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Demographic trends shaping the world

18 May 20170 comments

A recent meeting of some of the world’s leading demographers has identified some major demographic trends that are transforming the world.

The Population Association of America’s conference in Chicago analysed trends ranging from global refugee and migrant flows to changes in family life and living arrangements – opening a window on how demographic forces are driving population change and reshaping the lives of people around the world.

Here are some of the trends identified:

Millennials are on the rise. Millennials – or people born roughly between the early 1980s and early 2000s – are now the largest living generation in the US and other countries, particularly in the developed world. Millennials have very different lives than earlier generations did when they were young.

They’re slow to adopt many of the traditional markers of adulthood. For the first time in more than 100 years, young adults are more likely to be living with their parents than in any other type of arrangement.

A larger share of them are even living with their parents rather than with a partner – marking a significant historical shift.

Also young adults are less geographically mobile than at any time in the past 50 years even though they are less likely than previous generations of young adults to be married, to own a home or to be parents.

Changing living arrangements. Just half of US adults were married in 2015, down from 70 per cent in 1950.

As marriage has declined, the number in cohabiting relationships rose 29 per cent between 2007 and 2016, from 14 million to 18 million.

The increase was especially large among those aged 50 and older.

Also, a record number of Americans (nearly 61 million in 2014) were living in multigenerational households, or households that include two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren.

Growing racial and ethnic diversity in the US helps explain some of the rise in multigenerational living. The Asian and Hispanic populations overall are growing more rapidly than the white population, and those groups are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational family households.

Women in the labour force set to peak. Women accounted for 46.8 per cent of the US labour force in 2015, a similar figure to that in Europe. Although women comprised a much larger share of the labour force in 2015 than in 1950 (29.6 per cent), the projected the share of women in the workforce will peak at 47.1 per cent in 2025 before tapering off.

For those women who do work, the gender pay gap has narrowed. At the same time, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in the US and Europe.

Immigrants are driving overall workforce growth. As the baby boom generation heads toward retirement, growth is the developed world’s working-age population will be driven by migrants and their children, at least through 2035. For instance, without migrants, there would be an estimated 18 million fewer working-age adults in the US in 2035.

However, immigrants do not form a majority of workers in any industry or occupational group, though they form large shares of personal service and farming and fishing jobs.

Muslim babies will outnumber those born to Christian mothers by 2035. The number of babies born to Christian mothers (223 million) outnumbered births to Muslim mothers (213 million) between 2010 and 2015.

However, an aging Christian population – especially in Europe and North America – and high fertility rates among Muslim women is rapidly changing the global religious landscape.

The number of births to Muslim women is projected to exceed births to Christian women by 2030-2035, with the disparity growing to 6 million by 2055-2060.

Between 2010 and 2050, the global Muslim population is projected to grow 73 per cent, while the Christian population will grow just 35 per cent, about the rate of overall global population growth.

In contrast, people who do not identify with a religion account for 16 per cent of the world’s population, but only 10 per cent of the babies born between 2010 and 2015, meaning that their share of the global population will decline.

Middle income households declining. The shares of adults living in middle-income households fell in several countries in Western Europe. In seven of 11 Western European countries examined, the share of adults in middle-income households fell between 1991 and 2010.

The share of the adult population that is middle income decreased in Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway and Spain – as it did in the US, but increased in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The largest shares of the adult population in middle-income households in 2010 were found in Denmark (80 per cent), Norway (80 per cent), and the Netherlands (79 per cent), while the smallest shares were found in Italy and the UK (67 per cent) and Spain (64 per cent).

Each of the Western European countries studied had a larger share of adults in middle-income households than the US (59 per cent).

Europe and the US have seen a massive influx of refugees and asylum seekers. European countries received a near-record 1.2 million applications in 2016. Some of these applicants may have applied for asylum in multiple countries or arrived in 2015.

Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq were the most common countries of origin for first-time asylum applications in 2015 and 2016, together accounting for over half of the total.

Germany was the most common destination country in Europe, having received 45 per cent of applications.

Meanwhile, the U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in fiscal year 2016, the most since 1999.

More than half resettled in one of just ten states, with the largest numbers going to California and Texas. Nebraska, North Dakota and Idaho ranked near the top for the most refugees resettled per capita, with rates over two-and-a-half times the national average.

Almost half (46 per cent) of refugees arriving in 2016 were Muslim, the highest number for any year since reporting of religious affiliation began in 2002.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist