demography is destiny

Humanity is in the grip of three profound transformations: first, a far greater proportion of children reaches adulthood; second, women have far fewer children; and, third, adults live far longer. These changes are now working through the world, in sequence. The impact of the first has been to raise the proportion of the population that is young. The impact of the second is the reverse, decreasing the proportion of young people. The third, in turn, increases the proportion of the population that is very old. The impact of the entire process is first to expand the population and, later on, to shrink it once again. ….

For the countries with a young population, the immediate challenge is to create a dynamic economy that brings hope of gainful employment. It is surely the failure to do this that most threatens rule by gerontocrats such as Hosni Mubarak. ….

Meanwhile, in high-income countries, older people must work longer than they expected, without making the young believe their opportunities are blocked for what must seem like an eternity. These countries must also balance the fiscal books as the populations age.

In both cases, the young will raise a cry that has surely been heard throughout the ages: “It is not fair.” They are right, no doubt. It never is.

Martin Wolf, “Why the world’s youth is in a revolting state of mind“, Financial Times, 19 February 2011.

Another great column from Martin Wolf. Recommended reading.

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