International population imbalance impacts the world political and economic order
When someone heard that South Korea’s fertility rate fell to a record low last year, they immediately wrote that South Korea could be the first country to disappear. It was really scary. Is it really that scary? We can see from the population projections of the United Nations that the population change is a slow process. How the population of South Korea will change in the future not only depends on whether the fertility level will continue to be ultra-low and the life expectancy will rise, but also depends on the net migration of the population. There are many uncertainties. There is a high probability that South Korea will not disappear in this century. However, South Korea’s population issue has become a national security issue for the country.
This is not only true of South Korea, but also of many developed countries. China will also be on the path of zero or even negative population growth in a few years. What kind of influence this process will bring, what kind of changes will take place in the international population economy and the world pattern, is very worth studying. This paper mainly focuses on three questions: What is the international population imbalance? What are the characteristics of the international population imbalance? What is the impact of the international population imbalance on the international political and economic order?
Three dimensions of international population imbalance
Population imbalance refers to the change of population away from equilibrium state, including domestic population imbalance and international population imbalance. Domestic population imbalance mainly refers to the imbalance of domestic population structure and distribution. International population imbalance refers to the huge difference in population situation of different types of countries, which leads to the imbalance of international population pattern.
Domestic population imbalance is closely related to international population imbalance. In recent years, the World Bank has classified the world’s economies not only from the perspective of income, but also from the perspective of population into three categories: pre-demographic dividend countries, early demographic dividend countries and post-demographic dividend countries. This classification method is a great improvement over the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). It is more convenient for people to truly understand the serious problems faced by countries with high HDI, and avoid deification and idolization of countries with high HDI.
As the population has the structural, dynamic, inertia, GuoBieXing multidimensional characteristics, such as by demographers study for many years, with consensus has formed a series of indicators, such as population size, population growth rate, crude birth rate, average fertility rate, age fertility rate, TFR (TFR), infant mortality, age don’t mortality, life expectancy of birth, total dependency ratio, elderly dependency ratio, children’s dependency ratio, immigration and emigration rate, net migration rate and so on.
We can investigate the situation of international population imbalance from three dimensions: the imbalance of population growth rate, the imbalance of old-age dependency ratio and the imbalance of net migration scale. The difference of international population growth rate reflects the future trend of population change in countries with different income types, the difference of old-age dependency ratio reflects the future domestic population structural pressure and the potential demand for international population migration in different types of countries, and the scale of net population migration reflects the population tension between different types of countries.
First, from the perspective of population growth rate, the international population imbalance is manifested as the phenomenon that the population of some countries and regions is growing too fast while the population of other countries and regions is growing slowly or even decreasing. Figure 1 shows the huge differences in population growth rates across income categories, with high-income countries averaging only 0.4% and low-income countries as high as 2.6%. This means it would take 101 years for high-income countries to grow their populations by 50%, while it would take only 27 years for low-income countries to double their populations. It is a universal law that the higher the income, the lower the population growth rate. The trend of population change in high-income countries continues to be sluggish, while the trend of population change in low-income countries continues to grow explodedly. This trend of population polarization is the basic manifestation of international population imbalance.
Source: World Bank WDI2021
Second, from the perspective of the old-age dependency ratio, the international population imbalance is manifested as a huge difference in the old-age dependency ratio of different types of countries. The old-age dependency ratio is the number of elderly people needed to support an average of 100 working-age people. Figure 2 shows that the old-age dependency ratio in high-income countries reaches 28%, while the old-age dependency ratio in low-income countries is only 6%. In a country with higher income, the fertility rate is lower and the population aging is more serious. In other words, the aging of young children is more serious, which is generally manifested as the higher old-age dependency ratio. This means that high-income countries lack youthful vitality in social and economic development, and the young labor force is in short supply, while the energetic young people in low-income countries lack job opportunities and aspire to high-income countries.
Source: World Bank WDI2021
Third, from the perspective of net migration of international population, the international population imbalance is manifested as high income countries are facing huge pressure of population migration, which forms a relatively close international political and economic relationship with the net migration of population from middle income countries and low – and middle-income countries. Net migration reflects the amount of people moving in minus the amount of people moving out in a given period. It includes legal immigrants, refugees and illegal immigrants.
Due to stagnant or even negative population growth and serious aging of young children, high-income countries have become areas of net international population migration. Figure 3 shows a net migration of 15.84 million people from high-income countries from 2013 to 2017. It is important to note that the relationship between the size of net international migration and income is not simply linear. In general, populations in high – and middle-income countries are more likely to stay at home to study, work and live. The largest net departures were from middle-income and low – and middle-income countries, with 11.8 million and 10.24 million, respectively, because people in middle-income and low – and middle-income countries are more able to afford international migration. People in low-income countries, due to their poor conditions, can hardly afford the cost of international migration, so the scale of net emigration is smaller. Of course, the size of the population in countries of different income types also affects the size of net migration. In general, it still reflects that countries with slower population growth and more aging children are at greater risk of net migration.
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