Population Decline – The Imminent Economic Collapse of East Asia

If you paid any attention to global threats of the last half of the 20th century, you must remember the supposed Asian Century that was supposed to be the major world force by the middle of the 21st century because of its population growth and the power that gives a country’s economy and military.

But that is not going to happen; this will not be the Century of China nor of East Asia.

Consider just why so much former United States manufacturing has moved to Asia.

There can be many smaller factors but history shows that countries with increasing populations simply have more young people entering the workforce.

Population Growth in Late 20th Century

During the ’60s and ’70s (South Korea and Japan) and even as late as the ’90s (China) the populations of those countries rose significantly.

That meant more students learning technology, more workers for factories, more local consumption to drive the economies, and more young men able to enter the military without degrading the economic strength of the country.

U.S. Population?

Right now the U.S. is increasing its population by more than 10 percent, partially by the flood of immigrants but not mostly due to the birth rate.

It is generally accepted among demographers that for a certain country or population to remain stable there needs to be on average 2.1 births per woman.

Currently the U.S. rate is only 1.66, which would lead to a rapid drop in U.S. population if it weren’t for the flood of immigrants that so many people think is a bad thing.

But if the U.S. were to have a precipitous drop in population who would fill the schools and the workforce, care for the elderly, pick the fruit and vegetables, and do all of what most Americans now consider menial work which many of the immigrants consider relatively easy living compared to where they came from?

The U.S. population is on track to grow by nearly 50 million by 2050 (presuming no major deaths from climate change disasters or a much worse pandemic than COVID).

Population Growth is a Good Thing

But what about our friends, rivals, and even perhaps enemies?

Russia, Japan, South Korea and China in particular are major concerns.

Russia, which has a very small population for its vast size as the largest country in the world, is set to see a drop in population that can only be exaggerated by the millions of young men of military age who have escaped the country rather than fight in Ukraine.

There are currently an estimated 144 million people in Russia and that number doesn’t include the recent escapees.

Russia’s growth rate is 0.1 percent today and projected to drop by about 10 percent by 2050. That may be an underestimate with so many men of marriage age dying in the war or leaving the country. There will be women but few husbands and therefore fewer children. The current fertility rate is estimated to be 1.5 per woman or less.

China Population

China’s growth rate today is zero or less and population is projected to drop drastically because it is now at half the 2.1 births per woman rate meaning that, if this continues (and remember many Asian peoples consider it important to have male descendants) each successive generation of Chinese will be only half as large as the previous.

When you consider that one factor you can see that the military and economic threats by China are a very temporary result of the remainder of a large but falling working population.

Regarding Japan – one major reason you do not hear as much about Japan’s economy is because as early as the 1970s the birth rate fell below 2 per woman and Japan is about to become a country almost entirely populated by middle-aged workers and the elderly.

If you are my age (you can’t be much older), you certainly know the concerns about the vast increase in China’s population.

Impact of Population Collapse

Demographics and their relation to economies show that there will be no economic threat from either China or Japan to resemble what happened decades ago – there will simply be no workforce and much of the economy will be devoted to feeding and caring for the elderly.

Taiwan and South Korea had a population boom starting a decade after Japan’s but those are now dropping so rapidly that, according to Foreign Affairs Magazine, South Korea’s population growth has fallen a full 65 percent BELOW replacement rate. If that continues for three or four decades the country will be virtually empty. That is unlikely but how can it be otherwise; there simply won’t be enough families to recover for many decades, perhaps centuries.

Consider the results another way. In just two generations, if the trend isn’t reversed immediately, there will only be 12 women of childbearing age in South Korea for every 100 people. That would mean a drop in population only seen in historical times during the period of the Black Death in Europe.

Taiwan is also losing population.

Population – Political, Economic, and Military Implications

So, what does all this mean to the world and the U.S. in particular as the leader of the so-called free world and the only true world power?

East Asia is in the process of collapsing and it is difficult to see how they can turn that around no matter what steps the various governments take.

Japan, which is growing ever more elderly, actually has the highest birth rate in East Asia but that is almost 40 percent BELOW replacement rate.

Given all that the next century won’t be the century of Asia but another century of America, and I include all of this hemisphere if the many dictatorships wake up in time to stop killing off or driving out their people.

Although the birth rate in South America peaked decades ago, it will still see a population increase of several million even this year.

But while some, perhaps many. will see this weakness in East Asia to be a good thing with regard to China, remember that South Korea and Japan are doing as badly or much worse and they are still powerful allies of the U.S.

How will the U.S. come to see our spending in those allied countries’ militaries as their potential drops so drastically?

Population (Demographics) for the Rest of the World

But what about Europe, you might be thinking?

The fertility rate in the European Union is estimated to be 1.46 per woman overall in the EU in 2022, ranging from the low of 1.08 in Malta to a high (to my personal surprise) of 1.79 in France, all below or very far below replacement rates.

You should be able to buy a good house on Malta and perhaps get a Maltese Passport easily in 20 years because the population will have collapsed.

Now what about the Subcontinent? How will India fare? The good news for India is that the replacement birth rate is essentially even, so while there is no expected growth there is also no expectation of a sudden and catastrophic collapse.

Ignoring climate change, meteor strike, nuclear war or major pandemic far worse than COVID, this will be another American century.

Some data from the United Nations and Pew Research


Population Aging For US, China, and Germany Will End by 2100

John McCormick is a member of the Overseas Press Club of America.