Reading the Culture: The next population bomb?

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Jack Goldstone is a professor at the George Mason School of Public Policy. Writing for the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, he describes “four megatrends that will change the world.”

Let’s start with the good news. According to the United Nations Population Division, global income will increase far more than population over the next four decades. The current world population of 6.83 billion will stabilize at 9.15 billion by 2050.

Jim Denison

Now to the bad news. First, Europe and North America are becoming less significant for the global economy:

• In 1913, these two regions were home to 33 percent of the world. In 2050, they will account for 12 percent of the global population.

• Their gross domestic produc-tion will fall from 68 percent of the global GDP in 1950 to less than 30 percent in 2050.

• As a result, the main stimulus for economic growth will come from newly industrialized countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey.

Second, Europe and North America are aging at unprecedented rates:

• In America, the population aged 60 or older will double by 2050 to 30 percent of the nation.

• America will be home to increasingly large proportions of retirees and increasingly small proportions of workers.

• As a result, medical costs will rise. Basic services also will become more expensive, as fewer young workers will be available for strenuous and labor-intensive jobs.

Third, the developing world is growing at unprecedented rates:

• Nine out of 10 children under the age of 15 live in developing countries.

• The six largest Muslim nations—Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey—grew from 242 million in 1950 to 886 million in 2009. They will exceed 1.3 billion by 2050.

• As a result, the Western world will experience increasing immigration of younger workers and must improve relations with the Muslim world.

Fourth, the world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate:

• The year 2010 likely will be the first time in human history that a majority of the global population will live in cities rather than rural areas.

• The world’s urban population will grow by 3 billion people by 2050.

• As a result, civil unrest and terrorism likely will rise. Massive cities in poor countries will generate poverty, crime lords, gangs and rebellions. They will be less able to create or sustain democracy, and will offer abundant opportunity for recruiting terrorists.

What do these megatrends suggest for God’s kingdom? In America, immigrants and senior adults will be strategic priorities for evangelism and discipleship. In the global context, need-centered ministries in the world’s largest cities and Muslim populations will be even more critical in the coming decades.

A rabbinic story pictures a man complaining to God about his troubled world: “Why don’t you do something about all the problems we’re facing?”

God responds, “I was just about to ask you the same question.”


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