When Populations Age

The World Youth Alliance recognizes that regions of the world are at different stages of demographic transition. Regions in an advanced stage of demographic transition are aging. Population aging is caused on the one hand by a decrease in fertility and on the other hand by overall progress in global health. The latter has permitted a drop in child and maternal mortality; it has also enabled the population at large to remain healthy and active up to a more advanced age.

Over the years, a global population growth has given rise to the concern that demands – especially demands for food – created by large young populations could not be fulfilled. This concern has been the justification for encouraging people to reduce family sizes. This has been the rationale behind population management policies such as Chinas’, where people are allowed only one child per family. More recently, the government of the Philippines has debated a law proposal in which it encouraged its population to make responsible choices in family planning, and expressly favored two-child family size.

Population management policies that coerce parents to have a certain number of children are not only contrary to the basic right of all couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children. They are also based on the faulty assumption that overall population growth is caused by families who have more children than a given ideal number. This assumption unduly puts the burden of culpability on the shoulders of these families.

The World Youth Alliance believes that high fertility and lack of family planning are not the only causes of global population growth. Rather, this growth has been caused by increased life expectancy. In the last decades, the overall fertility rate has dropped. However, this fertility drop has not prevented overall population growth: In Europe, it is population aging that creates concern, now that the region is under the replacement rate required for stabilization.

The World Youth Alliance recognizes that young populations do not hinder development but can facilitate it. Post-War Europe was reconstructed by a young population and reached a high standard of living. In a similar way, the young population of Hong Kong did not hinder the economic miracle in the region but facilitated it. Therefore equating young populations with underdevelopment is untrue. Development depends on access to education and healthcare.

Policies aimed at reducing population growth through mainstreaming family planning practices / use of contraceptives should be attentive not reach the excessive adverse results. A dramatic decrease in fertility has already led to an insufficiently low fertility rate in Western Europe, where populations age with a sparse young population taking over. Such policies do not ultimately serve new generations: Where social security systems are not able to overcome social costs related to aging i.e. youth unemployment, retirement and health care for the elderly, youth has to face disproportional simultaneous burdens of work and care for their elderly. Moreover, such contexts generate an environment prone to potential intergenerational conflicts.

As a global coalition of young people, we urge governments to focus their resources on providing education and health care information to their young populations, and to associate their experienced citizens to direct their resourceful youth on the path of long-term development.