World population is growing: It is estimated that by mid-century 9.7 billion people will live on the earth - two billion more than today. Growth is increasingly concentrated in the poorer countries of Western Asia and Africa, while populations elsewhere are already stagnating or even declining. Sustainable development strategies must take these different demographic realities into account and adapt their measures to the respective challenges at different stages of the demographic transition.
Investments in individual choices
Today, population growth is highest in the poorest countries, which are still at the beginning of the demographic transition. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to experience a doubling of its population to two billion people by 2050, accounting for half of global population growth. In order to achieve a change in the age structure necessary for a demographic dividend, fertility rates must continue to decline in the future along with socio-economic development. This would require governments in less developed countries to make strategic investments in those sectors that already have a proven impact on individual choices and fertility preferences: in the health and education sectors, in gender equality and in job creation.
Taking advantage of the youth bulge
Job creation is particularly important for those countries that have already made further progress in the demographic transition. Due to a decline in fertility rates in the past decades, countries such as Tunisia, Brazil and Bangladesh no longer show high population growth rates. However, they have a large youth bulge, i.e. a large number of young people of working age in relation to the total population. This age structure of the so-called demographic bonus offers the opportunity to harvest a demographic dividend under the right conditions. Nevertheless, if the increasingly well-educated young people remain without income opportunities and future prospects, a youth bulge can lead to potential conflicts. A prudent demographic policy in these countries must not only urgently create prospects for young people, but also set the framework to prepare for the future process of ageing in society.
Ageing as a challenge
Those states that are already well advanced in the demographic transition are barely contributing to global population growth. Due to low fertility rates, many are already experiencing a decline in their population and are increasingly ageing. As a result, the median age, which divides the population into two equally large groups, is over 45 years in Italy, Portugal or Germany, and even 48 years in Japan. There, the proportion of elderly people in relation to those of working age is steadily increasing, putting increasing pressure on social security and pension systems. It is becoming more and more urgent to find sustainable demographic policy solutions to cope with this situation, since the ageing cohorts of the "baby boomers" are posing a constantly growing challenge due to demographic change in many industrialized countries.