IE Business School Annual Alumni Conference

Written on November 21, 2007 by Rafael Puyol in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Rafael Puyol


The term globalisation has been widely adopted to describe many social phenomena. One generally hears of economic globalisation, but we can also speak of demographic globalisation.

The term "demographic globalisation" is used to indicate that the main demographic events are following similar trends and have similar characteristics around the world. That is not to say that the variables are identical worldwide. There are still differences, but they tend to decline in the same direction as the years go by. Above all, globalisation means the attenuation of differences, not their total disappearance.

Demographic globalisation has certain noteworthy features. I will describe the main ones.

It was Aurelio Peccei founder of the Club of Rome, who said that the future isn’t what it used to be. In population terms, that means that the planet’s population is not growing as fast as before and, therefore, that the future population will not be as large as was predicted some years ago. That slowdown in growth is attributable to both the developed countries (some with negative growth) and the less developed countries, whose population is growing much more slowly than before (though they are lagging behind the richer countries in this trend). The population deceleration has been globalised.

An ever-growing number of countries have fertility rates that are below the levels required to replace preceding generations (i.e. less than 2.1 children per woman). And this is not confined to Europe, America or Australia. In fact, China, Thailand, Tunisia, Korea, Chile and Cuba have joined the sub-replacement club, and many other countries are in line to adopt this pathway to moderating population growth.

The average number of children per woman still varies notably, but it is clear that the birth rate is easing down worldwide.

And the same is true of mortality. There are still shocking differences in infant mortality and in life expectancy at birth. But the former is falling and the latter is rising nearly everywhere (sub-Saharan Africa is an exception).

There is still a long way to go, but at least we know we are on the right track.

However, international migration may be where demographic globalisation is most patent. We are experiencing a second great wave of migration. The number of migrants is growing, the reasons driving them are more diverse, the numbers of source and destination countries are growing, and women are joining the movement on masse. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that if the first age of globalisation was characterised by movements of goods and capital, accompanied by considerable economic shifts, we are now entering a phase characterised by the movement of people. A phase which, through demographics and economic factors (remittances), may help narrow the economic differences between rich and poor countries.

Globalisation also affects ageing. Once again, there are sharp differences in age structure between countries. There are young countries, and old countries; however, in line with the decline in fertility, all countries are undergoing a process of ageing. Europe’s population is old, as is Japan’s. But China will shortly join them, as will many other developing countries. And all will have to face the same problems: labour force structure, pension payments, rising healthcare expenditure, the impossibility of returning to growth. And not all countries will be equally equipped to face these challenges.

The last feature of demographic globalisation is the tendency to live in cities. By 2008, over 50% of humanity will be city dwellers, meaning that the developing countries are catching up with the developed countries at a very rapid pace.

In such a varied, imbalanced and often grossly unfair world, we tend to focus more on the differences that divide us than on the similarities that bind us. I am aware (and the Director of the UN Population Division will bear me out in her address) that there are still too many inequalities for us to be able to speak of convergence in demographic trends and indices. But what matters is that the world is on a path towards moderating its population, steadily removing the classic causes of mortality, lengthening human life-spans and increasing mobility as ways of correcting demographic and economic imbalances.

All countries seem to be immersed in a demographic transition. Some have already reached its end, others are on the way. There will always be diversity in population; we must ensure that the differences are not due to backwardness, ignorance or discrimination.

Developing countries should learn from the developed countries and adopt the mechanisms deployed to combat death, extend life-spans, dignify the role of women, protect the family, and provide care in old age.

And developed countries should help less developed countries to control disease (especially AIDS), moderate growth, absorb surplus labour, ensure that remittances reach their destination, and implement their experience with caring for the elderly.

Only in this way can we look to a future which, even though not what we expected, is still surrounded in uncertainty.


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