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Population Change and the Economy: results from a global comparative project

By Fanny Kluge

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People walking across street

Source: Ryoji Iwata

How will population change influence macro-economic trends in the near future? A team of researchers around the globe collaborating on the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) project (www.ntaccounts.org) presents a new comparative study on the impact of global population change on the economy. The goal of the NTA project is to improve our understanding of how population growth and changing population age structure influence economic growth, gender and generational equity, public finances and other important features of the macro-economy. Research teams in more than 70 countries are calculating how people at each age produce, consume and share resources, and save for the future in the respective country. The resulting accounts form a unique database and are designed to complement the UN System of National Accounts, population data and other important economic and demographic indicators.

The NTA database offers new possibilities to study the impact of population change in a comparative setting as understanding the lifecycle is key to understanding the economic impact of population. The new paper published in Population and Development Review addresses four dimensions of population – size, growth, age structure and place – drawing on new data about the economic lifecycle in 186 countries from the NTA project and highlights six important effects of population on the global economy.

 

The six key findings:

The era of population-driven economic growth is ending because the working-age population will grow more slowly or even decline in most countries around the world. Only 9% of future GDP growth is projected to be due directly to demographic change as compared with 56% during 1975-2000.

Population change will drive large regional shifts in economic activity. An important indicator – the growth of the effective number of workers – is diverging around the world, leading to expected economic decline in Eastern Asia and Europe, moderate growth in America and Oceania and higher growth in Western and Central Asia as well as big parts of Africa.

Per capita consumption by both young and old has been high compared to prime-age adults in countries with old populations. To this point ageing has not led to a generational divide, pitting the old against the young.  But consumption by prime-age adults is lower as compared to children and older adults in ageing countries (consumption in the NTA framework includes the public and private consumption of individuals). 

The first demographic dividend (resulting from the rise in the number of workers relative to the number of consumers) will boost per capita economic growth in low- and lower-middle-income countries but inhibit growth in high- and upper-middle-income countries. For the next thirty years, demographic change will lead to some convergence of living standards around the world. 

Economic transformations due to population ageing are accelerating sharply in high-income and upper-middle-income countries. High consumption and low labour income at older ages in high-income economies amplify the effects of ageing on the economy. In middle-income and low-income countries, the old-age gap, defined as consumption in excess of labour income for those 65 and older, is only about half the conventional old-age dependency ratio in 2019, but in high-income countries it is three-quarters.

Population ageing will require more private assets and/or more public debt with an uncertain impact on capital. Ageing could lead to greater capital to fund old-age needs or to higher transfers. Unlike capital, transfer wealth does not raise productivity or output and is an obligation on future generations.

Demographic change will also impact many other aspects of the economy and the next decades will be shaped by ageing even for countries that today have a very young population. Interesting questions related to the impact of these age structural changes on the economy remain open and need further investigation. For more information please read the original article or check out other work of the National Transfer Accounts project on policy-relevant indicators, counting women’s work and other important initiatives and directions.

Source

Mason, A., Lee, R. and members of the NTA network. (2022). Six Ways Population Change Will Affect the Global Economy. Population and Development Review. https://doi.org/10.1111/padr.12469