets, and wrecked his law and wrecked his career if I recall.
Peter Bull: I’m a member of the group. I think you suggested there were three factors which influence population growth, over which two, the government can’t do much about two of them, but the only one it can do much about is immigration. Of course, where is the European Union concerned, we don’t really have much control over that. But the other thing which I don’t think you’ve mentioned is that the population of the globe will increase, I’m told, from about 7 billion or so at the present time, to about 9 billion halfway through the century.
And that we suppose is an additional 2 billion people probably mainly in the developing countries, almost all of them, where standards of living are getting much better, and aspirations are rising very strongly. In these circumstances, do you think that governments, like the British government, will be able to control immigration given the enormous pressures there will be from these countries over the next 50 or so years.
Coleman: It depends entirely on how body-minded they’re prepared to be. Clearly it’s difficult. It is very clear that liberal democracies find it very difficult to restrict immigration much more so than to facilitate it, and for very obvious reasons. The human rights considerations are increasingly paramount, they all signed up to do international agreements and conventions on the treatment of immigrants, on the reunification of families, on the preservation of family life, on asylum, and all the rest. Yes, much more difficult.
If you’re prepared to be body-minded you can bring it down; how far you can bring it down remains to be seen. The Danes by imposing quite severe restrictions on the conditions under which spouses might be imported into Denmark, requiring a long period of residence of the party that wanted to bring an overseas spouse in, imposing, I think, stricter conditions on their employment, or benefit or not, imposing a limit of 24, no one under the age of 24 on the part of the spouse to be brought in, imposing, I think, a requirement on language as well.
That reduced the amount of marriage migration into Denmark down to a third of its previous level. The immigrants got round that, in part by going to Sweden. I gather they’re making use of various EU provisions, but that’s a different matter. The Dutch government evolved fast from its previous, very multi-cultural and liberal policy, has acted very strictly on migration and for a while, although not just for this reason, migration actually became negative for a couple of years, although it wasn’t entirely due to this policy, but other things as well. They’ve booted out, I think about 15,000 asylums because most of them, I gather, happily in Britain. It is in the nature of politics that government of any kind, body-minded or otherwise, don’t last forever. It is perhaps in the nature of the general tenure of continental politics anyway, that liberalism tends to prevail. So it is difficult, but it is the only one which is potentially under government control in any important way.
Peter Bull: I think Switzerland………finding on the government, and I think that puts a strong limit on the number of immigrants that they can have. No government was able to claim that it had done it, claim that it had to do it, because of the constitution.
Nick Jeffrey, a member of the EAG: My question is in two parts. It goes back to the distinction that you made between the individualist paradigm of the north-western Europe versus the familist one in southern Europe. You went into some detail into the dynamics that drive women to have lower birth rates in southern Europe as a result of the familist model. But you didn’t elaborate further on the individualist dynamics of what conversely causes the birth rates not to be so low. In other words, does it come down to the fact that men accommodate women in the UK for example, more to enable them to have children and still work? And that leads on to the second part of the question which is that the, let’s say the potential Tory party to come, has put a stronger emphasis on family units, etc, to help build community in terms of social breakdown. And would that see us potentially trending further towards a familist structure and slower birth rates?
Coleman: Very interesting. To take your points in not quite the order in which you posed them. The tradition of individualistic way of life, which is meant that generally speaking, elderly parents have not always lived with their adult children in their declining years. Some obviously have, in part some do, it hasn’t been general. Households have tended to be simple nuclear-based and not complex, as they have in other parts of the world. This appears to go hand in hand with two things: one, a fairly early abandonment of the patriarch of attitudes which prevail in southern Europe and the Far East and to some extent even in Germany, where the assumption is that women’s role is really in the home, and if she has children then she should not be at work.
That patriarchal attitude which goes together with a more familist attitude is weak in north-western Europe. So the individualistic tradition appears to be one which has made it easier and natural to generate levels of external support for the family. In fact, a nuclear-based family system, you might say, almost requires there to be external systems of support. In Britain of course, from 1598 we’ve had a pull which I think at that time, generally speaking, extracted taxes from about one third of the population and gave it to another third of the population and left one third alone, and that was an early welfare state, sometimes harshly interpreted, sometimes not. But it was an external system of support which took the place after a very early age in Britain, I think, and similarly elsewhere, took the place of family arrangements which served the same function elsewhere. That being the case, it’s easier for those populations to adopt political policies which are family friendly, and which accept as a kind of public responsibility, the fact that it is a part of the state which ought to gather together money from taxation devoted to families to support them when there are small children.
There’s much less electoral pressure, much less cultural acceptance of doing it that way in Italy and especially in Japan, where it is disgraceful for anyone other than the family to look after family members. What that has meant in fact is a remarkable turnaround. On every good economic model, it was expected that as women moved more and more into the workforce, as they achieved equal pay for equal work, like the Equal Pay Act of 1970, that therefore the birth rate should go down. It made entire economic sense because of the opportunity costs of child-bearing and impossibility of being at work and looking after children at the same time. Therefore in the 1970s, those countries in Europe which had high proportions of women in the work force, mostly in all of Western Europe, in France and Britain, had lowish birth rates.
Those were, women who were not in the work force still had high birth rates; the old family system, division of labour. By the 1990s, that graph had been completely reversed. In Europe at the moment, it is only those countries which have got high levels of work force participation of women, which have got reasonably high birth rates. Those countries which have got low levels of work force participation, or lower levels, have got low birth rates: Italy, Spain, Greece, also Japan and Korea, and so on. That is generally believed because the family support policies, very extensive of course, which this culture makes possible and desirable, have grown up so much while they haven’t completely bridged the gap of income and support which women need when they leave work to have children. Nonetheless they’ve gone a long way to do it sufficiently to keep the birth rate buoyant, where those policies are absent and we’re lately remarking to regulations where family compensations of various kinds are inadequate, the birth rate remains low. So it’s a very long-winded answer, but it is thought to be something to do with that. Although I would not claim that we have a proper working model, I would wait to put it in numbers and get results, but I think that is the way it’s going to appear, not without problems.
Darrell Stackard of the EAG: I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about the population of Turkey and is there any implications to the figures that you’ve given us should it become a member of the European Union in the future.
Coleman: Ah, yes, interesting. The population of Turkey is projected to peak at around 90 million. If it does, unless of course Britain increases its immigration even further and outpaces it, it would be the largest country in the European Union should it join. It’s still got quite a ………structure, even though, with a birth rate of only about 2.3 or so, that population is aging. The potential migration, if that is what you had in mind, is clearly very great, particularly when you consider the low average level of GDP per head and average income when compared to the rest of the EU….remaining despite improvement relatively lower for a long time to come. As growth has taken place, we seem to have lowered the bar for the relative difference between the GDP per head in the different countries. I don’t think the southern European countries, Greece and Spain, were allowed to join until their GDP was about 2/3 of the rest of the EU per head. The eastern European countries recently have entered into half or less. Turkey will be well under half in the foreseeable future. That of course is the way that it goes. Turkey’s membership is under a cloud, particularly if Mrs. Merkel now has a clear ……… in Germany. The demographic consequences could be very large indeed, were free movement to be permitted ………would certainly require within 5 or 7 years, given the restriction going to be placed for a few years.
Graham Jarvis member of the European-Atlantic Group: One of the things that arise out of population growth is the fear that resources such as food will wither, there won’t be enough resources. Also, there’s also going to be a problem in terms of energy, and the source related to climate change. What’s your opinion please?
Coleman: Gloomy, I suppose. I didn’t touch upon either of those things; I thought time really didn’t permit it. The interaction of population growth on the one hand and the likelihood of climate change on the other could make things very bad indeed. In the past, as you know, predictions of climate change foresaw seriously deleterious consequences arising sometime after the next century, after a hundred years or so.
The more recent the forecast, and perhaps our chairman would think these forecasts are excessively gloomy and unscientific, the more recent the forecast, the closer has come the time when those serious consequences are likely to happen. They have come within the time range of conventional population projections, that is to say within 50 years. If those projections are right, to any important degree, then the interaction between population growth and climate change particularly in the added areas of the world, are going to be very bad. It is difficult enough to see how the populations of Niger and Mauritania and Burkina Faso, and many of the other countries in West Africa, where birth rates are still very high, where population is growing at 3% per year or more, can manage even under their present circumstances. They already live in fragile environments. If you combine that very rapid population growth with the deterioration of those environments, I don’t know what the consequences are going to be. Now I know perfectly well that environmentalists have been crying wolf about this for a long time, and the catastrophe has not yet happened, although that is partly due to the fact that more than half the world’s population has become Malthusian.
That is to say that more than half the world’s couples are now practicing family planning, and birth rates in most parts of the world are going down, and some parts of the third world are at remarkably low levels. Now that is one of the reasons why we have not seen these predicted catastrophes because certainly people have avoided what Malthus would have called preventive checks to stop it from happening, very wisely. They decided to limit their own population sizes and lower family levels. Nonetheless there do appear to be big constraints on food production developing. The food surpluses of Australia and Canada and of North America, on which the world has often depended, appear to be under threat for all sorts of reasons. Not the least the over projected drying up of the aquifers of which a lot of the irrigation of base agriculture depends, for example. And while we did have the miracle of the green revolution back in the 1960s, you will recall, the recent series of one of the great innovators of the green revolution, that it has very serious downsides in respect to they emit much higher energy costs, providing those high drop outputs. So I’m gloomy about the future. I wouldn’t want to speculate about any detail because such speculations all return to be wrong. But I think it’s going to be rather a tight squeeze.
Deli Ougen, honorary member of the EAG: In Nigeria where I come from, the young boys are going around in Liverpool football shirts, Chelsea football shirts, and Arsenal football shirts, to the neglect of the local teams. And that’s largely the result of the work of the football association in promoting premier football across Africa, and we now see the development in the ownership of British football clubs with a lot of the Arab nations, or Arab citizens now owning English football clubs. The British Council is very busy on the ground out there pushing the English language with a view to boosting invisible earnings. How is that going to impact, do you think, on the desirability of, or the attraction of this country for those who will be invested with the English language and the English culture in the years to come? Will it make this place more attractive or less attractive? And are you going to be able to keep them out?
Coleman: Thank you. Well it’s forty years since I lived in Nigeria, and there weren’t very many British football shirts seen in Carno, where I lived, but perhaps that’s a very different part of the world from which you had in mind. I have no idea how widespread is this aglification of which you speak in contemporary Nigeria, you are the man who can tell us about that, I cannot. I’d be surprised if Nigerian cultures were so fragile they were so easily overridden by British football t-shirts.
Nonetheless, it is certainly well known that the role of the media in literature, above all in television and films and things, in energizing people who have low incomes in poor countries, to think of the rich countries depicted in these television programs and films and things, they’d be highly desirable places where most people are rich and lead lovely, comfortable lives, and so on. This is greatly misleading, and I thought the more the population in Nigeria knew about the realities of life in Britain, and the awful behaviour of so many of us, and the way in which family life is so fragile, they would find it rather unattractive. How far these downsides of life in Britain are likely to be broadcast, I don’t know.
It is much more likely that newcomers to Britain would find it a very disagreeable shock, once they arrive, rather than be warned of it, by prior knowledge of the media. Of course it makes it difficult to keep people out. I mentioned earlier on that democracies always find it difficult to impose strict immigration controls. From countries outside the European Union, it’s a very strong theoretical possibility, except when it comes down to asylum, and except when it comes down to marriage migration, because there are commitments to those principles which were they could be tweaked at the edges, can’t be entirely abandoned, or at least it impossible to imagine any government abandoning them. So all I can say is that I would agree that it would be difficult, not impossible, not to stop migration from various parts of the world, but at least to moderate it is more than it is at the moment.
Ivan C. Shalon, EAG member: I’m slightly puzzled in response to an earlier question, except to the progress that global population is going to increase drastically, was that correct? Okay, however a lot of those places you’ve been speaking of, north-western Europe, etc etc, Pan China, are limiting their population growth. So where is this global population growth actually going to come from?
Coleman: Even in China, as I said in response to a previous question, there is still an excess of births over deaths, even though the birth rate is equivalent to 1.5 children per family, and that is because of this phenomenon of demographic momentum, which keeps going, even though the engines, as it were, are in reverse. And that will continue to happen until the age structure has evolved in such a way that there is no longer an increased number of people our age coming on to the …………, as it were. China is a case where population growth in the country is expected to see throughout 2040, just about 30 years time.
Other countries, though, will not experience that, it is quite like the Indian population and will exceed 2 billion, for example. It may not, it all depends on the way the birth rate evolves. Birth rate in India overall is still well over 2, even though some parts of south India have got quite low birth rates. In the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu have birth rates which are less than 2 at the present time. But up in the north, the birth rates are well above 2, and all India averages is still known to be high. Likewise, despite the fact that in many parts of Latin America, in Brazil, in Mexico, and in most of them, in fact the birth rate is closer to 2 than to 3. Nonetheless, because of the demographic momentum built into the age structure, there’s going to be lots and lots of surplus of births over deaths for decades to come, before those populations iron out. You see, it takes two decades for a new population age structure to emerge once the birth rate starts going down; a new stable population is a non growing kind. There’s lots of this growth built into the age structure which will continue even when the birth rate is nominally below replacement. It’s no great mystery.
Gerard Batton, member of the European Parliament for London: For the UK Independence Department. A two-part question really, the gentleman a few questions ago raised it about Turkey, in terms of what affect that would have. Presumably, the population projection figures prior to 2004 didn’t take into account the entry of ten new countries to the European Union, and the amount of people they increase their populations by. It’s not just Turkey, but in terms of the existing candidate countries of Eastern Europe, the Ukraine and Turkey, there’s actually a potential of 157 million people about the join the EU over the next few years. Is that taken into account when the projections have done all 77 million by mid-century? That’s part of the question, or is that something else that we only find out about afterwards?
In terms of population density, quite surprisingly, the UK turns out to be one of the most densely populated countries in the world. You take England, where most people live, we’re about number 23, I think, with a population density currently of about 1,000 per square mile. Is it part of a demographer’s remit to take a view on optimum population? Because about 30 years ago the green party used to say the optimum population of the UK was about 30 million. They no longer talk about that. Do you have a view on what the optimum population should be in any given location, taking into account its terrain and natural resources, etc? And if so what would you say it is for the UK?
Coleman: There’s an exciting question. As regards to your first question, to do with whether or not the future accession of possibly immigrant rich countries like Ukraine and Turkey and so forth is taken into consideration, the answer is no, it isn’t. Projecting populations a very difficult business; projecting migration is terrible because migration clearly is rather unsatisfactory. Migration streams are numerous, there are lots of different migration streams coming from lots of different countries for lots of different purposes which may not be at all connected with each other. So the forecasting of migration is so uncertain and difficult that what normally happens, I’m sorry to say, is that government statisticians take some level of the recent levels of migration and project that into the future as a straight line.
That is the almost invariable practice in all the western countries. Some attempt to tweak that in relation to future changes in the working age population, very nobly, but it’s very speculative when you do that, and those who point the finger at this straight-line projection and say how absurd and how simple-minded and how stupid are battled to provide anything better, unfortunately. But there is work going on to try and make that better, but it is very straight forward, it certainly doesn’t take into account any future entries from eastern Europe.
The other part of the question with regards to population, I’m afraid that my colleagues are starting to run a mile when the word optimum population is mentioned, because it is so difficult to find a criterion which applies to human populations with a capacity for cultural adaptation which will work, which makes sense. You can certainly define an optimum population for flower beetles or bowls, or barn owls and so forth, in relation to available resources, that’s not a difficult one.
When the organism can change the environment, it’s much more difficult. There is an organization called the Optimum Population Trust, which perhaps you know about I’m sure, which tries valiantly to promote research and interest in this, and I think not without success they attract some quite distinct speakers to their meetings, including some of my colleagues. They place their faith in calculations on environmental footprint, which is a notion of the area of land which a population living a certain kind of life has to have at its disposal for sustainable long-term existence.
On those criteria, the footprint of this country would require about 2 United Kingdoms at least to support it, which would slightly go in hand with the old green party’s suggestion that the optimum population is 30 million. But of course that’s really a sustainable population total in the long run, it’s not necessarily an optimum one. The optimum one would’ve depended upon people’s views about the desirable level of population density they want to live at, on the way in which the population was distributed over the land surface, over the extent to which the population was served by adequate infrastructure so they didn’t, the feedback shouldn’t, horribly crowded trains would alleviate themselves. I find it very difficult;
I would like very much to envision one optimum population might be. I can’t do so, I always run away when the Optimum Population Trust asks me to review on it. All I would say is that it is much easier to say when there is no obvious or definable benefit to a population getting bigger, and possible benefits from it getting smaller, without permission to specify how small it ought to be. Sorry to be rather cowardly on the matter.
Batton: It seems to me that it’s a mathematical nonsense. And the optimum population densities of Manhattan and Scotland have totally different fundamental inputs.
Coleman: Yes, we aren’t talking about sections subdivided in that way. You have to take into account that any modern nation is going to have bits like Scotland, and will have bits like Manhattan, and it’s the combination of the two…
Batton: What about the Sahara?
Coleman: Well not necessarily the Sahara, that’s rather special. We haven’t got that yet. Wait 80 years, George, and perhaps we will.
Ralph Land, EAG: Wouldn’t it be a reasonable generalisation to say that irrespective of the size of a population, a persistent downward trend of a population is rather coordinate to persistent deflation? Therefore, a lot of unforeseen for the consequences, and that therefore, it’s better to look at the other side of the equation, the resources available. You mentioned the green revolution, which had an enormous beneficial effect and would Malthusian have been overthrown every time there has been a big increase in population, by increase of resources. Should we not be devoting much more effort on the resource side of the equation, and particularly the possibilities of genetic modification?
Coleman: Right, interesting. First of all, I certainly deny that Malthus would have been overthrown. Malthus is triumphant, Malthus is now the way in which most people lead their lives. Malthus did not talk about catastrophe, Malthus was concerned with the alleviation of poverty and distress and the way in which alleviation of poverty and distress was made very difficult by the continued tendency of the population to go up to max resources available for them, as the old fashioned, well known formulation has it. He suggested that the more civilised the society, the more likely the possibilities of some improvement in conditions would arise, because people would practice some form of prudential restraint. Now it is 18th, 19th century clergymen point of view, prudential restraint meant delaying marriage, as heeded until age 39, therefore in the context of avoiding sexual intercourse before marriage, the number of children would be small. He had three. While prudential restraint nowadays, of course, means contraception, not a potential for marriage, nonetheless that is exactly what people have been doing, they have been limiting their family, precisely because the feedback, the consequences of having the larger families, which used to be the case in the past, have been so deleterious for the welfare of families, the welfare of mothers, and the welfare of all the children in that family.
So, I regard Malthus of being greatly indicated by recent trends, and the more we see populations in the third world where the birth rates have gone below even 2, the more Malthus’ flag can fly high. As regards to increasing resources, that depends, if you feel there’s some benefit in absolutely maximizing the number of people who can live on earth, at the expense of devoting the entire available resources of the earth, including capturing the greater part of those inputting input by the sun, towards the maximization of human biomass. I see no merit in that at all.
People on the whole don’t want to live in huge concentrations in which they can’t get away. The fact that so many people are, as it were, voting with their personal behaviour, and to moderate their reproduction, so many people are now individually and collectively voting for levels of reproduction which will lead to decline, and not growth. That underlies the fact that they do not want to stuff the world even more full of people, which, at the moment, I agree could be done, up to a limit. But I see no merit in doing it other than that which is required to alleviate poverty and hunger at the present time, given the level of population growth which is already built in to the equation, and which is inevitable. And perhaps I can say that we’ve been talking about projections up to the mid-century, up to 2050.
About 6 years ago or so, the United Nations first started producing variant projections, which very daringly looked to decline in global population before mid-century. Previously, all their variant projections, the central one, the high one, the low one, all assumed different levels of growth. For the first time a few years ago, they produced one of the three variants as tending towards decline. My colleagues at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who have a different way of predicting population, a more sarcastic kind, they think there is a 60 or 70 percent chance that global population will be overall in decline by about 2065. That, of course, would be an average of some countries in substantial decline, like Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, on the one hand, and others, like many populations of West Africa, which will still be growing rapidly. Incidentally, I should have said in response to the gentleman back there that much of the growth in population will be in Africa, which will be at least 2 billion of the present trends. I think that the prospect of a build of population decline is a serious one, and that of course would render less pressing, no need to squeeze every last bit of resources out of the planet, even though it could be done for quite a while into the future, as you suggest.
Fergus Rose, EAG Member: We’ve had a fascinating tour around the globe, and it’s been very interesting to hear your comments about emerging economies and developing worlds: why China, for example, is continuing to grow its population. I’d like to turn your attention, perhaps if I may, to the US and hear your reflection and your thoughts on the US demographic trends. Particularly with a view to the fact that the US has been the economic powerhouse for the second half of the last century, and what your reflections are on how it might affect the global economy.
Coleman: There’s a great deal of interest, in contrast, between the demographic vigour of the United States, as you regarded, and the stagnation of old Europe, and there’s a tendency among some commentators of the US, particularly neo-com journalists, to contrast American demographic vigour with old Europe which can’t be bothered to replace itself, which will be turning Muslim by the mid-century, and which is degenerate, flabby and pasty.
Well, you can see there is some point in that, but nonetheless it is a terrible caricature, and the birth rate in the US is among white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among non-Hispanic whites, is the technical term, is about 1.85. It’s about the same as the birth rate of the UK born population in this country, which of course has ethnic minority composition in it. And the reason why the American birth rate is just about to replace itself is because the Hispanic birth rate is about 2.9. Birth rate of that population is slightly higher; the averages are not much higher nowadays. And of course, particularly because they have enormous immigration. Immigration into the US is at the order of 1.5 million per year, gross inflow. That includes allowance for illegal immigration.
If one assumes that a third of that goes out again, then the net immigration is adding about 1 million people to the US population, on top of the very considerable natural increase which comes from its very robust birth rate and its very youthful age structure. This is scheduled, well I’m sure you already know, US population passed its 300 million mark a short time ago, it’s projected to be over 400 million by the turn of the century. It’ll be nudging its first, but possibly not it’s last, half billion by the end of the century. That’s a long way ahead of course, and only if things continue more or less as they are at the moment. It’s going to become very large, and of course, that will help American global hegemony.
The UN projections suggest that the US is going to be the only developed country in the top ten rack of countries by population size by mid-century. And this will certainly help to preserve America’s position in the world, even though it’s naturally, inevitably going to be seriously eroded by, not just the growth of population in countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and all the rest, but also by the fact that it’s a reasonable assumption that their GDP per head will converge a bit with that of the US. So they won’t be poor third world countries in fifty year’ time, they’ll be poor transitional countries, or less poor transitional countries, some indeed may have made a complete transition. It’s that combination of population growth in those current third world countries plus their escape, as it were, from third world poverty.
Eventually their GDP per head will be hugely magnified by their big population sizes, they’ll become very big strategic, military, economic, protocol players, as you don’t need me to tell you. So America can take some consolation in its rapid growth to the point of it preserving its global position. How far that growth is a threat to sustainability depends upon a lot of things. If it is correct that the great aquifer under the Great Plains is running out of water, then that’s going to make a serious dent in US production. Not so much as to deprive the US of self-sufficiency, in overall terms, but certainly in terms of its capacity to survive for the rest of the world.
I know there are major sceptics in the audience; if global climate change becomes a reality, then parts of the US are going to suffer quite badly. Its neighbour Canada, of course, alters in net terms of energy, and who knows what the global consequences for global power will be in the ………… The consequences for global consumption are quite spectacular because, of course, this very rapid growth through immigration means that America essentially is taking the greater part of the variant people per year from poor countries and turning them quite quickly into Americans, and thereby increasing their consumption of raw materials, and their output of gases of every kind by about ten fold on average comparing the US with some of the poorer parts of Latin America.
That, like the same process in Britain is not good for emission targets, it’s not good for the global environment, even though of course it is good for those who make it to America and then make American standards of living.
Renger Verhagn, EAG: In all the studies that you have made about demographic processes, I just wonder, have you, I’m sure almost, that you’ve heard of some indication of what role religion plays in the growth or decline of population. The other thing was that, and we already saw to some extent, that the increase of financial living conditions is also a factor in the growth of population.
William Adlington: Just a small question. Some people feel the figures for migrants are quite varied. What’s your view on that? On how accurate they are.
Nafiska Rees: I thought to immigrate to another country that you should first of all speak the language, to learn the language, and then swear service to the Queen. That’s what I remember when I came to this country. It’s not the same anymore? Why are they coming for 2 or 3 years? What about the language?
Allen West: Social unrest taking place worldwide because of the increase in the world population. Thank you.
Vote of Thanks: Countess Ilona Estehazy: My task is to offer a vote of thanks to this gentleman, Professor David Coleman. When I first heard him I was very impressed, and I could’ve gone on listening to him all day, and all night. Maybe you would like to stay and hear more, but time does not allow us. And I was always taught that one should leave off when one really wants to continue. And I for one would certainly like to continue hearing this gentleman.
He’s given us an enormous amount of knowledge, as one gentleman has said, we’ve been around the globe and back, we’ve been up there and down here, and perhaps it’s rather like tapping into Google, every question we’ve asked there’s been an amazing answer. I’m terribly impressed, and I’m sure you are too. One of the things that, so often when you hear people giving lectures, they can be right boring. I’ve just come back from North Africa, and they weren’t boring, but they certainly weren’t as good as this one. What I really want to say is that we’re very privileged that we’ve had you here tonight, sir. I know you’re a very busy gentleman, and would love to be sipping a coffee, listening at Oxford to more of your deliberations, and I expect some of you here would be envious of those students.
So really, it leaves me to say on your behalf, and the committee’s behalf, the trustee’s behalf, and all those present, and unfortunately those who had to catch trains or airplanes, so we’re very thankful, and very grateful to you that you have graced us with your presence here this evening. You’ve been very patient with the questions, and very good on your answers, because you’ve given us really more than we’ve asked, in fact it’s been like a feast, and there’s still food over, but you can’t have anymore tonight, so we do thank you, sir, very much indeed. Thank you very much.’