Experts Discuss World Demographic Trends, as Commission on Population and Development Continues Fifty-fifth Session
The Commission on Population and Development zeroed in today on the crucial work that the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs delivers to countries around the world as they cope with a range of demographic challenges that could impact realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.
It held a panel discussion featuring the following demographic experts: Margaret Edison, Director, Population Management and Development Department, National Population Commission, Nigeria; He Dan, Director-General, China Population and Development Research Centre; Elke Loichinger, Head, Research Group, Global and Regional Population Dynamics, Federal Institute for Population Research, Wiesbaden, Germany; and Eduardo Rios-Neto, President, Brazilian Institute of Statistics and Geography,
In opening remarks, Moderator John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the report “World Demographic Trends” highlights the global demographic transition towards longer lives and smaller families. While the changes are universal, countries are at different stages of transition, he noted, pointing to a demographic continuum in which at one end are countries with high levels of fertility, rapid growth and youthful populations. At the other end are countries with low levels of fertility, zero or negative growth, and older populations, he said, adding that patterns of urbanization and international migration also differ significantly across countries and regions.
Margaret Edison, Director of the Population Management and Development Department in Nigeria’s National Population Commission, said the country is the largest contributor to population growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Its population is expected to increase by more than 1 billion people between 2020 and 2050, she said, adding that Nigeria wants to achieve a demographic transition that moves away from high to low fertility while promoting economic growth.
He Dan, Director-General of China’s Population and Development Research Center, agreed with the Secretary-General’s assertion that the world’s population is likely to keep growing in coming decades as the pace of economic growth gradually slows down. She said the rate at which China’s population is growing older is increasing, pointing out that people over the age of 60 years accounted for nearly 19 per cent of the population in 2020, up 5.4 per cent from 2010.
Elke Loichinger, Head of Research Group, Global and Regional Population Dynamics, at Germany’s Federal Institute for Population Research, described the Department’s data as indispensable for analysing global trends in fertility, mortality and migration. She said Germany is among the oldest countries in the world, which creates specific challenges for the provision of services, especially as baby boomers reach retirement age. Noting challenges in the labour market, she said the Government has developed a range of responsive policy measures, such as efforts to increase women’s participation in the workforce and to extend people’s working lives by delaying the retirement age.
Eduardo Rios-Neto, President of the Brazilian Institute of Statistics and Geography, said the Population Division’s work serves as a benchmark for all people working in the field.
The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m., Friday, 29 April.
Today’s expert panel discussion focused on programme implementation and the future of the Secretariat’s work in the population field. Before it were the following reports of the Secretary-General: “World Demographic Trends” (document E/CN.9/2022/5); and “Programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2021: Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs” (document E/CN.9/2022/6); and a Note by the Secretariat, “Programme plan for 2022 and programme performance for 2020: subprogramme 5, Population, of programme 7, Economic and social affairs” document E/CN.9/2022/CRP.1
Moderated by John Wilmoth, Director of the, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the discussion featured the following panellists: Margaret Edison, Director, Population Management and Development Department, National Population Commission, Nigeria; He Dan, Director-General, China Population and Development Research Center; Eduardo Rios-Neto, President, Brazilian Institute of Statistics and Geography; and Elke Loichinger, Head, Research Group, Global and Regional Population Dynamics, Federal Institute for Population Research, Wiesbaden, Germany.
Mr. WILMOTH said that over the last year the Population Division has actively promoted work and discussions relating to COVID’s impact on levels and trends in human fertility and mortality, recalling that an expert meeting convened in July 2021 gathered data and views in that regard. Noting that the Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Mortality Assessment, convened jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, has been very active since its first meeting in February 2021, he said the Population Division’s main substantive report in 2023 will examine the links between population trends and sustainable development. It will focus on the role of population-related policies in the further implementation of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and the 2030 Agenda.
Ms. EDISON, asked about the challenges her country faces, said the report estimates the population of sub-Saharan Africa to increase by more than a billion people between 2020 and 2050, nearly doubling in size, and Nigeria is the largest contributor to that growth. Now the world’s sixth-most populated nation, Nigeria faces sustained high fertility rates, she said, emphasizing the need for attention to the health of adolescents and young people because early marriage and less education can limit opportunities for girls. Nigeria will face problems as the population grows if women and girls are not educated and cannot compete in the labour market, she said, warning that they will be unable to fend for themselves and their large families.
Ms. LOICHINGER, when asked about her Institute’s work and the challenges related to the retirement of a large cohort of Germany’s “baby boomers”, said the Institute was created in 1973 to investigate the causes and consequences of demographic changes. It has three main tasks — to do research, to provide policy advice and to disseminate its research results to the broader public. The Institute’s produces policy briefs and online demographic portals, which provide examples of best practice and encourage dialogue, she said, adding that it also hosts “demography lunches” and other events specifically for policymakers. Turning to Germany’s fertility trends, she noted that the country is among the oldest in the world, which poses specific challenges to service delivery — especially as baby boomers reach retirement age. That brings challenges in the labour market, she said, outlining a range of responsive policy measures such as increasing women’s participation in the workforce and extending working life by delaying retirement age.
Ms. HE, responding to a question about China’s main demographic trends, replied that the country has undergone profound changes in recent years. First is its rapid decline in fertility, she said, noting that China joined the ranks of countries with low fertility in the early 1990s and had since seen its fertility rate fall until it levelled off in 2010. From 2011 until 2017, spurred by the relaxation of its fertility policy, China’s births and fertility rate rose before both began a downward spiral, she stated. In 2020, the total fertility rate stood at only 1.3, which continued to edge downwards in 2021. The population growth rate came to a halt and is edging towards negative growth, while population ageing is now rising, she said. People over the age of 60 accounted for nearly 19 per cent of China’s population in 2020, having risen by 5.4 per cent since 2010. Concerning high migration rates, she predicted the country is likely to experience major demographic transitions that in the coming decades will have a negative impact on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and put pressure on the country’s social security and public services systems.
Mr. RIOS-NETO, when asked about the Institute’s work and demographic issues that concern Brazil, said that, as head of the National Statistical Office, he oversees two main areas of research. One is the educational-demographic dynamic associated with development, and the other is intergenerational connections, as captured by the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) throughout the development path. He said the NTA project aims to understand how population growth and the population’s shifting age structure influence economic growth, gender and generational equity, public finances and other essential macroeconomic features. Those accounts are designed to complement the United Nations System of Accounts, its population data and other economic and demographic indicators, he said, adding that NTA is distinctive because it provides estimates for each age.
Mr. WILMOTH, launching a second round of questions, asked how the Population Division supports Nigeria’s efforts at the global level.
Ms. EDISON, noting that Nigeria’s Population Commission is the largest one in Africa, said that over the decades the Department of Economic and Social Affairs has consistently provided evidence, quality data and substantial reports that mirror the realities across geographic entities. The Division’s work is accessible, available and useful, she said, adding that it has guided the Nigerian Commission’s work and helped to advise the Government on population trends and the development of interventions, as in the area of fertility. The Government wants a demographic transition that moves away from high fertility to low fertility while providing economic growth, she affirmed.
Ms. LOICHINGER, asked how she uses the Population Division’s products in her work, said she and her colleagues at the Institute are regular users of data from “World Population Prospects”. Describing data as indispensable for analysing global trends in fertility, mortality and migration, she said the Institute presents selected parts of that report in its own “Data and Facts” section on the Institute’s website, she noted. She welcomed the Division’s efforts to further fine tune its data, while proposing the incorporation of even more data on ageing and disability in the future. She went on to describe the Population Division’s “World Urbanization Prospects” and information on migration as central data sources, adding that reports on expert group meetings - such as on the impact of the pandemic on fertility - have also proved very useful.
Ms. HE, asked how she uses the Population Division’s products, said its discussions on responses to low fertility, demographic dividends and population ageing — as well as unmet family planning, mortality monitoring and urbanization needs and the relationship between population and sustainable development — mirror broader concerns. The “World Population Prospects” report serves as an important source, she said, adding that China drew on it in drafting its National Population Development Plan (2016-2030), especially in producing global population estimates and projections. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, China began extensive research into the pandemic’s impact on demographic changes and has been using United Nations data to improve reproductive health and contraceptive services, she noted.
Mr. RIOS-NETO, when asked how the Population Division can produce improved population projections that account for new sources of data, emphasized the need for methodological advances to integrate population projections for aggregate populations, an area in which the Population Division excels.
In the ensuing dialogue, the panellists responded to comments and questions from representatives of Governments and civil society groups.
The representative of Zambia laid out some of the issues his country, such as a population in which more than 45 per cent of the people are below 15 years of age; the need to intensify family planning programmes; and capacity development.
The representative of Japan noted that the number of deaths from illness and traffic accidents has decreased in her country despite an increase in the ageing population, while noting that the trend exists throughout Asia. Expressing interest in the data emerging about changes in household structure, she said it is difficult to calculate family planning as couples in Japan marry later in life and some do not have sex.
A speaker representing ACT-Alliance noted that data can be affected by discrimination against women, such as in family law, restrictions on their participation in the workforce or access to financial assets without permission from their husbands. He asked how data collection can account for all forms of discrimination, whether in religion or family law, so as to strengthen the population data gathered as 2030 approaches.
Mr. WILMOTH said capacity development has traditionally been the smallest portion of the Department’s work. Despite the Population Division’s limited resources, its work is driven by demand from Member States, he said, encouraging them to continue to submit their requests.
Mr. RIOS-NETO said data collection and capacity-building are important for all sectors of society and his Institute is eager to increase its cooperation with the United Nations.
Ms. HE said China will keep working on capacity-building. Regarding discrimination, she said it is a focus of her agency and in the investigation of declining fertility rates. Many women in China are unwilling to have a second or third child as they do not want their careers impacted, she added.
Ms. LOICHINGER said she could not address the question about discrimination directly. Regarding growing ageing populations, she said it is crucial to design policies that account for the differences among them. For example, some older people cannot extend their working lives, she added. She went on to say that investing in human capital and health is at every point of a person’s life, emphasizing that early childhood education and training are essential to long working lives.
Ms. EDISON agreed with Zambia’s representative that capacity building is critical for Africa to help the continent’s governments handle data. Nigeria needs the guidance of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in its next census, she added. Emphasizing that data is critical to ensure that no one is left behind, she said it can also help to address issues of discrimination since it provides evidence on where discrimination is taking place and how it is being carried out. She went on to emphasize that all children need equal opportunities to go to school, adding that education can affect fertility issues as an educated woman will make the right choices about when to marry, how many children to have, and where to look for contraception.
Mr. WILMOTH said that the Department’s Population and Statistics divisions have a close working relationship. The Statistics Division supports countries in collecting data while the Population Division helps them analyse and interpret data.
Regarding disaggregated of data by various characteristics, he said the geographic dimension is the most significant and can show inequalities across geographic regions. The Population Division takes note of the panellists’ feedback and is happy to know its work is relevant to the countries. The suggestions will be taken forward.