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Demographics: A Systems View

Synopsis

Read or download the full Thematic Research Highlights Report [pdf].

The complete version of the white paper examines the implications of changing demographics for business, particularly in the context of five key drivers: 1) the rapidly aging population in many developed economies, 2) the youth bulge in developing countries, 3) the burgeoning levels of immigration and migration, 4) the changing role of women, and 5) pervasive urbanization.

Background

Every second, 2.5 people are being added to the global population, and demographers predict the world's population, which currently stands at 6.7 billion, will grow to 9.2 billion by 2050.1 However, this growth will occur chiefly in the developing world, with many developed world populations smaller by 2025. This is because the demographic transition—which describes the shift from high mortality and high fertility to low fertility and low mortality—has been completed in most developed countries, but continues to be underway for most of the developing world. Ultimately, demographers will characterize the 21st century as a period of divergence between the mostly developed countries currently at their demographic peaks or in decline, and the mostly developing countries expected to hit the demographic "sweet spot" in the future. Moreover, while the absolute number of people in the world is growing, the rate of population growth has fallen dramatically.

chart showing explosive world population growth between 1950 and 2050, particularly in less developed countries

Conclusions

As demographers peer into the future, certain truths seem inevitable: people will live and work longer than ever, and an increasingly significant majority will live in the developing world. Increased immigration will result in heterogeneous, multicultural communities, and urban areas will play increasingly important roles in the global economy. Traditional social constructs of family and gender will change, and technology will become even more pervasive and ubiquitous. Climate change will continue to impose unexpected physical damage on the ecosystem, and the future of China and India, especially in the context of the resolution to their internal demographic tensions, will heavily influence global business.

Sample Investment Ideas

  • Industrials Sector: upgrades to public transportation; sanitation/water infrastructure; home construction (pre-fab houses and "green buildings"); healthcare infrastructure (hospitals); clean energy and more efficient energy distribution; ecosystem restoration; sustainable agriculture
  • Financials Sector: microfinance and remittance products (for immigrant groups); affordable mortgages in the developing world; savings and investment products targeted at seniors in the developed world
  • Consumer Sector: wellness and anti-aging products (including nutrition, healthy foods); female retail (daycare, beauty and cosmetics, luxury goods and apparel, entertainment and travel, continuing education); tourism; base of pyramid consumer goods (nutrition and hygiene, food and clean water); ethnically-targeted products
  • Healthcare Sector: healthcare infrastructure; pharmaceuticals (generics, medical supplies, preventative testing, replacement surgery); expanded healthcare delivery for the developing world; treatment for diseases exacerbated by pollution (asthma), lifestyle changes (obesity), and climate change (malaria)
  • Telecom, Technology & Software Sector: software for sustainable urban design; green building technologies; open source; online education and distance learning; broadband and wireless connectivity; health related technology (hearing aids); electronic remittances
  1. All demographic data in this report comes from the latest report of the UN’s Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, unless otherwise noted.