People lived in the world on 7 September 2023
People lived in the world on 7 September 2023
A Growing World
How will the Earth’s population change in the 21st century?
World population by age and gender
The past century has seen a dramatic increase in the world’s population: From 1.6 billion in 1900, the number of people on Earth grew to more than six billion at the turn of the millennium. Since 1950, it has more than tripled, and in November 2022, the world’s population passed the eight billion mark. However, the global growth rate has slowed down significantly in recent decades. The United Nations estimates that the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. It is expected to peak at 10.4 billion in the 2080s and then begin a slow decline. In many regions of the world, it is not only population growth that will have a profound impact on societies, but in particular the changing age structure.
According to calculations by Germany’s Federal Institute for Population Research based on UN figures, two thirds of the world’s population already live in countries where the fertility rate has fallen below the statistical replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. In Germany, this has been the case since the 1970s. Declining birth rates could be an economic opportunity for developing countries: As the average family size shrinks, families and society can invest more in each child. At the same time, the share of the working-age population relative to economically dependent children and the elderly increases – resulting in a so-called demographic dividend. On the other hand, ageing populations will pose major challenges for today’s developed countries, as the growing number of elderly citizens is not matched by a similar increase in the working-age population.
The United Nation’s “World Population Prospects 2022” are available at its website. A summary of the projections can also be found there. Based on the UN data, the New York Times has analysed the global shift in age structures in the article “How a Vast Demographic Shift Will Shape the World” from 16 July 2023. How can a changing age structure contribute to economic growth? In the study “Unlocking the Power of Demographic Dividends”, published in July 2023, the Berlin Institute for Population and Development explains the concept of the “demographic dividend” and what states need to do to reap it.
How do views and values differ across generations in Germany?
Importance of traditional values by age group
To follow the rules
- 16–25 16 56
- 26–53 21 48
- 36–45 20 60
- 46–55 20 55
- 56–65 24 51
- 66–75 25 54
- 76–95 30 51
- In total 22 53
- 16–25 16 60
- 26–53 20 55
- 36–45 19 58
- 46–55 18 57
- 56–65 24 58
- 66–75 29 53
- 76–95 28 54
- In total 22 56
- 16–25 10 30
- 26–53 13 28
- 36–45 16 47
- 46–55 15 44
- 56–65 16 45
- 66–75 21 45
- 76–95 22 53
- In total 16 42
- 16–25 44 37
- 26–53 42 39
- 36–45 50 36
- 46–55 52 39
- 56–65 53 36
- 66–75 49 41
- 76–95 58 34
- In total 50 37
Stereotypes about generations and conflicts between them abound. But how much truth is there? It is obvious that society faces many challenges with the potential for generational conflict. How quickly must we decarbonise? How do we reform the welfare state in the face of an ageing society? What should the future of work look like? In two new studies, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung examines attitudes, values and fears of the different generations in Germany. They often find smaller differences and fewer perceived conflicts than the clichés would suggest. They also suggest that there is reason to be cautious about the explanatory power of the category “generation” itself: In most cases, differences are correlated with age and only rarely with belonging to a particular age cohort.
In the 2021 German federal election, there were significant age differences in voting behaviour: Older voters were more likely to cast their vote for the CDU/CSU and the SPD than the national average, while younger Germans were more likely to vote for the Greens, the FDP and Die Linke. What explains this difference in voting patterns? In the study “Generation ist weniger als Alter”, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung explores how values, fears, political attitudes and forms of political participation differ between age groups. It also investigates whether these differences are related to a particular generation or whether they can be attributed to age. Based on a survey of a representative sample of the population, the study finds only minor differences between the different age groups in the areas under consideration. Moreover, the differences are mostly due to age and not to cohort effects – a notable exception being the election results of the Green party.
The study “Generationen über Generationen” from May 2023 examines generational values and attitudes on various socio-political issues, such as social justice, pensions and climate change. Based on the results of a series of focus group discussions in West and East Germany, the study shows: Different generations do not see themselves in conflict with each other, even though they may in fact have competing interests. Climate change is the issue with the greatest potential for conflict, but here too the relevance of the issue is undisputed across all generations. All age groups take for granted that future generations will receive lower pensions. Nevertheless, they do not see this as leading to an intergenerational conflict, but rather see it as an overarching political problem. All generations see digitisation as an important issue. Older people in particular are afraid of not being able to keep up, but insecurities are widespread among younger generations as well. Overall, the crises of recent years are shaping the views of the participants, and sometimes leading them to fatalistic assessments.
Generation Social Media
New data on usage and mental health
Reported impact of social media on aspects of respondents’ lives, % of respondents who use social media
Generation Z is the first generation to grow up in a social media world. In recent years, there has been much debate on how to regulate these platforms – not just because of the dangers of “fake news” and propaganda for democratic societies, but also because of the effects on the mental health of their users, especially teenagers. This year, Utah has become the first U.S. state to impose restrictions on the social media activities of children and teenagers. Two new studies by the McKinsey Health Institute and the Pew Research Center provide recent data on social media use and its impact on young people.
For the McKinsey study, around 42,000 people in 26 countries were asked about their use of and experience with social media as well as four health dimensions: mental, physical, social and spiritual. In all categories, Gen Z performed the worst, followed by Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Globally, one in four Gen Z respondents reported that their mental health had deteriorated over the past three years, compared to one in seven among Baby Boomers. At the same time, female Gen Z respondents were almost twice as likely to report mental health problems as their male peers. The relationship between mental health and social media use that emerges from the study is complex. While about a third of respondents in all age groups reported positive effects, the generations differed with regard to negative effects. On average, members of Generation Z were more likely than those of other generations to report that social media had a negative impact on their lives. The study also found that while Millennials are the most active on social media, Gen Z spends the most time on the platforms – with 35 per cent spending more than two hours a day on social media, compared to 24 per cent of Millennials and 14 per cent of Baby Boomers. There are several respects, however, in which social media is seen as positive by a majority across all age cohorts, such as self-expression and social connectivity.
The Washington-based Pew Research Center has conducted a survey among American teenagers aged 13 to 17 to find out how they use and experience social media. The results show that YouTube is by far most frequently used platform among teens, followed by TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook use, on the other hand, has dropped from 71 per cent in 2014-15 to just 32 per cent in 2022. Three-quarters of those surveyed use YouTube daily and a majority check TikTok every day. About half are on Instagram or Snapchat at least once per day, while only 10 per cent on Facebook. A third of teens say they spend too much time on social media and about the same percentage think the platforms have a negative effect on their peers. However, when it comes to themselves, only 9 per cent say that social media has a negative impact on their lives.
Read more in the study “Gen Z Mental Health: The Impact of Tech and Social Media” and in the study “Teens and Social Media”, both published in April 2023.
Gen Z in the Workplace
How do young people see the future of work?
Lazy and entitled or highly skilled and tech-savvy? Opinions on the new generation of workers vary. Recent studies show that Generation Z demands more flexibility and work-life balance from their employers than older employees. In many industries, flexible working hours and remote working have become an integral part of the workplace since the pandemic. In the light of the views and values of the younger generation, it is clear that there is no going back to traditional work environments if companies want to attract and retain young, skilled professionals. At the same time, young people feel anxious about where they stand in the working world. Faced with rising costs of living and mental health challenges in a world marked by war, the pandemic and climate change, many millennials and members of Generation Z are worried about the future.
In its annual “Gen Z and Millennial Survey”, Deloitte gauges the mood of the two generations. For this year’s edition, more than 22,000 people from 44 countries were asked about their views on work and the world around them. The study shows that many young people are deeply concerned about their futures. Gen Z and millennials cite the cost of living as their top societal concern, followed by unemployment and climate change. These worries are also reflected in widespread mental health challenges. About 46 per cent of Gen Z respondents and 39 per cent of millennials say they feel stressed all or most of the time. While nearly half of Gen Zs and a majority of millennials say their job is central to their identities, they place a strong focus on work-life balance. About three quarters of young professionals who are currently in remote or hybrid roles would consider looking for a new job if their employer asked them to work full-time in the office.
Read more in the “2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey”, published in May 2023. See also McKinsey’s study “How does Gen Z see its place in the working world? With trepidation” from October 2022.
An Ageing World
Statistics on demographic change
Retiring in an Ageing Society
How well are Germans prepared for demographic change?
Germany is ageing: Over the past one hundred years, average life expectancy has increased by more than twenty years, while women have been having fewer than two children on average for several decades. The country’s demographic shift has consequences for its pension system: In 1990, there were four people of working age for every pensioner; by 2036, there will be only two. By then, the large Baby Boomer Generation will have reached retirement age and almost thirty per cent of the working population will be retired. This means that private pension plans will become increasingly important in the future. How are Germans preparing for retirement in the face of demographic change? A new study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development and the Bertelsmann Foundation examines the views and strategies among the population.
Based on 1,234 interviews with a representative sample of the 16- to 80-year-old population, the study shows that while the majority recognises the risk of lower pensions in the future, only a third regularly save money for retirement. Only a quarter of the respondents expect to have enough money to live comfortably when they retire. By contrast, 43 per cent expect that they will have to live frugally and 14 per cent worry that they will not have enough money. Though the absolute numbers differ significantly, both high and low earners are saving the same percentage of their disposable income for retirement each month. The study also looks at how Germans are preparing for old age in terms of long-term care, age-appropriate housing and continued participation in the workforce. It shows that vulnerable groups such as low-income earners, single parents and East Germans are unable to prepare for the consequences of demographic change on their own and urges policymakers to address this situation.
Read more in the study “VorSORGE. Wie die Bevölkerung auf den demografischen Wandel vorbereitet ist” (in German), published in May 2023. A summary of the results is available in the form of a policy brief and a fact sheet.
How do young adults see their country’s role in the world?
In many countries, younger people tend to be more internationally oriented than older adults. They often have more positive attitudes towards international organisations and are more supportive of international cooperation. But just like older generations, young people do not form a uniform bloc. Their opinions on how we should deal with today’s crises and challenges, like Russia’s war of aggression, the rising cost of living or climate change, differ. In a new study, the Pew Research Center examines how young adults from France, Germany, the UK and the U.S. want their country to engage with the world.
The Washington-based think tank conducted focus groups interviews with young people aged 18 to 20 in four countries. The participants were divided into four different groups per country, based on their ideologies and views on foreign engagement. Despite the historical and political differences between the countries, four distinct attitudes about how best to engage with the world were consistent cross-nationally: The left-leaning, internationally engaged groups emphasise the moral duty to be involved overseas, even if they often do not trust their government to do so for the right reasons. The left-leaning, domestically focused groups also feel an obligation to help overseas. But skepticism about their government and a sense that their own country needs profound changes lead them to prioritise focusing on domestic problems. The right-leaning, domestically focused groups see their country in a state of economic distress. They feel that their country’s resources are limited and that it is more important to focus on domestic issues than to send resources abroad. The right-leaning, internationally engaged groups, on the other hand, see their country as intertwined with others. They view international cooperation as benefiting their country’s economic and security interests.
Read more in the study “How Young Adults Want Their Country to Engage With the World”, published in March 2023.
Are conservatives losing young voters?
Evolution of the Conservative vote share in UK elections, by generation
“If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when you are old, you have no brain.” – Coined in the 19th century and attributed to various people throughout the years, this aphorism has been a staple of political commentary for a long time. But what truth is there to it? It is true that in many countries conservative parties do worse among young people than among older people. But the older these voters get, the more of them vote conservative. New analyses suggest, however, that this may not be the case for today’s younger generations – at least in some Anglosphere countries.
In December 2022, Financial Times columnist John Burn-Murdoch wrote that British and U.S. millennials are “shattering the oldest rule in politics” by not following the usual pattern of voting more conservative as they get older. What explains this phenomenon? One reason might be that millennials are worse off than earlier cohorts due to the global financial crisis and rising housing prices. The polarisation of political discourse on social issues could be another contributing factor. In the UK, a new study by the think tank Onward looks at why the Tories are polling so poorly among young people. In Australia, too, a similar pattern emerges: Millennials and Gen Zs are not moving to the right as they get older to the same extent that earlier generations did, as a study by the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney shows. In the U.S., millennials now represent the largest generation and, as early as 2028, millennials and Gen Zs are expected to make up the majority of voters. In a series of commentaries, experts from the Brooking Institution examine the impact of younger generations on future U.S. elections.
Read more in the studies “Missing Millennials: Why the Conservatives lost a generation, and how to win them back”, published in May 2023, “Generation Left: Young Voters Are Deserting the Right”, published in June 2023, and in the series of commentaries „How younger voters will impact elections“.
Contributors to this issue were:
Team KALUZA + SCHMID Studio, Bogdan Miftakhov, Johannes Sudau, Kristin Wesemann, Chrystyna Rey
World Population Prospects 2022. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Leatherby, Lauren. “How a Vast Demographic Shift Will Reshape the World”. New York Times, 16 July 2023.
Unlocking the Power of Demographic Dividends. Insights and Recommendations from #The4DSeries Policy Dialogues. Berlin Institute for Population and Development, July 2023.
Roose, Jochen. Generation ist weniger als Alter. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, September 2023.
Werkmann, Caroline and Hans-Jürgen Frieß. Generationen über Generationen. Ergebnisse aus qualitativen Gruppendiskussionen. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, May 2023.
Coe, Erica et al. “Gen Z mental health: The impact of tech and social media”. McKinsey Health Institute, April 2023.
Vogels, Emily A. and Risa Gelles-Watnick. “Teens and social media: Key findings from Pew Research Center surveys”. Pew Research Center, April 2023.
Burn-Murdoch, “Millennials are shattering the oldest rule in politics”. Financial Times, 30 December 2022.
Blagden, James, Sebastian Payne and Bim Afolami. Missing Millennials. Why the Conservatives Lost a Generation and How to Win Them Back. Onward, May 2023.
Taylor, Matthew. Generation Left: Young Voters Are Deserting the Right. The Centre for Independent Studies, June 2023.