Anthony Hilton: Why the global population won’t spiral out of control


A few weeks back I saw a fascinating TV lecture by the Swedish professor Hans Rosling on how most of our assumptions about population, birth rates and the changes in the wealth of the world are out of date or just plain wrong.

On Thursday in Davos, at a conference organised by Aberdeen Asset Management, I heard him deliver the same message equally brilliantly.

His core message is that in the world today women are having on average just 2.2 babies – even in Bangladesh. They used to have six because they expected four to die, but they now know that medical advances –four out of five children on the planet are injected against measles – mean their babies should survive. So they settle for two because they only want a number they can afford and educate.

Once the birth rate is stable, the overall population rate will also eventually stabilise and stop growing as predicted, within the lifespan of today’s children.

Second, he believes that the bulk of the world’s people have already become materially better off in the last 30 years but the real impact of globalisation has only just begun, because they are still well behind the income levels of the West. People are now buying their first fridges – but imagine the commercial implications of what happens when they can buy all the other “stuff”.

Third, the population of Africa will certainly double to 2 billion and may go to 3 billion. Then four fifths of the world’s population will be in Asia and Africa. The entire pattern of world trade will shift. The Atlantic becomes a backwater; the Indian Ocean booms. The message: if you want to give your grandchildren a real inheritance, buy a slice of beach by that ocean.