HomeNewsThe demographic winter is also coming to South Asia

The demographic winter is also coming to South Asia

The demographic decline no longer affects only the countries where well-being is more widespread. It is a global phenomenon, spanning every continent. 

And if it continues to proceed according to current dynamics, in 2100 only 6 countries in the world will still reach a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman, the so-called “replacement threshold” which allows them to keep their population stable. 

This is supported by a new study based on statistical models and published by the British scientific journal Lancet. This is a demographic analysis of the gigantic amount of data from the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington (and financed by the Bill Gates Foundation).

Precisely those scientific circles that have long shouted about the “demographic bomb”, therefore, today send out an exactly opposite message: births are drastically reducing on a global level. 

By combining thousands of studies relating to demographic dynamics in 204 countries with sophisticated systems, they certify that the fertility rate at a global level has halved in the last seventy years, falling from 4.84 in 1950 to 2.23 in 2021.

But they also add that the decline will continue in the coming decades: according to the projections developed by combining the analyses of maternity in the different age cohorts in each country, continuing with the current dynamics, it would fall to 1.83 in 2050 and even to 1.59 in 2100.

Translated the numbers absolute: according to this study, births in the world reached their peak in 2016, reaching 142 million. In 2021 they have already fallen to 129 million. But if the statistical model were confirmed in the coming decades they would decline further, reaching 112 million in 2050 and (even) 72 million in 2100.

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It is clear that longer-term estimates are exposed to very large margins of error. But the most interesting data from the research published by the Lancet concerns the dynamics taking place in individual geographical areas. 

Because if on the one hand, the slowdown (which exists) follows a slower pace in sub-Saharan Africa, the collapse in the birth rate in South Asia would make the difference in the coming years. According to these projections, countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are on track to very quickly match the low birth rates of Western Europe and the Far East. 

If in 2021 there were a total of 32 million births in South Asia, by 2050 they could already drop to 18.7 million. The data for Bangladesh is particularly striking where the projection (also due to the effect of migration) is more than halved: the proposed scenario assumes 1.37 million new births compared to 2.8 million in 2021. And, more generally, the projections on the fertility rate show a curve for South Asia that would end up even below that of high-income countries.

These are numbers which – obviously – will have to be verified by the facts. Also because the study contains no shortage of ideological statements, such as the idea that policies in favor of contraception and abortion should not be questioned in any case and that pro-natal policies are (essentially) ineffective. 

But beyond interpretations, these numbers show how the issue of demographic winter is a theme that now affects all of Asia. If the forecasts published by the Lancet were true, only Tajikistan would have a birth rate (slightly) above the replacement threshold in 2100. 

After the deep wounds created in China by the one-child policy and the inexorable aging of the population in Japan and South Korea, South Asia too could soon find itself dealing with these dynamics. And the face of tomorrow’s Asia will depend on the answers.

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