World population trends and global migration

Ross Douthat in the NY Times writes, “whatever you see happening in Europe now is just the initial stage of the defining world revolution of the 21st century — the rapid graying of rich countries (and soon, not-so-rich ones) joined to the great migrations from the more youthful regions of the world…. the dilemma of the 21st century isn’t how Earth will feed an ever-growing population, but how the world will deal with a potential mass rebalancing of population via migration, an altered wealth-and-people equilibrium, in a world where technology is making the movement of peoples easier than ever.”

This is the first time that I’ve seen in a major American publication the global migration issues of the 21st Century concisely presented. Let’s break his observation down into several key themes:

…The movement of peoples easier than ever.” In my post “key driver of global migration: costs have declined,” I cite three drivers over the past 50 years that Paul Collier specified: the costs of international movement; the costs of settlement, and the costs of keeping in touch with the host country. African taxi drivers in Washington DC tell me they routinely back for stretches — their nuclear families live there.  Smart phones have accelerated theses trends in the past 15 years.

The rapid graying of rich countries (and soon, not-so-rich ones)”.  Most of the word’s population is living in counties where the fertility rate is below replacement (2.1), with India being the most recent major population bloc.

Potential mass rebalancing of population via migration.” African populations are growing as a vastly greater rate (over 4) than other continents (under 2.1, and 1.5 in the EU). Emigration from Africa has been surging. These are not just poorly skilled refugees. Nigerian immigrants to the U.S. are the most highly educated immigrant group today (go here and here).



One thing that Douthat (and many others) miss is that immigration is not some magic wand to combat the aging crisis. The demographics of migration are more complex. They are multi-generational. Here I note that immigrants to the U.S., having on average aged a bit, are by being in child-bearing age contributing more babies. Thus a 30 year old immigrant family will produce children today who will enter the American workforce in about 2045.

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