A Roundup of the ‘Global Trends 2030’ Series on Population AgingAugust 7, 2012 By Jonathan Potton
The National Intelligence Council is trying something new for this year’s Global Trends report: keeping a blog. So far, there have been postings from analysts and contributors on everything from migration and urbanization to international banking and precision strike capabilities, but over the past week, one of the most extensive series yet went up on demography. Though youth bulge theories have often dominated population-related security discussions, 11 posts highlight the newest and least understood of all demographic conditions: advanced population aging.In parts of the world, mainly Europe and several countries in East Asia, populations are set to become “extremely mature” because of sustained declines in average fertility to very low levels and steady increases in lifespan. Demographers measure maturity by a population’s median age – the age of the person for whom precisely half of the population is younger and half older. Japan and Germany currently have the most mature populations; both are reported to have a median age slightly over 45 years. By 2030, UN Population Division and U.S. Census Bureau projections suggest that there may be between 19 and 29 countries that pass this benchmark. In Japan, the median age is projected to be 51.
If 5 out of 10 people in a country over 50 years old sounds unprecedented, that’s because it is. In this series, titled “Population Aging to 2030,” a group of political demographers, economic demographers, political scientists, and historians discuss the implications of this never-before-experienced set of age structures.
In his introductory essay, “Population Aging: A Demographic and Geographic Overview” (cross-posted here on New Security Beat), Richard Cincotta outlines the upcoming demographic trend, identifying the particulars of these novel age structures and indicating the regions that are expected to mature into economically and politically advantageous and disadvantageous demographic profiles.
In “Population Aging – More Security or Less?,” Jack Goldstone examines the effects on the U.S. military of a maturing developed world. With the United States and their traditional allies having proportionally fewer young people, will this impact limit their ability to put “boots on the ground?” Can new partnerships be developed in order to make up for this shortfall in man power?
In “China: the Problem of Premature Aging,” Richard Jackson focuses on China’s unique set of aging issues. Due to strict immigration laws and the one-child policy, China is experiencing the most rapid aging of the major powers. The favorable age structure which has enabled huge economic growth will soon shift to being a major burden on a relatively smaller working-age population, having potential political and societal consequences beyond that.
“The Sun Has Yet to Set on China” provides a different interpretation of the challenges China faces. Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba argues that although there will be changes in age structure, the problems may be overstated and the United States may still face a challenge to its status as sole global superpower.
In “Population Aging and the Welfare State in Europe,” Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason emphasize the stresses aging will exert on the extensive social welfare programs of many European states. The combination of longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates has led to a large and increasing funding gap in the welfare system, leaving questions as to the future viability of these programs.
In “Population Aging and the Future of NATO,” Mark Haas foresees that the welfare funding gap could have far-reaching international security consequences. With European governments diverting more and more resources away from military spending to fund welfare programs, the current U.S. irritation with NATO is likely to continue, as European allies “free ride” on the back of U.S. military supremacy in order to cut their defense budgets.
In “The Beginning of History: Advanced Aging and the Liberalness of Democracies,” Richard Cincotta examines the future of the liberal democratic political systems across aging countries. With increasing pressure on resources and a large disparity likely between the native born and migrant populations, it may become challenging for these states to remain liberal and democratic.
For Toshi Yoshihara, author of “The Strategic Implications of Japan’s Demographic Decline,” the aging process will pose a question of priorities for the leaders of Japan. The decreasing number of personnel available to the military, the effects of which were highlighted by the recent tsunami, will force a strategic decision between a defense force that is prepared primarily to address immediate and local security threats or one that is trained primarily for broader humanitarian interests.
“A Demographic Sketch of a Reunified Korea” provides interesting insights into the hypothetical demography of a single, unified Korea. Putting aside the two very distinct social paths that evolved during the past 60 year, Elizabeth Hervey Stephen uses demographic projections to envisage the challenges and opportunities that could arise from reunification.
David Coleman points to immigration as a possibly-mitigating force to aging in the developed world. In “The Impact of Immigration on the Populations of the Developed World and Their Ethnic Composition,” Coleman concludes that the developed world is likely to become “super diverse” by 2030. But this trend can be volatile. International migration is subject to many political and economic factors, bringing into question whether the developed world can rely on migration to supplement their native growth rates.
In “The Ethnic Future of Western Europe to 2030,” which wraps up the series, Eric Kaufmann examines the ethnic make-up of Western Europe in the coming decades. While the size of ethnic minority populations may be smaller than in the United States, the speed of growth in these minorities is likely to be much more rapid in Western Europe. This unprecedented increase in migrant populations could exacerbate ethnic social tensions, particularly in urban areas.
The broad nature of these essays suggests that advanced population aging will emerge within the context of many types of policy debates in the coming decades. While these 11 brief essays only scratch the surface of their respective areas of research, they provide a broad introduction to the politics of advanced population aging.
Jonathan Potton is a student at the University of Aberdeen and currently interning at the Stimson Center for demographer Richard Cincotta.
Sources: UN Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Richard Cincotta. Data from U.S. Census Bureau’s international database.