Can the ‘West’ survive demographic marginalisation?

David A. Coleman, University of Oxford
Stuart A. Basten, University of Oxford

The political and economic marginalization of the formerly dominant developed world is alleged to be inevitable in view of the ‘failure’ of reproduction in the West and the vigorous growth of the developing world. This paper examines critically both sides of this proposition. We conclude that demographic trends in the West will be resilient and that, age-structure consequences are generally manageable. Western societies enjoy social and political maturity, trust, established consensual democratic institutions, rule of law and complex civil society. But the sizes of China, India and others, present and projected, raise problems of resource sustainability and vulnerability to climate change. China may have fallen into a low fertility trap. Patriarchal and familist cultures of other Asian societies may drive birth rates to damagingly low levels if gender equity falls behind economic growth. Deteriorating environments and inequality may, especially in China, promote political instability in unreformed and autocratic political systems.

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Presented in Session 12: Population dynamics and climate change