One of the take away from the book Upheaval by Jared Diamond is the world population growth issue is no longer truly a serious issue. Among the reasons for it can be credited to the progress made in the technology that relates to food production (agriculture) and the health sector.
As societies have access to better and more nutritious food, and enjoying a longer lifespan, we can expect more countries will have a population pyramid that extend in the middle, and slimmer at the top and bottom (constrictive pyramid). The world population stands now at 7.7 billion. At the turn of the last century, the population was only 1.6 billion, by 1950 it was 2.6 billion and projected to be 9.7 billion in 2050.
By glancing at the figure, the world saw the largest boom in population in the 20th century. The reason for the slow growth of population before and after the 20th century were because of the technology and health advancements, it might sound like an oxymoron. However, putting it in perspective, the non-availability of the current technologies and advancement in healthcare before the 20th century had led people dying at a younger age, leading to lower population growth. While the same technological advancements, health care and the economic growth achieved in the 20th century are leading to people having lower fertility and birth rate, again contributing to lower population growth.
In upholding that statement, the average age of the world population was 23.6 years old in 1950, and now to be around 30 years and by 2050 it will be 36.1 years old. That is to suggest that over the period of 100 years (1950 to 2050), not only the world population will increase by 7.1 billion (2.6 – 9.7) but the longevity of the population also is increasing by 13 years (36.1 – 23.6). Off course, the longevity (life expectancy) of the population varies between countries and regions.
What about Malaysia? By 2040, we will approach the constrictive shape, where over 60% of the population will be from the age group of 20 to 64 years old. At the moment, there are 7% of the country’s population in the age group of 60 years and above, and by 2048, it will reach 14%.
The challenges of having an ageing population should be studied and steps should be taken to mitigate the potential issues that come with it. The issues of an ageing population are not something new, and there has been a lot of literature and research on this for over 50 years. Some of the pressing issues of an ageing population in the developed countries are related to productivity and cost of maintaining the expenses of this age group. As stated by IMF,
“Whether population aging is good or bad for the economy defies simple answers. The extent of the problem will depend on the severity of population aging and how well public policy adjusts to new demographic realities“.
Three of the most common suggestions to tackle the ageing population issues adopted by various governments including Malaysia are to increase women’s participation in the workforce, employing foreign workers (a more diplomatic term is liberalising the labour force) and to increase the retirement age. This means that in tackling the ageing issue, the emphasis on diversity will take root. Women’s involvement in the workforce, more expatriate’s presence and multiple generations of workforce working side by side are inevitable. These diversities have shown that it brings in a lot of benefits and organisations need to embrace it to stay relevant.