In this episode of the International Resource Panel (IRP) Webcast Series: What does the Global Future hold, the IRP invited Wolfgang Lutz, Founding Director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, to discuss what he sees on the horizon in terms of the future of "Population and Demography". He spoke about the key risks and opportunities and how the risks can be managed and opportunities achieved. The webcast included a talk and a Q&A session.

Recording of the webcast

Key points from the webcast 
The Power of Multi-dimensional Demography

In demography, there are three conventional variables: the size of the population, the age structure, and the gender distribution. However, from the 20th century, and following the demographic variations due to world wars on age and gender indicators, demographers started to take into account several other characteristics of individual such as place of residence, level of education and labor force participation.

Following this, Lutz and colleagues further developed the so-called multi-dimensional demography analysis and highlighted that education attainment is a variable equally as important as age and gender in terms of the changing population size and structures and its relations with sustainable development. He illustrated on the predictive power of multi-dimensional demography analysis and the concept of demographic metabolism with the examples of Korea and Singapore –both countries show a slow turnover of generation with the younger and better-educated generations slowly moving up the age pyramid.

According to Lutz, “why we are so certain about the modeling of this demographic trends and projecting them for many decades into the future is that there is stability along cohort lines”. Once the birth cohort is defined, estimations for the future projections are rather simple: only the mortality and the migration can modify the numbers.

The Demography of Educational Attainment and Economic Growth

Human capital is a key driver to economic growth” states Lutz. What is even more crucial is secondary education, especially in terms of bringing poor countries out of poverty. Fortunately, since 2015, the Sustainable Development Goal 4 translates this objective by highlighting the need of “quality primary and secondary education for all girls and boys”.

In almost every country and in particular in the developed countries that are still in the process of demographic transition, women with low education have a much higher fertility rate than the others. While it is commonly known that together with access to reproductive health facilities, female education really is a key driver of bringing down the fertility rate, Lutz further highlights that “Education is the single most important determinant of health” That is, education is not only about the socioeconomic status it enables to acquire, it also changes the way of thinking, in a more rational way with less risky behavior which explains the life expectancy rate increase in developed countries.

In The Context of Global Environmental Changes

Finally, the human population has impacts on (and bears impacts from) climate change in different ways, especially through consumption and technology. But what is important in this context is the (demographic) differential vulnerability of population to adapt to changes and to resource depletion. Environmental changes can affect health, mortality, livelihood and migration - these are important intervening variables that can be seen as adaptive strategies (for example, when people move from one place they cannot live anymore to another). In this context, Lutz points out that there a feedback circle where human beings who cause problems can also be the agents in the mitigative action. 

Source: Lutz, W., Muttarak, R. (2017) Forecasting societies' adaptive capacities through a demographic metabolism model. Nature Climate Change

Therefore, it is very important to model how such changes will likely impact on future human well-being, which has given rise to the scenario modelling framework of the shared socio-economic pathways.

The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP) modeling framework uses two indicators: the socioeconomic challenges for mitigation and the socioeconomic challenges for adaption and offers 5 scenarios:

  • SSP1: Sustainability (low challenges)

  • SSP2: Middle of the Road (Intermediate Challenges)

  • SSP3: Fragmentation (High Challenges)

  • SSP4: Inequality (Adaption Challenges dominate)

  • SSP5: Conventional Development (Mitigation Challenges dominate)

Source: Lutz, W., al. (2018) Demographic and Human Capital Scenarios for the 21st Century: 2018 assessment for 201 countries.

The pathways offer projections until 2100 and beyond, while regional demographic specifics such as education, labor participation, cultural and political evolution, among others, may have an important influence on them.

Speaker - Wolfgang Lutz

Wolfgang Lutz is Founding Director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, a cooperation between the University of Vienna (where he is Professor at the Department of Demography), IIASA (where he is a Senior Advisor in the Population and Just Societies Program), and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (where he is a Director of the Vienna Institute of Demography). He holds a PhD in Demography from the University of Pennsylvania.

He has widely published on international population trends with a special focus on population forecasting, population-development-environment interactions and introducing education as a standard demographic dimension in addition to age and sex. He has published over 270 scientific articles, including 13 in Science and Nature. His most recent book is entitled 'Demographic and Human Capital Scenarios for the 21st Century: 2018 Assessment for 201 Countries.' He has won prestigious awards including the Wittgenstein Prize, two ERC Advanced Grants, the Mattei Dogan award of the IUSSP and the Mindel C. Sheps Award of PAA. He is a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Leopoldina, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), the Finnish Society for Sciences and Letters, and the Academia Europea.

Professor Lutz has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General to be one of the 15 members of the Independent Group of Scientists to produce the quadrennial Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.

Learn more about the IRP Webcast Series: What does the Global Future hold?