The Great Contraction: Experts Predict Global Population Will Plateau

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 4: Phase III: Booming Stock Markets and a Crisis in Delivery Rooms

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Nanny Eliana is a child of the demographic dividend. At only 33, she is already extremely successful. For the last nine years, this citizen of Singapore has been the owner of a PR agency. She publishes fashion magazines and has even written an award-winning novel.

With its 5 million residents, Singapore is a symbol of the success of the Asian tigers. As recently as the 1960s, Singaporeans had a lower annual per capita GDP than Kenyans; but today, the figure stands at $44,000, putting them among the world's top 10. In the '60s, the average birth rate of seven children per woman was also similar to that of an African country. Women were married young, usually to the man their parents had selected for them, and their place was in the household.

Eliana is unmarried and childless -- and happy about it. "I make a lot of money, and I have a career," she proudly says. "Many women in my generation feel the same way. More and more want to remain unmarried, work and get rich." Her parents eventually had to accept it. "At least they don't have to worry about me financially anymore," she says.

'Make More Babies!'

In Singapore, it used to be the parents who chose a daughter's future husband. But, today, the government is trying its hand at matchmaking.

"Have three or more children!" urge government billboards. The government prints guides to hidden parking lots where people can have sex in their cars, and it organizes matchmaking parties for singles only.

On the website Lovebyte, operated by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, one "Dr. Love" gives clever advice. When a 41-year-old career woman asks about what men are looking for, he advises her to first ask herself what she wants.

When she was a student, Nanny Eliana says she was also invited to government-sponsored singles' parties and speed-dating events. But she never went. "The men there were all boring," she says. "Just engineers and accountants, shy and socially underdeveloped." Or at least that's what her friends told her.

Singapore's birth rate has declined to 1.25 children per woman, but that is still higher than that of many other large Asian cities. The birth rate in Hong Kong, for example, is just 1.0.

Danger on China's Horizon

Southeast Asia's economic ascent is breathtaking, and the education of women is viewed as a driving force behind the region's success. South Korea, for example, was once a developing country devastated by war, which explains why hardly any women over 60 have a high-school diploma. Today, half of all college-aged Korean women are attending university. "This is more than in Europe," notes Lutz, the IIASA demographer.

China probably benefits from the demographic dividend more than any other country, although the tide is already turning there. This is a result of the rigid one-child policy, which will soon translate into the country's having a disproportionately large elderly population.

In the United States and Europe, it took 70 years for the share of the population over 65 to increase from 7 percent to 14 percent. In China, the same process will take place in 25 years.

"Social scientists there are very aware of this danger," says Klingholz, the demographer with the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, who is regularly invited to conferences in China. "The Chinese financial investments in the West are a pension plan of sorts," he explains. "It will enable the Chinese to care for their future army of the elderly."

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