Depopulation: concept, consequences, and countermeasures

Paul Demeny, Population Council

Examination of the concept of depopulation indicates that the term connotes consequences that are dominantly perceived as socially and economically negative. But assessment of what depopulation has meant in the past and its likely manifestations in the 21st century calls for a calmer interpretation. Accepting the label “depopulation” in the absence of a more accurately informative term, this paper (1) explores the intellectual history of the concept; (2) quantitatively describes the actual and prospective empirical content of the process; and (3) discusses modalities through which state actors may seek to counteract or accommodate deleterious effects resulting from loss in population size due to a negative balance of births and deaths, affecting stability of social structure, economic growth, intergenerational relations and geopolitical status. Prospects for application of two major potential remedies of unwanted population decline—international migration and pronatalist policy measures—are evaluated as are spontaneous corrective social responses.

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Presented in Session 139: Depopulation: Trends and the impact of policies