by Becky Sun
The United Nations estimates that yesterday was the day that planet Earth reached 7 billion people. (The US Census Bureau’s population clock, which runs a little slower, puts today’s number at 6,972,015,442.)
It’s hard to know just what to make of 7 billion humans. Pro-natalists and optimists say that the world can support many more people than 7 billion. Malthusians raise the specter of famine, war and deprivation. Reality falls somewhere in between. There’s really not much that individuals can do about demographics, but there is something that businesses can do: Plan for the future.
East Asia and most of Europe are aging quickly. China, where every business wants to be today, will find itself with too many elderly and not enough workers within four decades. Japan is practically already there, with Western Europe not far behind. On the flip side, Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa will still be relatively young in 2050.
Future workers and consumers will reside in those emerging regions. They will benefit from a Goldilocks demographic dividend (a just-right ratio of economically active adults compared to dependent children and elderly) around 2050, when the world will be supporting 9.2 billion people.
It’ll take a while to catch up, but the Middle East and Africa are pulling up from behind. If these regions can keep population at or slightly above replacement and educate all their children (including girls), then they, too, may be having their golden moment on the global economic stage in just another four decades.