1 Human Development

Updated: 25 April 2015


1.1 Demography

Effective family planning ("one-child policy")
Extreme population aging is looming
Reduced burden for parents due to fewer children
Threatened family traditions
Investments into population quality (education, health)
Epidemic of selective abortions
Rising aspirations among children (education, career)
Very uneven sex ratio at birth (many more boys than girls)
Demographic window of opportunity: 1980-2010
Labor shortages beyond 2025
Urbanization; better labor allocation due to rural-urban migration
Rural decline; abandoned rural elderly
Greater female emancipation and independence
Marriage squeeze; many unmarried men; trading in women; rising prostitution

Low mortality / high life expectancy
Persistent sub-replacement fertility is unsustainable
High population quality: high education / good public health
Ineffective or lacking migration policy
Rapid population aging underway
Erosion of marriage and family values; rising divorce rates
"Youths squeeze"
Demographic burden of elderly is rising
High concentration of non-integrated, non-European, immigrants in some urban areas and regions
Depopulation of rural areas, particularly in Eastern Europe

Relatively high fertility (for developed country)
Some population aging
Many well-educated and highly motivated immigrants
Large (illegal) immigration from Latin America
Still relatively high average life expectancy at birth (but lower than in many European countries)
Large under-class of poorly educated and poorly paid immigrants from Latin America
Multi-racial population with latent racism and looming race conflicts
Significant poverty among Hispanic immigrants and Blacks
Rising demographic inequality (differential fertility, mortality, and morbidity)
Urban sprawl and land consumption by growing urban agglomerations and suburbs
"Small-town America" is on decline
Overall evaluation: Demography









China's population has more than doubled since 1950(1). In the 1950s and early 1960s the country's rapid population growth was fueled by Mao's pro-natalistic  population policy. Since the introduction of a strict "one child" family planning program, China has brought its population growth under control. In the early 1990s China's Total Fertility Rate fell below the replacement level of about 2.1 children per woman. Currently, average fertility is far below replacement - possibly in the range of 1.3 to 1.5 children per women.(2) Most experts believe that by 2050 China's population will stabilize around 1.5 billion people and then begin to decline. However, the rapid fertility decline in the 1970s and 1980s will cause a very strong population aging in China after 2050.

With its 1.3 billion inhabitants, China is (or will be) a heavyweight in all global affairs - from global trade to environmental protection, from energy consumption to the international supply of labor. Whatever China's politicians decide in one of these sectors, it has implications for the whole world, because it immediately affects at least one fifth of the world's population.

Demographic advantages:
Despite what critics may say, China has gained an enormous advantage by introducing the one-child family planning policy. With much smaller families parents and children of the post-fertility decline generation had unique advantages: The parents could invest more into the education and health of their children; women could concentrate more on their careers; and family income was shared among fewer family members, which increased living standards.(3) When the large generations from the 1950s and 1960s reached working age, China's economy as a whole benefited from an unprecedented demographic dividend. This large generation, together with massive rural-urban migration, fueled the urban labor markets with almost unlimited supply, which was essentially the basis of China becoming the global work-bench. The "golden years" of China in the 1990s were demographically defined by a large generation in working age, few children (thanks to the one-child policy) and still few older people due to previously high mortality. Essentially, China's population in the 1990-2010 period were young adults in prime working age - which was one of the main causes of the China's economic miracle.

Demographic challenges:
China's greatest demographic risk is the unavoidable process of population aging, which will be one of the most drastic ever observed - both in terms of the speed and the absolute number of people affected. With the rapid decline of fertility within a few years from more than 6 children per women in the 1950s to less than 1.5 children per women in the 2010s the corresponding process of population aging, starting around 2030, will be equally rapid. When the "baby boom" generations from the 1950s and early 1960s begin to reach retirement after 2020 many people will face huge problems, because pension systems are absent or weak, and social security is lacking. Especially, the rural "baby boom" generation born under Mao will bear the burden of China's success. They had few children, worked hard all life, and will now face financial hardships or poverty in old age. Their only child (or very few children) will have moved away to some booming coastal city, while they will have to stay in the villages with little social and financial support. This abandoned (rural) generation will be the price of China's economic success.
Another demographic challenges in China is the extreme unequal sex ratio, which is now mainly caused by selective abortion carried out to ensure a male offspring under the pressure of the one-child family planning program. This is already causing a major marriage squeeze, which is amplified by women's increasing independence and growing expectations in their potential spouses (4, 5).


(1) United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division: World Population Prospects, The 2012 Revision. New York, 2013.

(2) Robert D. Retherford / Minja Kim Choe / Jiajian Chen / Li Xiru / Cui Hongyan (2005) How Far Has Fertility in China Really Declined? Population and Development Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, 57-84 Link to Article

(3) Xiaogang Wu / Hua Ye / Gloria Guangye He (2014) Fertility Decline and women's Status Improvement in China. University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, Research Reports 14-812.

(4) Rachel Wang (2013) Chinese Single Women's Ideal Men: 'Secondhand' Suitors Surprisingly Popular. TeaLeafNation, May 21, 2013. Survey Results

(5) Sandy To (2013) Understanding Sheng Nu ("Leftover Women"): the Phenomenon of Late Marriage among Chinese Professional Women. Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 36, Issue 1. 1-20. Article Abstract

China's demography  

Advertisement: Smart books from Amazon.com
Greenhalgh - Governing China's Population Scharping - Birth Control French - China's Second Continent Demographic Developments
Susan Greenhalgh / Edwin Winckler (2005)
Governing China's Population. From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics.
Stanford University Press
Thomas Scharping (2013)
Birth Control in China 1949-2000. Population policy and demographic development. Routledge
Howard W. French (2015)
China's Second Continent. How a million migrants are building a new empire in Africa. Vintage.
Since 2008, French has taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. For 23 years prior to joining the Columbia faculty, he was a reporter for the New York Times.
China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) (2014)
Demographic Developments in China. Routledge Studies on the Chinese Economy.
CDRF is a leading economic think tanks in China, where many of the details of China’s economic reform have been formulated.



Europe's population has been growing slowly since the early 1950s due to a post World War II baby boom in the early 1960s (1). With a high number of parents from this baby boom, the number of births in the 1980s and 1990s were relatively stable or even increased slightly, despite a significant decline in fertility. Today, nearly all European countries (with the exception of Turkey, Ireland, and ...) have average fertility which is far below the replacement level. Europe is currently (2015) loosing roughly one third of its population between two subsequent generations as indicated by an average Net-Reproduction-Rate of 0.7. By the middle of the 21st century, Europe's share of the world population will have declined to 10% (from 18% in 1950).

Global relevance
With 600 million relatively wealthy, well educated and healthy inhabitants, Europe could still be a significant player among the world's major regions. However, Europe's population will soon begin to shrink and will continue to age. Parts of Eastern Europe are in danger of becoming depopulated, due to strong East-West migration, accelerated urbanization and decades of extremely low fertility.
At the same time Europe faces rising international migration pressure from Northern Africa and the Middle East, where a "population explosion" has been under way for decades in an environment of widespread political and economic and chaos. Right on the Southern and Southeastern boarders of Europe we find dozens of failed states, rouge regimes, dictatorships and lawless territories without any functioning state authority - from Iraq to Syria, from Libya to Sudan, and from Yemen to Afghanistan. Currently (in early 2015), the region is devastated by violent economic, political, ideological and, especially, religious and sectarian conflicts. No wonder, that ten-thousand of ordinary people risk their lives to escape from this suppression, chaos and carnage to Europe, where they hope for a better life. The few countries of the Middle East which are currently not devastated by terrorist attacks and military operations, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran or Egypt are ruled by absolute autocrats, military dictators and religious fanatics. For instance, the Economist rates the Saudi rulers as the fifth most authoritarian government out of 167 ranked in its 2012 Democracy Index.
But as bad as the current situation appears, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. The continent of Africa will add another 3.2 billion people to the world population between today and the end of the 21st century (1). Since no one can explain how these billions of additional people could be sustained in Africa with its utterly insufficient economic, social and political development, Europe is facing unprecedented immigration pressure - not only from Northern Africa and the Middle East, but also from the sub-Saharan part of the continent. This region has already millions of young men and women without jobs or an education that would be sufficient for a modern economy. Many of them already try desperately to reach Europe. If current trends will prevail, sub-Saharan Africa could add hundreds of millions of potential migrants and refugees to the current wave of migration from the Middle East.
Politically paralyzed and incapable of grasping the enormity of Africa's population explosion (which occurs in an environment of insufficient economic, political and social development), Europe is facing a demographic upheaval from both inside and outside. Its aging and soon declining endogenous population could be confronted with millions of poorly educated, impoverished and often politically radicalized and religiously fanaticized refugees and migrants from the African continent.
The demographic problems of unsustainably low fertility, persistent population aging and enormous immigration pressure are an important component of Europe's diminishing global relevance.

Europe has few demographic advantages as compared to China and the United States of America. While Europe has a relatively well educated and healthy population with high life expectancy, the other two "major players" are not far behind or have reached even higher standards.

Challenges (3,4,5,6)
As already indicated, Europe's demographic challenges are fundamental and potentially devastating. One of the greatest demographic risks is the lack of insight, persistent inactivity and ideological blindness of Europe's political leaders regarding the continent's demographic problems. Few politicians have understood that a population with persistent sub-replacement fertility is entirely unsustainable. Ideological taboos in most European countries, particularly Germany, have prevented effective policies that would encourage, or at least  facilitate young women and men to have children. Only France and some small Nordic countries have implemented incentives and proper social conditions for higher fertility.
A similar policy paralysis has affected decision making in Europe concerning international migration. Neither the governments of individual nations, nor the European Union, has developed a realistic immigration policy that would attract much-needed talent and young workers (as in the United States), while putting limits to the rising wave of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa, who flee from poverty, political chaos and violence. These refugees and migrants mostly lack advanced education and thus have no chance of participating in Europe's high-tech economy; und they are often unlikely to integrate into Europe's political, social and cultural system.
Europe is in danger of becoming an "embattled fortress", populated by relatively wealthy (but mostly lazy) seniors who drain significant resources from a shrinking working-age population. Europeans also might become increasingly hostile to ill-adapted foreigners in cultural enclaves. Xenophobia and right-wing parties are already on the rise. At the same time millions of desperate people (not just a few ten-thousand) from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa will probably risk their lives to enter Europe. These demographic trends and their social, economic and political consequences, are major factors that will weaken the Old Continent's geo-strategic position and economic potential.


(1) United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division: World Population Prospects, The 2012 Revision. New York, 2013.

(2) Mark Adomanis (2014) Russia Isn't Alone: All of Eastern Europe Has A Demographic Problem. Forbes, April 7.

(3) The European Union Center of Excellence of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2008) The EU's Demographic Crisis

(4) Megan McArdle (2008) Europe's Real Crisis. The Continent's problems are as much demographic as financial. They won't go away soon. The Atlantic, February 27.

(5) Iris Hoßmann / Margret Karsch / Reiner Klingholz /Ylva Köhncke / Steffen Kröhnert / Catharina Pietschmann / Sabine Sütterlin (2008) Europe's Demographic Future. Growing Imbalances. Berlin-Institute for Population and Development.

(6) European Commission (2014) Population aging in Europe. Facts, implications and policies. Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Bruxelles. Link to pdf

Europe's demography  

Advertisement: Smart books from Amazon.com
Eberstadt - Europe's Demographic Challenge Schwarz - Inverting Pyramid Watson - Health Care Reform Caldwell - Reflections
Nicholas Eberstadt / Hans Groth (2007)
Europe's Coming Demographic Challenge. Unlocking the value of health. Aei Press
Anita M. Schwarz et al. (2014) The Inverting Pyramid. Pension systems facing demographic challenges in Europe and Central Asia. World Bank Publications
Peggy Watson (2014)
Health Care Reform and Globalization. The US, China and Europe in comparative perspective. Routledge
Christopher Caldwell (2010)
Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Immigration, Islam and the West. Anchor
Christopher Caldwell is an American journalist and senior editor at The Weekly Standard, as well as a regular contributor to the Financial Times and Slate.



The population of the United States of America has increased continuously since the 1950, first fueled by the post-war baby boom in the 1950s and then by high rates of immigration. While fertility, particularly among whites and Asians has declined considerably after the baby boom, it is still higher than in Europe. On average, the United States has a total fertility close to the replacement level of 2.1 children per women. In the 1950s and 1960s the United States was a clear leader in infant mortality reduction, but by the turn of the century US life expectancy increases have been slower than in many countries of Asia and Europe. Today, average life expectancy in the United States is much lower than in Japan, lower or similar than in most European countries, and not much higher than in China. Other than Europe the United States have become a true "melting pot" for immigrants from all over the world. In particular, the United States could attract "brains" from Asia and Russia in the past few decades and has thus cashed-in on demographic benefits.

Global relevance
As the only remaining super-power the United States has a sufficiently large and relatively wealthy population which provides an adequate domestic labor force and a very large consumer base. The country also has an enormous talent pool - not at least due to the "brain drain" it could maintain from Europe and Asia.

The United States has two clear demographic advantages as compared to Europe and Asia: Its population has maintained demographic vitality through fertility rates that are close to reproduction. This prevents, or at least diminishes, the process of social and economic erosion of population aging that is now typical of Europe and will affect Asia in coming decades. Moreover, the US has attracted highly educated and motivated migrants und has thus continuously replenished its brain pool.

However, there are also major demographic challenges for the United States. The country is facing growing immigration pressure from Latin America - particularly Mexico. While a certain flow of unqualified labor may reduce costs for low-wage sectors, it also generates social, economic and political costs and tensions. If Mexico and other countries in Central and South America will continue to lag behind in economic and political development, the US will face new waves of relatively unqualified migrants that will strain the nation's absorption capacity (2). The United States already have a large percentage of desperately poor people. Some 15 percent of all Americans and almost 22 percent of children under the age of 18 are below the official poverty line. Racial and ethnic minorities, women, children, and families headed by single women are particularly affected by poverty. While well-educated migrants from Europe and Asia are often able to climb up the social and economic ladder to live the "American dream", migrants from Latin America, particularly those that come illegally, will often "flip burgers" or work in the fields and remain poor their whole life. "In 2012, 9.7% of non-Hispanic whites (18.9 million) were living in poverty, while over a quarter of Hispanics (13.6 million), and 27.2% of blacks (10.9 million) were living in poverty"(11). Race-related economic and social inequality has not vanished from the United States despite decades of "affirmative action". As the proportion of Blacks and Hispanics in the American population is increasing rapidly, the challenge to reduce inequality is rising.

Another demographic challenge for the United States is its racial and ethnic diversity, which can easily lead to further segregation or even explode into violent conflict. A multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-ethnic society has its benefits - but it also has a heightened potential for internal tension - as we have seen in so many inter-ethnic conflicts around the world, from Rwanda to Bosnia and from Iraq to Syria. Diversity is a huge advantage, but it is also an enormous challenge (9). Research has show, that when racial and ethnic diversity exceeds a certain level, people may begin to retreat behind the walls of gated communities or into the privacy of their home (9). Civic life may deteriorate and communities might turn into ghettos. Instead of cultural exchange people will live in their own social world, afraid of their fellow citizens or even hostile. The United States may be a "melting pot" - but one made from molten explosives.

The scandal of widespread poverty and the very real danger of violent racial and ethnic conflict among its population groups are serious handicaps for the United States. Both are linked not only to economic factors but also to particular demographic conditions and trends. They are domestic challenges that will absorb political attention and valuable resources. They are also factors that discredit the image of the United States. It doesn't look good on CNN when cities are burning in the "land of the free" and 47 million Americans are so poor that they must live on food stamps.


(1) United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division: World Population Prospects, The 2012 Revision. New York, 2013.

(2) Gordon H. Hanson (2008) The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration. Council on Foreign Relations, No. 26.
Link to pdf

(3) Robert D. Putnam (2007) E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century. Scandinavian Political Studies, Vol. 30, Issue 2, 137-174.

(4) Center for Law and Economic Justice (2015) Poverty in the United States: A Snapshot. Link to website

(5) Brad Plumer (2013) Why are 47 million Americans on food stamps? It's the recession - mostly. The Washington Post,  September 23 Link to website

United States demography

Advertisement: Smart books from Amazon.com

Frey - Diversity Explosion Putnam - Bowling Alone Taylor - Next America Schlesinger - Disuniting

William H. Frey (2014)
Diversity Explosion. How new racial demographics are remaking America. Brookings Institution Press
Frey is a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy program at the Brookings Institution and Research Professor in Population Studies at the University of Michigan.

Robert D. Putnam (2001)
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster

Paul Taylor / Pew Research Center (2014)
The Next America. Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown. PublicAffairs

Arthur M. Schlesinger (1998)
The Disuniting of America. Reflections on a multicultural society. W.W. Norton
Schlesinger is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and one-time assistant to President Kennedy

In Association with Amazon.com

Links to on-line articles and websites
= Related chart, figure, map or diagram
= Related table
= Related animation

Creative Commons License "China-Europe-USA - Human Development: Demography" by Gerhard K. Heilig is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Published: 2004; Revised: 2015