• Chart: The end of natural population growth?

The number of countries that register more deaths than births in a given year is steadily increasing. An analysis of UN data by the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany shows that the “natural balance” of births and deaths is declining around the world, causing aging and even shrinking populations.

Germany was the first country in the world to experience a surplus of deaths. Every year since 1972, fewer people have been born there than have died. Before 1990, this also started to happen in Hungary (1982) and the Czech Republic (1986). By the middle of the current century, however, all countries in Europe except Norway and Sweden are expected to see their natural population growth turn negative. Populous countries like Brazil and China are also expected to experience this change before 2050.

After 2100, most naturally growing countries will be in Africa, with some also persisting in the Arabian Peninsula, Oceania, and Central Asia. Sweden is the only European country expected to maintain natural population growth beyond this date.

But a surplus of deaths does not automatically mean that a population is decreasing. Migration also plays a major role in the equation and can support population growth if a country is able to attract (and willing to admit) enough migrants. Germany, despite its long history of negative net births, enjoys an immigration surplus, meaning that more people immigrate to the country than emigrate in most years, with the effect that its population continues to grow slightly. Other European countries – mainly in the eastern part of the continent – have been less successful in fostering immigration, resulting in negative overall population growth.

Japan is another example of a developed country that until recently was not friendly to immigration, also placing it on the list of shrinking countries due to its excess of deaths. The same fate is expected for South Korea and China, two other Asian countries with declining births that have not positioned themselves as recipients of migration.

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