One response to the refugee/migration issue is to remind us that migration has been a fact of life for all of human history, and that the current levels are not all that high by historical standards. Thanks to my son, John, for pointing me to an article on Swissinfo.com that summarizes the work of demographers at the Vienna Institute for Demography on global migration patterns (see my most recent blog for more work on migration from researchers at VID). The percentage of humans migrating hasn't changed all that much, but of course the places of origin and destination are very different now than they used to be, as I noted when the research referenced in the Swissinfo article first was published two years ago. Others have commented on this same theme, as I noted earlier this year. Furthermore, as the population continues to grow (remember we are now at 7.4 billion) the number of migrants keeps going up, even if the percent of people migrating stays the same.
So, despite the clear concern about refugees, the overall demographic situation globally has been nicely summed up by Joseph Chamie, former director of the UN Population Division. The world is divided demographically (and in a lot of other ways) by the "doublers" and the "decliners".
The doublers are all located in sub-Saharan Africa except for Iraq and the State of Palestine. The largest countries among the doublers are Nigeria (187 million), followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (80 million) and Tanzania (55 million). Today the doublers together account for 10 percent of the world’s population. By 2050, however, due to the doublers’ rapid rates of demographic growth that proportion is expected to increase to 18 percent of the world’s projected population of nearly 10 billion people.
The top ten countries with the projected population declines of no less than 15 percent are all located in Eastern Europe. The country with the most rapid decline among the decliners is Bulgaria (27 percent), followed by Romania (22 percent), Ukraine (21 percent) and Moldova (20 percent).
The largest decliner population, China, is expected to decrease by more than 2 percent by 2050, with the Chinese population peaking in less than a decade. Other large populations projected to experience demographic declines by midcentury are Japan (15 percent), Russia (10 percent), Germany (8 percent) and Italy (5 percent). Moreover, some of the decliners have already experienced population decline for a number of years in the recent past, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.And where does migration fit into this? If the doublers had their way, much of their excess would be siphoned off to the decliners through migration. If the decliners had their way, their own birth rate would go up, so that they would look less attractive to the potential migrants from the doublers. This isn't going to be easy.