As the world population touched 8 billion, Rachel Snow, head of the population and development branch of UNFPA, or the United Nations Population Fund, suggested that ‘demographic diplomacy’ could provide answers to a demographically diverse world.
This is an interesting and timely concept because, as we know, the world population is only going to increase in the near future and the demographics of different regions and countries are going to be even more diverse.
In November this year, the world population reached the milestone of 8 billion. Projections show that it will be 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100. This increase in population is largely due to decreased mortality rates and enhanced life longevity.
What we have to keep in mind is that though the population numbers are important, more focus should be on the make-up of the population – its characteristics, its age and sex structures, and its distribution within and across regions.
While the average world fertility is 2.3 children per woman, it ranges from 4.6 in sub-Saharan Africa to 1.5 in Europe and Northern America. The World Population Prospects 2022 projects that more than half of the population increase by 2050 will be accounted for by just eight countries. India is one of them.
While the population is expected to stabilise in India by 2060, sub-Saharan African countries will keep growing; they will contribute most of the population growth from 2050 to 2100.
Demographic diversity is the result of such differential population trends across countries and regions. Migration from the regions with continued high fertility and younger population to the regions with low fertility and older population is generally the next outcome, which, in turn, creates anti-migrant sentiments in the host communities, especially when the going gets tough, economically.
To address the issues arising out of demographic diversity, demographic diplomacy could be a potent tool.
Demographic diplomacy can be defined as a globally beneficial consultative mechanism to address the issues of demographic diversity and population-development dynamics by recognising that we all live in a connected world, our circumstances affect each other, and that we are cognizant and empathic of each other’s circumstances. And, we commit to understanding and addressing each other’s issues in an open consultative manner.
Demographic diplomacy among countries could address the issue of population growth imbalance through consultations on migration to make it planned and regulated, and migrant-friendly, while at the same time allaying fears and misgivings of local host communities toward migrants.
Migration could be a win-win situation for all the stakeholders involved – migrants, sending and host communities, if accompanied by demographic diplomacy.
As per the World Migration Report (WMR) 2022, there are 281 million migrants in the world, which is 3.6% of the global population. And, nearly two-thirds of them are labour migrants. Many of them are internal migrants.
WMR also notes that migration has been increasing over the last five decades, though there has been a slight decline in the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global remittances stand at more than $700, out of which more than $500 billion are received by low- and middle-income countries. On the other hand, greying countries require young hands to keep their institutions running, maintain economic productivity, and for taking care of the elderly.
Survivors of a migrant boat that capsized perch on the overturned vessel off the coast of New Providence island, Bahamas July 24, 2022. Royal Bahamas Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS
Demographic diplomacy can help sending and receiving nations as it will necessitate the generation of data and evidence on jobs, vacancies, and required skill sets to prepare for diplomatic discussions, which, in turn, could help build public perception on migration so as to address the local people’s misgivings about migrants usurping local jobs, promote partnerships between institutes and organisations, public and private, for exchange of skills and human resources across countries, and facilitate regulated and safe migration.
However, demographic diplomacy’s role is not limited to migration only. It could also help countries navigate the emerging trends in population dynamics. Countries with an emerging ageing population could learn from the countries which have already had high older populations, such as Japan. This could be done through exchanges on know-how on policies, strategies, and technologies.
Demographic diplomacy could also help address the issue of climate change and forced migration/displacement of people because of its impact, especially when approximately 800 million people live in low-elevation coastal zones.
It applies to demographic scenarios in a country as well, especially in large countries like India.
India is akin to three demographic continents: five states have a total fertility rate (TFR) of above 2.1, similar to the least developed countries, while 17 states have TFR equal to or lower than 1.7, and the rest of the states fall between 1.8 and 2. Because of these fertility differentials at the state level, there will be a surplus of young and looking-for-work population in one part of India and an ageing population in the other parts.
As per the projections by the National Commission on Population, 55% of the population growth in India (17 crore out of 31.1 crore population) during 2011-2036 will occur in the five states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh Maharashtra, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.
Differential population growth across states and geographical regions, coupled with skewed economic development, will give a fillip to increased migration of young people from the north-central states to western and southern India. There are already well-established migration routes between these regions.
Demographic diversity will render further impetus to migration. Kerala, for example, is already witnessing increased migration.
Conversations around demographic trends and features between states could help address the needs of sending and receiving states. Also, middle demographic states could learn to prepare for demographically advanced states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu to prepare for an ageing population.
This article was also published at The Wire as The Importance of Demographic Diplomacy in a Diverse World of 8 Billion People on December 24, 2022
About the Author
Devender Singh, is the Former National Program Officer (Population & Development), UNFPA India (2015- 2021) and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI.
Also read Withering away of India’s Demographic Dividend by the Author on IMPRI Insights