Our Global Population Problem

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Many of us in the staffing industry spend our time wondering where all the workers have gone. It is often speculated that this younger generation resides in the basement of their parents’ house, living off the fat of the land, so to speak, playing video games, smoking pot, and basically just sitting out the whole work thing.  

Well, that is just not true. 

While there is certainly some of that, the truth is far simpler; there are fewer young people, and it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. Population statistics are revealing very consistently that birth rates are declining around the globe. The boomers (born 1946-1964) are aging and not being replaced by nearly the same volume of new humanoids.  

Birth rates from the boomers reached 4.3 million in the U.S. in 1957, compared to 3.6 million in 2020. 

Many thought that the lockdowns due to Covid might create a bump in population, but it did more to increase sales of take-out food than any sort of increase in U.S. population.  

And this is not a domestic issue, it is a global problem. The BBC reported that 23 nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see their populations halve by 2100. In 1950, women had an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime, but currently, that number sits at around 2.4 and dropping fast. 

Some estimates say it will fall below 1.7 by 2100, only accelerating this trend.  

China might be the best example of a declining population wreaking havoc on their economy as well as their culture. While a declining population would seem utterly predictable with their one-child policy, it took them 50 years to suddenly realize the mess they’re in.  

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that two people ending up with one child would create a smaller population, but sure enough, that’s what happened. It is forecasted that China’s population will shrink by over 100 million by 2050.

This relates (I promise) to the discussion of workers, as China has been a notorious source for cheap labor for decades. Not so much now. As their population of available workers declines, so will their economy. The world will also need to adjust to this change, and other economies, take Mexico for example, might be the beneficiary of more work being sent their way instead of the time-consuming and costly shipping of importing from China. And as a society, who will take care of the elderly when their numbers grow to staggering levels?

Many things contribute to a shrinking population, such as greater numbers of educated women advancing their careers than in years past, greater access to contraception, families starting to have children later in life, and these trends seem to be here to stay.  

These inverted population statistics expose that the once massive numbers of boomers outnumbering their elders, and being replaced by less people to support the infrastructure will cause a drag on the economy and society. Just think of the last 30 years when boomers were being taxed at peak rates, now instead drawing from an economy that has less workers paying less taxes. The math doesn’t look all that great.

However, and there’s always a however, with resourcefulness, ingenuity, technology, robotics, A.I., amazing efficiencies and cooperation across the board globally, there is hope we will be able to do more with less moving forward. We’ll have to.