By 2100, Old People Will Comprise a Majority of the World’s Shrinking Population: Study


Jul 15, 2020


Image Credit: Getty

Global fertility rates — the average number of children women birth — are falling, which could halve the populations of most countries by the end of the century, researchers forecasted in a study assessing the impact of fewer births on future populations and the economy, published in The Lancet. 

Today, women are increasingly choosing not to have kids, which the researchers attribute to greater access to reproductive health facilities, including contraception, which has empowered women with more reproductive agency. Another reason is the increase in educational and employment opportunities for women, which have provided an alternative to the patriarchal mandate long-imposed on women to have children and start a family. It’s a concept that is increasingly becoming a choice for women, one many are choosing to opt out of.

The global fertility rate in 2017 was 2.4, and is quickly falling, researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, note. If it drops below 2.1, the population of the world will start to fall, meaning fewer number of people will be born compared to the number of people dying (below the replacement level), and the current population will slowly start to age and fall out of the workforce, without similar rates of people coming in to replace them. By 2100, researchers project that as many people could be turning 80 as the number of people being born.

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Right now, the way our society is set up, younger people in the workforce contribute to social support programs that aid the older section of the population with healthcare, pensions, and other care. Essentially, a working population props up the institutions that help those who can’t work, or aren’t working, to survive. In an increasingly aging population, the former would keep decreasing, while the latter will keep increasing, which if left unaddressed means a spiraling economy, in terms of wages, prices of necessary goods, and productivity.

This development, however, is unequivocally good for women’s empowerment and independence both professionally and personally, and it would even be good for the environment — a smaller population would mean lower carbon emissions, less deforestation, and less pressure on limited natural resources overall. The current drop in fertility rates, could, then, signal a more progressive and clean society, but could signal disaster for those living in it. 

One solution, researchers propose, could be to improve workplace equality, including parental leave both for heterosexual and queer couples, child-care facilities at work, and concerted efforts toward changing mindsets around carework and housework, which could help make women more comfortable when considering a child. Tackling the climate crisis, and making sustainable lifestyle options more accessible and affordable, along with heavy regulation on polluting corporations, could also make people comfortable with bringing more children into a world that is currently heading toward a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. None of these solutions can be implemented overnight, but they need to be addressed immediately, keeping in mind what the future of the current population looks like. 

“I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganize societies,” researcher Christopher Murray told the BBC


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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