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W. Baar: Population Growth and a Multicultural World

Excerpts from this were given to the Russia - Europe Conference on 
Peace and Security in Multicultural Societies at a Time of Global Crisis

Moscow, Russia - April 6-7, 2012

Population growth and variable numbers

In 2011, the United Nations celebrated the birth of world's seven billionth citizen. About 134 million children are born every year. This is the approximate number of people living in Russia, and this figure minus the annual deaths is the number of people living in Germany. So every year another Germany is added to the people living already on earth.[1] Other institutions have calculated slightly different numbers.[2] Wolfgang Lutz, Director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital and of the Vienna Institute of Demography, says the differences are based on the fact that the UN calculates based on the official numbers from the national governments. Therefore, the 7 billionth citizen may also have been born in 2012.[3] However, the figures used by the large institutions are revised and reworked based on observations, and they are often identified as estimates.[4]

No doubt the numbers are variable and we should not ignore the fact that humanity needed 12 years to increase from 6 to 7 billion people but will need some more years to increase from 7 to 8 billion. This means that the rate of population growth is slowing down. In the late 1980s there were 138 million newborns per year.[5] Gerhard Heiliger, Director of the UN Population Division, believes that in 2100 there will be 10 billion people living on our planet and that afterwards the population will decrease slightly.[6]

A worldwide population decline of this size will result if the number of births per woman - as assumed in the forecast - levels off to 1.85 after 2050. The UN projects a global population of 7.9 billion by 2025 and 9.3 billion in 2050. However, if rate of population growth decreases more slowly than anticipated, these numbers could be higher.[7]

The number of births in a given country at a given period depends in part on the number of women of childbearing age. Demographers compile a so-called Crude Birth Rate (or CBR), which is the number of births over a given period divided by the person-years lived by the population over that period. It is expressed as the number of births per 1000 population. Another useful statistic is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which expresses how many children a hypothetical cohort of women would have at the end of their reproductive period. It is expressed as the number of children per woman. There are also other factors affecting fertility which may be considered, such as mortality rates and migration; these affect how many people populate a region, country, or continent.

Until the mid-1960s, the world's average fertility rate was constantly around 5 children per woman. It then began to decline to its current average of 2.7 children. The TFR declined first in the industrialized countries and then in the developing and emerging countries. The rate in most industrialized countries passed below the "magic threshold" of 2.1 children per woman in the 1970s. At this rate, each generation replaces itself and the population remains stable. The replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman is higher than the expected rate of 2 children per couple, because not all newborns reach child-bearing age. Currently, the rate of 1.6 children in industrialized countries is well below the replacement level, and the US is the only major industrialized country with a fertility rate higher than 2 children per woman.[8] As mentioned above, it is expected that in the long term the fertility will drop worldwide to between 1.5 and 2 children per woman.[9]

A short history of changing birth rates

All such numbers are estimates. These rates may continue or they may change, either slowing down or accelerating. If tendencies continue for a longer period, they are called trends. Trends again are observed and researched. The main reason why demographers are able to make forecasts with high precision is the fact that all the basic data exist already – the potential parents of the children of the future. In regions which show a shortage of young women, the birth rate is unlikely to rise. If we combine census data with trends, we get reliable data for future populations. However, some factors such as migration and the influences of urbanization, religion, and lifestyle on the family keep the actual output open. Therefore, they are the focus of study. I will come back to this challenge below.

The developments over the last decades have been stunning. In the developing and emerging markets today, 2.8 children are born per woman, less than half as many as in the 1960s, when women still had an average of 6 children.[10] The least-developed countries still have very high birth rates, with an average of 4.8 children. Here economic backwardness, high fertility, and rapid population growth combine in a dramatic way. In 35 of 148 developing and transition countries, an average of more than 5 children are born per woman. Most of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, where about 10 percent of the world's population live. Nevertheless, the developing countries represent 99 percent of the increase of the world's population. In contrast, fertility is already below replacement level in 23 emerging countries, which are home to some 25 percent of the world's population.[11]

In today's industrialized countries, the transition to lower fertility began in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Since 1950, the transition from high to low fertility has been fastest in today's emerging markets. Since 1980, they have been followed by the least developed countries.

The population momentum

Despite the decline in the number of children per woman, the annual number of births worldwide did not decrease proportionately, mainly because there are many more young adults today than there were 40 years ago due to the high birth rates in recent decades and the decline in infant mortality. As already mentioned, the age structure of a population, especially the female population, is very important. High numbers of women of childbearing age cause high birth rates, even if fertility has begun to drop. This phenomenon is called "population momentum." Thus, we have a much larger number of potential parents today.[12] The UN forecast still expects some 130 million newborns in 2050. However, it is expected that the number of births will decrease worldwide. The population pattern is typical of the final step of the demographic transition from high to low birth rates.[13] This again is associated with an aging society.

Asia and Latin America have had significant declines in fertility since the early 1970s. In 2005, fertility rate in these two regions of the world was an average of 2.5 children. Within Asia, fertility rates vary greatly. In East Asia, especially China (1.56 children per woman) and Japan (1.4)[14], it is already well below the replacement level. In West Asia, however, fertility has been significantly higher, with an average rate of 3.4 children per woman in 2005.

In North Africa, the TFR declined less than in Asia as a whole, from 6.3 in the 1960s to 3.2 in 2005. As before, women have the most children in sub-Saharan Africa. Looking at the African data by regions, Central Africa has 6.2 children per woman, West Africa 5.8 children, and East Africa 5.6 children. Niger has a high birth rate of 7.5 children per woman (Source: Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung 2012, compare: The UN-World population prospects - The 2010 Revision, shows 7.19 for Niger)[15] with significant consequences for the country, the society, and their future options.

In Europe, fertility has been halved since the 1960s. In most countries of Northwest Europe, the fertility decline began in the second half of the 1960s. In Southern European countries, it did not begin until the 1970s. Since 1990, Central and Eastern Europe experienced by far the greatest fertility decline, down to 1 child per woman. This was the period of the collapse of communism and its over-indebted, planned economies. Since then, those numbers have increased slightly, but the change is not statistically significant.

In the 1960s Europeans had an average of 2.7 children per woman. Now there are only 1.4 children, and in countries of Southern Europe and East Central Europe, fertility is still lower. The highest birth rates in Europe as a whole can be found in Iceland, Ireland, and France, with almost 2 children per woman.

Why do birth rates fall worldwide?

A look at the facts shows that the declines in fertility rate are the result of growing numbers of childless adults and the absence of families with many children. This is a fairly technical description. So what are the causes?

Let me start at the beginning: Industrialization, improved living conditions such as a better food supply, general hygiene, and better medical care cause a significant decline in infant and child mortality. For most people, this was a reason to have fewer children. Many couples had children as a kind of pension insurance, to care for them when they were older. In view of the low child mortality it does not make sense any more for those people to have many children. In the transformation from an agrarian society to city life, more children result in higher household costs rather than an increased labor force. Herwig Birg calls the phenomenon of rising prosperity and declining birth rates the “Demographic-Economic Paradox.”[16] Will childbearing become a program for poorly developed rural regions? - The “Demographic-Economic Paradox” is in some respects an increasingly serious problem, and I will come back to it below.

The prerequisite for the reduction of births in the least developed countries is the availability of contraceptives. “Eighty percent of the pregnancies in those countries are unwanted,” says Renate Bähr, CEO of Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung.[17] She calls for more funds to provide contraceptives in the regions concerned. This approach may not be entirely wrong, but it remains incomplete unless it is supplemented with appropriate opportunities, such as education and jobs, especially for young women.

Meanwhile, the correlation between the level of a woman's education and the number of children she gives birth to has been well studied. The higher a woman's level of education, the later she has children and the fewer children she has. This is true for the whole world and seems to be nearly independent of culture or religion, as shown in Iran[18] and Tunisia, two traditionally Muslim countries with birth rates below the replacement level. However, under certain circumstances the cultural and religious environment does matter, as I will show below. It can determine the number of children.

An additional reason for declining birth rates is the glaring incompatibility of work and family life for women in well-developed countries, the so-called “Rush hour of life.” Young adults, both men and women, seek higher education; they typically complete their education, establish themselves in business, and build a house or buy an apartment in a relatively short period of time. This would also be the best years to have children. It is easy to understand that this is difficult to manage without additional support. On the one hand, policy makers worldwide will focus on how to make it easier for young adults in their best biological years to begin a family. On the other hand, in traditional societies this support comes from the extended family, and older family members help care for children. In Ireland, for example, children are cared for this way. But in more and more societies, even in emerging countries, activities that generate money are more highly valued than the mentoring of youth. Furthermore, because these societies have a labor shortage, more and more grandparents are in the work force and young mothers return to work. This seems to be a vicious circle, but there is an even greater threat if people believe that they do not need to have children at all.

There is a trend in current literature to explain the decline of the European welfare state caused by aging people depending on high state pensions rather than own children.[19] For decades, Europeans have been socialized to think that electric power comes out of the socket and pensions come from the state. Therefore, other people's children are needed to provide a person's pension. This decoupling is now proved to be lethal for Pay As You Go systems, since too many citizens believed they did not need to have children of their own and could spend their resources rather than saving them. Politicians of all stripes have hushed the problem for too long. The older generation is a decisive voting block, which makes it difficult to address the issue democratically. In the meantime, every promise of a high state pension in a shrinking population of workers is similar to the promises of a lottery.

Migration and a multicultural world

Above I mentioned, immigration has become crucial for the aging societies of Europe. Some regions of Europe are shrinking because there is no immigration or because there are not enough migrants to compensate for the low birth rates. Europe´s proportion of the world's population will shrink by the year 2100 from the current 12 percent to a maximum of 5 to 7 percent.

The phenomenon of migration into prosperous regions is not confined to Europe. Cities like London, New York, and Singapore would not be what they are without migrants. In fact, this is true of every international metropolis at this point. However, countries with a shrinking population based on Pay As You Go systems are at a greater disadvantage than their global competitors, since they depend on other people's children to pay their pensions and debts. They need to keep their economy alive and stop or at least reduce the shrinking of cities and whole countries. It is hard to say what policies will be most effective, although many governments are pursuing them. It is likely that traditional immigrant destinations such as the United States, Canada, and Australia will have increasing competition.

In principle, there has been migration as long as there has been mankind. People migrate searching for a better life, often fleeing from wars or poverty. In 2011 210 million people worldwide were migrants. They would be the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population - ahead of Brazil.[20]

For several years there has been serious competition for skilled migrants, and countries with declining populations may experience labor shortages. There is considerable debate about the impact of policies on the countries of origin and destination countries. Remittances sent by immigrants to their country of origin often feed their families. The other side argues that the countries of origin often lose their best brains through emigration and that the financial gain does not compensate for the brain drain.

The power of migration is enormous. Let me give an extreme example: In the Vatican, the birth rate is 0, at least officially. Yet its population does not become extinct. On average, immigrants are young and have more children than comparison groups. Immigrants also tend to adapt to the demographic trends of the host country. Again, origin and religiosity play essential roles and justify exceptions.

The age composition of the population worldwide is also affected by these increasingly aging societies. This can be viewed positively, because not only do people live longer but they also stay healthy longer. On the other hand, it is not known how aging societies will handle the need for care for the exploding group of very elderly citizens. It may be taken for granted that relatives will care for these very elderly people if the state is unable to provide adequate care, but this raises a crucial problem because many people will barely have family members.

The aging of a society is independent of its birth rate. However, to cite another example, while France has a birth rate close to 2 children per woman and the population is aging at a modest speed, Germany has a birth rate below 1.4 and an increasingly aging population. Within three decades one third of Germany's population will be older than 65.[21] The situation in the south and east of Europe will be even worse. Some regions have aging and shrinking societies, and emigration will hasten depopulation.

A higher life expectancy slows the shrinking of a population but postpones the challenges. Currently European men live an average of 77.5 years (in 1971 it was 66.5) and women live 83 years (in 1971 it was 73.5). In Russia the life expectancy of men has decreased and is currently lower than that of Bangladesh. Thus, Russia is an international exception.

Migration, age structure and ethnic composition

Migrants have a significant influence on the ethnic structure of their new home countries. In the last decade, every third newborn in Germany was the child of immigrants. This obviously has a massive impact on the ethnic composition of the population if development remains constant.

The United States is remarkable in this context; Americans who are more religious have more babies than the average Americans.[22] Furthermore, the US will have 400 million inhabitants in the second half of this century because of immigrants and their above-average birth rate. It will be more Asian and especially more Latin American, since about half of its population growth is due to Hispanics.[23]

Growing hunger for resources

A population that grows faster than its economy is forced to share its resources with more individuals, leading to a decline in individual prosperity. Countries with rapidly growing population can hardly keep up with the need to build infrastructure and provide health services and education. The UN's Millennium Development Goals seek to reduce poverty and hunger, but strong population growth has undermined most achievements so far. Thomas Robert Malthus' theory of impending tragedy caused by overpopulation was incorrect, and falling birthrates have led millions of people worldwide out of poverty. However, according to estimates by the Food and Agricultural Organization, in 2010 there were 925 million undernourished or malnourished people in the world.[24] More than half of the people in the world live on less than two dollars a day.[25] No doubt it is almost impossible for parents to provide for such large numbers of children in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where drinking water, food, and education are scarce. Again, the key factor in these regions is better education, especially for women. It can counteract these trends, as shown in countless studies. Thus, education can also be called the most effective contraceptive.[26]

Overpopulation versus shrinking populations

There are two opposing demographic waves on the globe. The aging and shrinking societies of Europe and East Asia border on the young and growing societies of Africa and South and West Asia. The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow by a factor 3.5 by end of the century, when one third of the world's population will live in Africa. (Currently, it is 15 percent, compared to over 60 percent who live in Asia.) India will have replaced China as the most populous country. More than two thirds of the people worldwide will live in cities. In China more than 200 million men will have died unmarried because they will never have had a chance to find a wife due to China's one-child policy could with prenatal selection and abortions.

Above, I wrote about the challenges of rapid population growth and limited resources on the one hand and the inevitable problems of shrinking populations on the other hand. It must be clear that Europe's Pay As You Go systems will end when the number of payers no longer matches the number of recipients. In contrast, China as a whole might become old before it becomes rich. Iran's government will not be able to fulfill its obligations to its elderly, and neither will Russia. While these countries, along with Turkey, have launched massive programs to encourage more births, the numbers of young men available to go to war diminishes.

The demographic changes also open new opportunities for the least developed countries. The natural economic role of Africa will be the new workbench of the world, because China's labor force is getting older and more skilled. The countries that benefited from this trend, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, also show declining birth rates. Furthermore, countries with large populations of youth are sought because they mean an increasing number of consumers. On the other hand, predictions for the European car market are shrinking due to aging demographics and market saturation; already one third of the car buyers in Germany are older than 60, and they will drive these cars to the grave.[27]

Multiculturalism everywhere and the search for identity

Issues of multiculturalism and integration include the extent to which immigrant communities should retain their distinct character. The fact that ketchup has been replaced by salsa as the most popular flavor in America make Americans of European origin aware that they will become a minority in the foreseeable future. “Mohammed” has become the most common first name for newborns in the Belgian capital of Brussels, and in the Muslim suburbs of Paris and Berlin the Sharia replaced the state law. On the other side of the globe, the average height of Japanese youths has increased by 4 inches within 6 decades due to the regular consumption of fast food. Not only America's eating habits but also its endless TV series have become routine in many parts of today's globalized world. Since it is easier to build cell phone networks than water supplies, there is hardly any corner of the world that is not under the influence of foreign culture. The full extent of this penetration is often visible only at the fault lines, places where cultures come into contact with each other.

For the first time, people are confronted with the fundamental, all-important questions: “Who am I?” and “Who are we?” The question of identity is a growing problem in two ways. The lack of identity and the fear of losing their own culture and traditions scare many original inhabitants as well as many immigrants. The concerns of all parties need to be taken more seriously and not ignored. Finally the non-integration of cultures has set different parts of Europe on fire, as riots have shown in the last years.

Who will design the future?

A world of families

What will our world look like in say 2100 as a result of different birth rates in different regions and even different birth rates within a society? How will the people of tomorrow be socialized? One thing is certain: we can speculation about people who will live in those days, but those who will not be born also are not socialized. Such a statement sounds absurd, but it is deadly serious. People who do not have children will also have very limited direct impact on the next generation. Will there be a return of patriarchy, as Phillip Longman wrote in his much-discussed essay in 2006?[28] A baby boom among people with a conservative mindset would not be surprising, because family-orientated people generally have more children than those who do not give the family such significance. Nevertheless, in coming generations this will be a shock in enlightened, secular societies.

While the attempts among Europeans to give more open and non-exclusive definitions of the family are becoming increasingly desperate, most children are still born into families with a mother, a father, and at least one other child. With each additional child, this probability increases even more. This is true for the whole world as well as most secular societies and in regions in which alternative forms of cohabitation are more prevalent than the traditional family.

If more children are born into families, more young adults in the future will be socialized in families and will, in turn, pass their attitudes on to their children. Those who are not socialized this way will have less of an impact because they will have fewer children than their contemporaries. History shows that the Roman Empire never became extinct; despite the falling birth rates of the traditional population, it continued to exist in another form due to people who immigrated and had more children. Europe is developing along similar lines. Although its future inhabitants may be called Europeans, these people will be different from the Europeans of today.[29] Nothing can turn back time. The family creates identities the transcend the state, nation, continent, and time. The search for identity involves families. As trivial this sounds, it is basic.

Back to the future

Our short hike through numbers, data, facts, trends, and forecasts ends here. When we look back to where it all began, we realize that our own future depends primarily on ourselves. The message is simple and sustainable. The family cannot be replaced by any organizational form or community because no one except the family can replace itself. Therefore the issues of multiculturalism and how people will live together have a lot to do with the development of the family. Beyond the biological and sociological functions, the family has always offered orientation, value, and a sense of life. It has always been the core of society. Nothing has changed this fact, neither industrialization, nor globalization, nor secularization.

[1] Jan Hauser in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," online-version. Access on July 11th 2012.

[3] Wolfgang Lutz in an Interview in "Profil." Access on October 31st 2011.

[4] The homepage of the United Nations Organization is a good example, for numbers are revised continuously:

[5] UN World population prospects, The 2010 Revision (New York 2011) Access on July 24th 2012.

[6] Gerhard Heiliger in an Interview in "Profil." Accessed on October 31st 2011.

[7] In relation to “assumptions” see also - Documentation – Assumptions.

[8] Cf. Rainer Münz: "Fertilität und Geburtenentwicklung." (Berlin 2007).   Access on July 30th 2012.

[9] Wolfgang Lutz in an Interview in „Profil“. Access on October 31st 2011.

[10] Source: United Nations, World Population Prospects – The 2006 Revision, New York 2007

[11] Cf. Rainer Münz: "Fertilität und Geburtenentwicklung."

[12] Again the UN-numbers differ from numbers from numbers from other institutes. Here are two examples to compare: and

On these two websites you also can find numerous further reading for your studies.

[13] Keith Montgomery, Department of Geography and Geology, University Wisconsin, in: “Demographic Terms." Access on July 24, 2012.

[14] Source: UN-World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. Access on July 24, 2012.

[15] Source: Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung 2012

This homepage also shows a nice world population counter.

Source: UN-World population prospects, the 2010 Revision, Last update on August 25, 2011.  Access on July 24, 2012.

[16] Herwig Birg, Die demographische Zeitenwende (Munich 2001) p. 42 f.

[17] Renate Bähr in “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung“, online version, July 11, 2012. Access on July 11, 2012.

[18] Iran's key to a reduction of births was a rise in female education; 62 percent of Iran's students are women.

Source: Alexander Laux in: Der Iran als Weltrekordhalter. "Die Presse," October 28, 2011.

[19] One of the best studies on this topic is the OECD´s study “Pensions at a glance.” You can find and read it on this site:,3746,de_34968570_34968855_38723716_1_1_1_1,00.html.

[20] Cf. Rainer Münz: "Fertilität und Geburtenentwicklung."

[21] Carl Haub, senior demographer of the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, USA, in an interview for Allianz Versicherungs-AG on April 21st 2008. Access on July 25, 012.

[22] Stefan Fuchs in: "Bevölkerungswachstum und Geburtenfreudigkeit in den USA." Genius Gesellschaft, Access on July 26, 2012.

[23] Carl Haub, senior demographer of the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, USA. Source as above.

[24] Access on July 29, 2012.

[26] Reiner Klingholz, Director oft the Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung, in an Interview in "Die Welt," on July 7, 2012, page 3f.

[27] Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, Professor of Business Administration and automotive industry at the University of Duisburg-Essen, in an interview in “Der Standard,” April 16, 2008.

[28] Phillip Longman, "The Return of Patriarchy." In: “Foreign Policy,” February 17, 2006.

[29] Regarding this topic, I would also like to refer to James Canton, “The extreme future” (New York 2007), “America's top future challenges,” page 345.