3. Key Demographic Trends

Three demographic trends have the potential for significant security effects: (1) the bifurcation of high-fertility developing countries into those that are beginning to control fertility rates and those that are not, (2) the emergence of chronic low fertility in the developed nations of Europe and East Asia, and (3) increasing urbanization in the developing world. Each trend will now be assessed in turn.

Bifurcation of High-Fertility Countries

Growth in the world's population continues at a significant, albeit slowing, rate. Recent middle-range estimates tell us that the Earth's population could increase from 6 billion in 1999 to 7.3 billion in 2025 and 9.4 billion in 2050.[1] Ninety-five percent of this growth will take place in the developing world.[2] However, two distinct types of fertility patterns are apparent now in the developing world. Some developing-world countries, like Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have seen continued high fertility rates (6.5 and 6.6 children per woman respectively).[3] These countries are at least two generations away from achieving "population stabilization," which is a condition of chronic low population growth.[4] Another group of countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, China, India, and Indonesia, have substantially reduced their fertility rates (2.5, 3.1, 3.6, 1.8, 3.4, and 2.7 children per woman respectively) but are still a generation away from population stabilization because of the phenomenon of population momentum.[5] High-fertility nations have age distributions skewed in favor of younger cohorts that are of childbearing age. Even if these younger cohorts reproduce only at the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, the sheer number of young families in these societies will keep population growth at fairly robust levels for some time. This population momentum means that even in developing nations that have been able to reduce their fertility rates through family planning and improved education, the absolute size of the population will continue to grow robustly for the next 20-25 years. Table 1 shows fertility and population growth estimates for some of the more strategically important states in the developing world. Figure 1 illustrates the concept of population momentum by showing the "youth bulge" that is present in the age pyramid for the developing world's nations.

Table 1
Several Pivotal States in the Developing World Are Experiencing High Rates of Population Growth

1998 Fertility Rate(children/woman) 1998 Population(millions) 2025 Population(millions) Annual Rate of Growth(percent)
Latin America
Brazil 2.5 162 208 1.4
Mexico 3.1 97 140 2.2
Nigeria 6.5 121 203 3.0
Dem. Republic of the Congo 6.6 49 106 3.2
Middle East
Iraq 5.7 22 42 2.8
Egypt 3.6 65 96 2.2
India 3.4 989 1,441 1.8
Indonesia 2.7 207 275 1.5
Pakistan 5.6 142 258 2.8

SOURCE: Population Reference Bureau, 1998.

SOURCE: World Bank (1997).
Figure 1--Developing Countries Have Younger Populations Than Do Developed Countries

There is one wild card in the global population picture that could change many of our assumptions about future demographic trends in the developing world: the AIDS epidemic. There are a number of varying estimates of the magnitude of this epidemic, but there is a consensus among medical experts that it is striking hardest in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Some studies are suggesting that up to 25 percent of adults in some sub-Saharan countries may be infected with the HIV virus. Since the nations of sub-Saharan Africa have the highest fertility rates in the world, AIDS may have a substantial negative effect upon global population growth estimates for the next century. We cannot yet offer any definitive conclusions on this subject.

The Emergence of Chronic Low Fertility in Much of the Developed World

In the wealthy developed nations of Europe, Japan, and Singapore, on the other hand, authorities are concerned with the opposite problem, that is, low fertility rates, static or declining population size, and aging population profiles. Most of America's key NATO European military allies fall into the category of very low to negative growth states. Italy and Spain share the lowest fertility rate in the world at 1.2 children per woman.[6] Germany's population is actually declining, with a -0.1 percent annual growth rate, Russia is facing long-term population decline, and Britain and France are both experiencing very low growth.[7] Japan and Singapore are the clearest examples of low growth in Asia (with fertility rates of 1.4 and 1.7 children per woman respectively).[8] The United States is a relatively low-growth state, but its circumstances are not as extreme as those seen in Europe because of the effects of larger immigration inflows. The United States is thus somewhat shielded from the types of demographic problems that concern European social affairs ministries today. Figure 2 shows the fertility declines that have occurred since the 1950s in the United States and some major European states.

SOURCE: Julie DaVanzo (ed.), Russia's Demographic "Crisis," Santa Monica, CA: RAND, CF-124-CRES, 1996.
Figure 2--Developed States Have Seen Long-Term Fertility Declines

Some European governments have implemented pro-natalist programs in an effort to increase their national fertility rates, but these programs have not been successful. Sweden appeared to have substantially increased its fertility rate in the early 1990s as a result of generous government incentives to encourage childbirth, but the latest figures now indicate that the Swedish fertility rate has dropped back down to 1980s levels.[9] Indeed, it would appear that in general, pro-natalist programs encourage couples to have children sooner than they would have done otherwise but do not increase the overall number of children born. The apparent failure of the Swedish effort leaves us with no cases as of yet where government-sponsored pro-natalist programs have worked over the long term.

Increasing Urbanization in the Developing World

High population growth in agricultural districts, subsequent increases in soil depletion and deforestation, the long-term decline in commodity prices on world markets, and the resulting perception that cities offer better economic opportunities than the countryside have all combined to persuade large numbers of people in the developing world to migrate from rural to urban areas. The numbers are striking. In the year 2000, half of the world's population will be urban, compared to only 17 percent in 1950.[10] The most rapid urban population growth is taking place in the developing world. In 2000, Africa will have 50 cities with a million or more residents, Asia will have 160, and Latin America will house 75 percent of its inhabitants in urban areas.[11] Perhaps most revealing of all is the fact that in 2015, there will be 23 megacities (cities with populations greater than 10 million) in the developing world.[12] Such urban growth will present severe challenges to those regimes whose national urban infrastructure is already under strain. Figure 3 presents data that provide further evidence of the trend toward urbanization in the developing world.

SOURCE: World Urbanization Prospects: The 1996 Revision, United Nations, 1998, pp. 88-89.
Figure 3--Urbanization Is Proceeding Rapidly in the Developing World

[1]United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1996 Revision, New York, United Nations, 1996, pp. 3-5.

[2]Paul Kennedy, Preparing for the 21st Century, New York, Random House, 1993, p. 32.

[3]Fertility rate data are from 1998 World Population Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau, Washington, D.C., 1998.

[4]There are at least 26 countries in the developing world whose population could double in the next 25 years. They are Libya, Western Sahara, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Comoros, Eritrea, Madagascar, Somalia, Angola, Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Iraq, Syria, West Bank, Yemen, and Pakistan. Data are from 1998 World Population Data Sheet.

[5]Fertility rate data are from 1998 World Population Data Sheet.

[6]Data from United Nations Population Fund, The State of World Population 1997.

[7]Data from 1998 World Population Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau, Washington, D.C.


[9]Michael Specter, "Population Implosion Worries a Graying Europe," The New York Times, July 10, 1998, pp. A1, A6.

[10]See Jennifer Morrison Taw and Bruce Hoffman, "Operations Other Than War," in Paul K. Davis (ed.), New Challenges for Defense Planning: Rethinking How Much Is Enough? Santa Monica, CA, RAND, 1994, pp. 223-249.

[11]Ibid., pp. 225-226.

[12]These cities will be Bombay, Lagos, Shanghai, Jakarta, Sao Paulo, Karachi, Beijing, Dhaka, Mexico City, New Delhi, Calcutta, Tianjin, Manila, Cairo, Seoul, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Lahore, Hyderabad, Bangkok, Lima, and Tehran.

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