Summary Report

Joe Chamie
November 8-9, 2012

The 20th century was the century of population growth. The world's population nearly quadrupled, from about 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion, and continues to grow toward a projected 9.3 billion in 2050.

Joe Chamie, the ex-director of the UN Population Division and the ex-editor of the International Migration Review, provided an educational and entertaining overview of the major population and migration issues in the 21st century. Chamie emphasized that the world's population will continue to grow, but at a slower rate as fertility declines.

Most industrial countries have aging populations, meaning that share of residents 65 and older exceeds the share 5 and younger. Covering the retirement and health care costs of elderly residents who tend to vote with ever-fewer workers per elderly resident will require some combination of working longer, reduced benefits for the elderly, and more immigrants and higher fertility to provide additional workers in future years.

The world's population continues to grow, but it is unlikely the world will ever again add a billion people in 11 years, as between 1987 and 1998. Fertility is declining regardless of level of per capita income and religion. There are many reasons, including an increasing share of the world's people living in cities and the decisions of more educated and empowered women to have fewer babies. The total fertility rate, the number of babies born to the average woman, is about 2.5 today, but varies dramatically within and across countries. Over 20 percent of American women, and a third of women in Germany and Italy, have no children by age 45.

The US has a total fertility rate of almost 2.1, meaning that the average woman has the 2.1 babies needed to replace the population via natural increase. Many sub-Saharan countries have TFRs of six or more, while China, Japan, Korea, and many southern and eastern European countries have TFRs below 1.5. These huge differences in fertility, if sustained, mean that Africa's population would triple by 2050 to over three billion, while Europe will shrink from its current 735 million to 670 million.

The effect of fertility differences is evident in a comparison of China and India. Women in India average 2.6 births, while those in China average 1.6 children. India is projected to surpass China as the world's most populous country by 2025.

Low fertility and longer lifespans mean that both industrial and developing countries will have to revise the financing of pension and health care systems that mostly take taxes from current workers to provide benefits to the elderly. With the number of workers per elderly resident declining due to lower fertility, there will be fewer people in the 15-64 working age group to support ever more people age 65 and older. One option is to raise the retirement age by requiring people to work until 67 or 70 before they can receive full pension and health care benefits, although protests in southern European countries such as Greece show how hard it can be to reduce benefits for the elderly, who often provide a disproportionate share of votes.

Another option is to raise fertility. Chamie is pessimistic about the ability of governments to raise fertility rates significantly toward the 2.1 replacement level after they have declined below 1.5. Urbanization is not likely to be reversed, and women using contraceptives seem to prefer two rather than the three children that would be required to raise fertility substantially. Abolishing the one-child policy in China, for example, is more likely to result in a small rather than a large jump in fertility.

Small differences in fertility mean big differences in population. Europe had 550 million residents in 1950 and is projected to have 750 million in 2020. If fertility stays at current levels, Europe will have about 500 million residents in 2100. If fertility rises toward the replacement level, Europe would have 680 million residents.

The final option is immigration, which can maintain a population and help to cover the cost of aging in the short-term, but can not prevent aging in the long term. The most rapidly aging societies with low fertility are generally richer than youthful societies with high fertility, ensuring that many young Africans would like to migrate to aging Europe and many Indonesians would move to Japan. Migration means change, both for the migrants and the countries receiving them. The question is whether aging societies that "need" migrants have the people and institutions to accept them.The two migration extremes can be framed by the policies of the Gulf oil exporters and the Scandinavian countries. Migrants from South and Southeast Asia are three-fourths or more of the private sector workers in Saudi Arabia and most other Gulf oil exporters. Because their wages are low, often $200 to $500 a month, most households have four or five migrant domestic helpers, gardeners, and drivers to make the lives of citizens easier at the expense of vulnerable guest workers, many of whom pay up to a year's salary abroad just to get contracts to enter and work.

In stark contrast, the Scandinavian countries have cradle-to-grave welfare states generally accessible to immigrants, that is, the immigrants pay taxes to support the welfare state and receive benefits from it. However, these states admit relatively few immigrants, and those who are admitted are generally well educated, so that they are likely to pay more taxes and receive fewer tax-supported benefits.

The US, which has 20 percent of the world's 215 million international migrants, lies between these extremes. Since welfare reform in 1996, the US has made it difficult for legal immigrants to receive federal means-tested welfare benefits until they have worked in the US at least 10 years, and tightened restrictions on the access of unauthorized foreigners to welfare. On the other hand, almost 30 percent of the foreign-born residents of the US are unauthorized, which means they could be detected and removed at any time.

Demography is sometimes described as a country's destiny. Chamie ended with 10 demographic predictions for the 21st century, including a larger world population more concentrated in cities in developing countries with some residents looking to migrate to richer societies with slow-growing or shrinking populations.

This Distinguished Speaker presentation is sponsored by the Gifford Center for Population Studies.