The oft-repeated claim by leaders from Asia that declining population in western countries would pose a challenge in the near future has been challenged by experts at Oxford who argue that the western population is in fact growing. Surprisingly, it is declining in south India, they said.
A new paper by the researchers said that some countries in Western Europe, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand now have birth rates relatively close to replacement, that the underlying trend in Europe is upwards, and that population ageing, although inevitable, is likely to be ‘manageable’.
Writing in the journal Population Studies, David Coleman and Stuart Basten from the University of Oxford provide a more optimistic demographic picture of the future in the West.
Western countries, for all their difficulties, benefit from established civil society, functioning democracy, the rule of law, relatively high levels of trust in political institutions, and some degree of equality between the sexes, it suggests.
By contrast, half the world’s populations now live in countries where the birth rate is below replacement, including Brazil, Iran, Turkey and the southern half of India, says the paper. It suggests Brazil, Iran, Thailand and Indonesia may face decades of below replacement fertility, an experience already familiar to China.
Coleman said: “We show that this so-called decline has been exaggerated and trends in European fertility have been misunderstood. With immigration, fertility rates have gone up in many European and English-speaking countries”.
He added: “India and China and other fast growing economies have their problems too. Fast rising populations in developing economies do not equate with future success as demographic changes are difficult to absorb if they happen too rapidly. Countries with mature social and political systems will find such transitions easier to bear.”