Recently, The Economist ran the story on the global fertility decline on its cover, acknowledging the significant impacts demographic have on economies. About 5 years ago, when I embarked on my first research paper (a simple one at High School level) I wrote about the aging population of Singapore. I was examining the impacts of our drastically lowering fertility since the 1970s in the background of a world where greying population was more or less restricted to some rather advanced economies, and perhaps some old “emerging economies” (I always wonder when they would ever emerge totally). In my research paper, I traced the changes in fertility from the 1970s to 2000s and related it to the increasing wealth as well as the government policies. I argued that government policy to reduce fertility worked then because of the fact that they converged with social development but I didn’t draw much relationship with the economy even though I recognized one. Singapore, of course, was one of the success stories for population planning and control during those times; today, more countries are making it, intentionally or otherwise.
The idea that population’s impact on the economy is neutral dominated in the past but things have changed. The Economist discussed in depth how changes in demography have impacted economic development around the world. Looking at the world as a whole, the article speculates what will happen to a world at replacement fertility of 2.1. It is important to note how this figure is rather arbitrary, attempting to account for infant mortality and yet not considering the fact that women may pass away before reaching child-bearing age. One issue the article overlooked, however, is the fact that when this day comes, some country will be facing population decline while others have very slight growth in population yearly; the world will have to be a more mobile place (at least administratively) for labour and mankind in general so that no country will be facing hollowing out of population.
The fact that rich world nations who have previously dipped below the fertility of 2.1 is now returning to that figure sounds like consolation for the others who face the prospects of a declining population. The general economic impact of a consistently declining population remains unknown but is expected to be rather unfavourable.