Q: Which population trends do you foresee for different world regions? To what extent do we see a consensus among demography experts? Where do we see diverging forecasts?
Catherina Hinz: We are currently experiencing the largest demographic imbalance in history. One thing we all agree on is the declining fertility rates since the 50s–60s, as well as the slowdown of global population growth. At the same time, there is no consensus on when the plateau will be reached, or when world population will begin to shrink. Another aspect is the huge variation of trends across countries and regions; for example, youthful populations, the high fertility rates and resulting population growth in some African countries, in contrast to the aging societies and declining populations in Europe and elsewhere in the West. In general, the consensus is that the plateau will be reached some time close to the end of the century, but at what level and when exactly, that is where opinions differ. In general, medium term projections like those of the UN, which look 30 years into the future, have been and will be more accurate than long-term projections into the more distant future.
Q: You have worked on the complex nexus between population dynamics and development in Africa. Could you please elaborate on some of your key hypotheses/findings?
Hinz: If we look at Africa, there are diverging trends even within the continent. In countries like Tunisia or South Africa, there has been a rapid decline in births, even though the population of the continent as a whole is still projected to double in the future, as some countries like Niger are currently experiencing birth rates as high as seven children per women. There is a need for more family planning, which especially benefits women of all ages, as well as an acceleration of fertility decline, in order for countries to move to a more favorable age structure and eventually reap the demographic dividend and bring about more development, through a young and productive majority, and a healthy and educated population. We can only hope that these countries will enter this window of opportunity soon. While some like Tunisia have already done so, others need to be prepared and keep up their efforts, like the Ethiopian government, which has already invested in technologies and infrastructure to make health care and family planning easier available for its citizens. Policy makers in African countries must engage today to shape tomorrow. Investments in human capital through three key sectors are vital for that: Health, Education, Agriculture. This means improving people’s access to essential health care services, especially those for family planning. The need to educate children, youth and particularly girls properly to equip them with the skills to find a decent job and take control of their own lives. And the need to provide sufficient food to generate healthy and prosperous populations.
Q: Demographic change and population policies have shaped debates on ethical assessment of the legitimacy of anti-natalist birth policies. What is your take on such policies? Which trends do you observe?
Hinz: The landmark Cairo Program of Action of 1994, reaffirmed in Nairobi back in 2019, has influenced a lot of contemporary policymaking and thought on the topic, and has put a focus on the individual, instead of top-down policymaking. The truth of the matter is that when you place women’s rights at the center, everyone benefits, from families to states themselves. Women respond by having fewer children, simply out of their own choice, as they can exercise their rights and make their own choices and decisions. Now, the document itself is by no means binding, but it is reflected in all development frameworks of today. Looking at the millennium development goals, as well as SDGs, health, education, and gender are closely interconnected and always taken into account.
Q: What are some promising strategies, if there are any, to address aging societies? Is migration a key remedy, a realistic strategy (given the political resistance in many countries) and how may it, positively or negatively, impact social cohesion and economic development?
Hinz: Research suggests that societies need migration to prevent their shrinking, while migration in itself is beneficial for all if well managed. The problem of course in the EU is that there is a strong skepticism around the topic at large and governments must make a strong case for more migration, and paint it in a good light, by refuting common misconceptions, such as the fact that migrants receive more welfare than they contribute to the economy, which is simply not true, as they contribute a great amount in taxes. At the same time, we must get the facts straight to prevent fearmongering. One example is the fact that, while surveys may show that one in three people in Sub-Saharan Africa say they would like to live in another country, in reality very few will ever migrate. Only one percent have concrete plans to move and 0.12 percent actually migrate per year. And a majority of them do not actually come to Europe; four-fifths of migrants worldwide migrate to neighboring countries.