The West may be falling behind in population growth but it has great residual strength in its favour, a paper from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention explains. 

By Jamie Condliffe

There’s a commonly held view that the Western world is in decline. Low birth rates and ageing populations will, so the story goes, see the end of Western European and American supremacy. Instead, Asian powers like China and India will rise in stature, with their populations and economies growing from strength to strength, and assert their dominance.

 Chinese population

However, a new paper by Professor David Coleman and Associate Professor Stuart Basten from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention suggests that such claims may be exaggerated. While the future may not be as straightforward as the past for the West — the pair explain that Europe, along with the English-speaking world, will undergo some “painful adjustments” in the coming decades — the research suggests that difficulties facing rapidly growing developing countries said to assume dominance may have been underestimated.

The researchers point to countries with very large and still growing populations, like India, where a growing culture of consumption will put pressure on an environment made more vulnerable by climate change. Elsewhere, in countries such as China, Brazil, Thailand and Indonesia, Coleman and Basten suggest that birth rates lower than the death rate could lead to substantial population ageing, before the countries’ economies have become mature enough to support it. More generally, most developing countries lack the high quality justice systems and civil society of the Western world, which are known to weather rapid social change better than societies where pervasive corruption and political instability are the norm.

 Chinese population
'Fast rising populations in developing economies do not equate with future success as demographic changes are difficult to absorb if they happen too rapidly,' explains Professor David Coleman. Countries all around the world are set to suffer painful periods of adjustment in the face of climate change, flexing economies and shifting populations. But, as Coleman suggests, 'countries with mature social and political systems will find such transitions easier to bear.'


By David Leighton

Interesting findings, but let's not forget that homo sapiens is in grave danger of outbreeding its habitat. No human population can simply breed itself out of trouble, despite the problem of ageing.

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