A study in the Lancet forecasts that the world population will peak at 9.7 billion people over the next few decades and then decline with resultant economic and political instability.
This view is in stark contrast to the commonly-held view that the world is facing overpopulation. The United Nations (UN) has predicted that the world is on pace for 11 billion people and has warned that such a population explosion will have catastrophic consequences for the world’s resources.
The Lancet, however, is echoing the view of Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Musk has made public statements warning that the world is suffering from lower fertility rates and is headed for a population collapse. If developed countries like the United States and Japan have birth rates below replacement, it threatens the foundation upon which those societies stand.
If there are not enough younger workers entering the workforce to replace older workers when they retire, it can have a drastic economic effect on the ability of an economy to run. It also impacts entitlement programs, as there are not enough people paying into them to pay the older generation. It is a recipe for political and societal instability.
If this was to happen on a global scale, there could be food production issues and a refugee crisis from people fleeing collapsed countries.
This is not just a theoretical exercise. China has had a declining birth rate for the 5th year in a row, plummeting to an all-time low. They are on pace to lose over 660 million of their population by the end of the century. This is despite reversing the one child policy and encouraging parents to have three children.
It has been shown that as a country develops, its birth rate falls. This is due to changes in lifestyle choices, contraception and people putting off starting a family because of career opportunities.
If the Lancet study is correct, the world will have to figure out how to strike a balance between family and development or suffer the consequences.