New Demographic Trends

This piece from Fortune has some interesting facts about future demographic trends.

When asked how long it will take for the world's population to double, nearly half of all Americans say 20 years or less. That's hardly surprising, given the crowding many of us encounter in everyday life and the reports we hear of teeming Third World megacities. Yet forecasts by the United Nations and others show that world population, currently at a little over six billion, is unlikely to double—ever. Indeed, demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a nongovernmental research organization in Laxenburg, Austria, predict that world population will peak at nine billion within the lifetime of today's Gen Xers and then start shrinking. Meanwhile, the average age of the world's citizens will advance dramatically. This aging will happen fastest not in the developed world, where we are used to fretting about the graying of society, but, astonishingly, in the Middle East and other underdeveloped regions. By the end of this century, even sub-Saharan Africa will probably grow older than Europe is today.

So the population will peak and then decline, but I don't see this as a problem because robots will be ready to pick up the slack by then. Plus, cogniceuticals will boost the productivity of humans significantly. So what about this next trend, does it bother me?

As more and more of the population moves to urban areas in which children offer little or no economic reward to their parents, and as women gain in economic opportunity and reproductive control, people are producing fewer and fewer children.

Not really. This will probably increase female entrepreneurship, which will propogate up to other levels until it reaches its own equilibrium.

So what does bother me about this? Well, it could be a return to the dark ages.

Even more sobering are the implications for modern civilization's values. As urbanization and globalization continue to create a human environment in which children become costly impediments to material success, people who are well adapted to this environment will tend not to reproduce. Many others who are not so successful will imitate them. So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world�who either "don't get" the new rules of the game that make reproduction an economic liability, or who believe they are (or who in fact are) commanded by a higher power to procreate.

Such a higher power might be God, speaking through Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, or some latter-day saint, or it might be a totalitarian state. Either way, such a trend, if sustained, could drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, gradually creating an antimarket culture dominated by fundamentalism�a new dark ages. History records a similar shift in third-century Rome, when pagan fertility collapsed, while that of early Christians did not. If modern secular societies are to survive, they must somehow enable parents to enjoy more of the economic value they produce for everyone when they sacrifice to create and educate the next generation.

This may seem dramatic, but it is possible. The pastor at the largest church in Louisville is giving a sermon next week on why he doesn't believe in evolution. Granted this is Kentucky, but Louisville is the 16th largest city in the nation and this is 2004. A cursory acceptance of evolution should be mainstream, but it isn't.

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I don't bring all this up to pick a fight, because I don't have time for that anyway. But it is important to any of you who, like me, intend to start and/or grow businesses in the future. The nature of business is to provide something consumers want, otherwise you have no customers. It just seems odd to me that, in the same way people are trading up, society is becoming more advanced, yet in some ways more backwards. It seems like the middle road is left out. Maybe increasing amounts of knowledge are forcing us to specialize until it hurts our ability to maintain some general familiarity across a broad range of topics.

Before this post gets away from me and wanders all over the map, I need to stop and think about it all and come back with a more refined idea. But whatever happens with future demographic trends, they should present some interesting challenges and opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs.