Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2010

Beyond Population: Everyone Counts in Development

Joel E. Cohen

July 2010

Center for Global Development


This essay reviews some of the most important demographic trends expected to occur between 2010 and 2050, indicates some of their implications for economic and global development, and suggests some possible policies to respond these trends and implications. The interactions of population, economics, the environment, and culture are central. In the past decade, for the first time in history, old people outnumbered young people, urban people outnumbered rural people, and women of reduced fertility outnumbered women of high fertility. The century from 1950 to 2050 will have included the highest global population growth rate ever, the largest voluntary fall in the global population growth rate ever, and the most enormous shift ever in the demographic balance between the more developed regions of the world and the less developed ones. In the coming half century, according to most demographers, the world’s population will grow older, larger (albeit more slowly), and more urban than in the 20th century, but with much variance within and across regions. No one knows what numbers and demographic characteristics of humans are sustainable, but it is clear that the prodigious stain of a billion or so chronically hungry people at present results from recent and ongoing collective human choices, not biophysical necessities. Concrete policy options to respond to demographic trends include providing universal primary and secondary education, particularly education for global and household civility; eliminating unmet needs for contraception and reproductive health; and implementing demographically sensitive urban planning, particularly construction for greater energy efficiency and friendliness to older people.