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Aging, Growing, and Slowing GeoFRED lends insight into global population trends


The U.N. estimates the world’s population may rise to over 11 billion by 2100. Much of this growth will occur in developing countries, while populations in nations such as Japan and Germany have already begun to decline. Current data in GeoFRED can help us visualize these changes in world population.

The first map shows global population growth as a yearly percent change. The contrasts between continents are striking: Populations in Eastern European nations declined nearly 1% in 2015, while populations grew over 3% in a substantial number of African and Middle Eastern nations. Fertility and mortality are key factors, as is migration. Lithuania, for example, saw nearly 170,000 people emigrate in 2012—a loss of over 5% of total population. Meanwhile Oman, which had the highest increase in the 2015 data, gained over 1 million immigrants in 2012. Given that the total population of Oman was under 3.5 million that year, to say that migration had a substantial effect on the population is a gross understatement.

The second map shows the percentage of the population under 14. The same European nations that saw populations shrink in 2015 had 15% or less of the population aged 14 and under. In some of the nations with high growth rates, over 9 in 20 inhabitants were below the age of 14. The inverse is also true: In nations where populations are in decline, the proportion of retired adults as a share of the overall population is substantially larger than that of faster-growing nations. This discrepancy presents a problem for governments and citizens alike: The costs of supporting the retired population, whose lifespans are lengthening, increase while the proportion of working-age citizens who pay into entitlement programs that support them decreases. For example, the share of adults aged 65 and over grew by nearly 4% in Poland last year, yet the overall population declined by 1/10 of 1%.

We can predict that, as growth slows, populations age, thanks to the principle of population momentum: Even if families have fewer children and population growth lessens, those already born continue to age, resulting in populations skewed toward the elderly. Economic development plays a role as well. The last map shows the same pattern of colors across the continents as the others, with south Asia and central Africa standing apart from Europe, North America, and parts of South America. Yet the data being represented have nothing to do with population. Rather, this map shows GDP per capita, which approximates a nation’s average standard of living. As living standards improve, individuals are more likely to have access to reliable medical services, including contraceptives, and may prioritize formal employment over parenthood as infant mortality rates decline and job opportunities grow. Thus, nations with higher GDP per capita tend to have aging populations and slower, if any, population growth as they progress through the demographic transition.

How these maps were created: In GeoFRED, select “Build New Map.” Change the year to 2015, and select “Population Growth” from the data menu. To create the subsequent graphs, follow the same process, but search for “Population under 14,” “Population over 65,” and “GDP per capita” in the data menu.

Suggested by Maria Hyrc.



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