Richard Ehrman

A dying breed

By mid-century, the world’s population will be 50 per cent higher than it is now, says Richard Ehrman, but the boom will come from developing countries, not Europe, and that’s very bad news indeed

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By mid-century, the world’s population will be 50 per cent higher than it is now, says Richard Ehrman, but the boom will come from developing countries, not Europe, and that’s very bad news indeed

If demography is destiny, then, on the face of it, Britain should be feeling pretty smug. In late May the number of people in the UK finally passed the 60 million mark. By 2031, according to official projections released last month, there will be 67 million of us. While populations across most of the rest of Europe are stagnating, and many will soon be shrinking, ours is booming.

So why does this bountiful prospect make so many of us uneasy? A century ago such news would have been greeted with jubilation, as another sign of national virility and self-confidence. But today people do not quite know what to think. We know that immigration is the overwhelming cause of our population growth, followed by greater longevity. This makes people nervous. We also realise that the birth rate is below replacement level, and that we have got to find workers from somewhere to support us through our old age.

Less well known is that, around the globe, most countries are facing demographic upheaval, many on a scale far greater than we are. Yet this gets far less attention than, say, climate change, even though we can be far more certain that it will transform the way we live, and in ways that are much easier to predict.

During the last 50 years populations increased pretty much across the board in developed and undeveloped countries alike, albeit at different rates. Now the demographic plates are not just shifting, but diverging. Japan, Russia and many southern and eastern European countries face a sustained, outright fall in population over the next 50 years