Roland Berger Trend Compendium 2050: Population and Society

Roland Berger Trend Compendium 2050: Population and Society

May 20, 2021

Trend 1 of our Trend Compendium 2050 analyzes global population developments, migration, values and education

In Trend 1 of our Trend Compendium we are dealing with the basis of all other megatrends: population and society. Here, we look at the various aspects of population development and migration, as well as values and education, the core elements of the development of modern societies.

Population: There will be more of us, older, and more urban – but dynamics are very different worldwide

Declining birth rates in developing countries entail that global population growth will slow slightly by 2050 compared to previous decades. Nevertheless, the world's population continues to grow strongly. By 2050, at 9.7 billion, almost 2 billion more people will live on Earth than today. This growth is primarily taking place in developing countries. Overall, the population in industrialized countries will hardly increase by 2050, but there are countries such as the US, the UK, or France that are growing, and other countries, such as Japan and Germany, whose populations are declining.

One phenomenon observed in both developing and developed countries is the ageing of society. Worldwide, by 2050 half of humanity will be over 36 years in 2050 – today this median age is just over 31 years. In addition to falling birth rates in developing countries, this global aging trend is also driven by rising life expectancy. Although the median age across regions will be somewhat similar by 2050, on average the population in developing countries with a median age of just under 35 years will continue to be significantly younger than in developed countries with a median age of 46 years.

The trend towards urbanization seen in the past will continue for decades to come. Already 55% of the world's population is living in cities – a share that will rise to 68% by 2050. The degree of urbanization is growing particularly strongly in Africa, from around 44% today to 59% in 2050, and in Asia from 51% to 66%. Even megacities such as Delhi, Shanghai or Mexico City continue to grow. By 2035, there will be nine such cities worldwide, six of them in Asia, with more than 25 million inhabitants – led by Delhi, which has a population of more than 43 million.

Migration: people migrate within and between countries – voluntarily and forced

Currently, more than 320 million people worldwide live in countries that are not their country of origin or have given up their usual place of residence within their own country. Many international migrants are looking for work or education in countries to which they emigrate. Wealthier nations in Europe and North America are attractive destinations. Other people are fleeing persecution, war or natural disasters. Almost three-quarters of these seek protection in neighboring countries of their homelands.

With almost 18 million people, the world's largest group of migrants come from India, followed by Mexico, China, Russia and Syria. The US, with around 51 million people, is home to – by far – the most migrants in the world, ahead of Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UK. However, the migrant share of the total population is much higher in other countries: Qatar leads with around 79%, followed by four other Middle Eastern countries, and then Luxembourg. In these countries, migrants make up the bulk of the workforce.

In the future, it is expected that many people will continue to leave their countries of origin for more prosperous and safer destinations. Due to global warming and its consequences, experts also expect a huge number of climate refugees, with estimates ranging up to one billion by 2050.

Values: A complex issue in our increasingly diverse societies – but fundamental to our coexistence

A commonality amongst modern societies is their orientation along values. At the same time, modern societies are increasingly complex. This leads to growing challenges vis-à-vis a value consensus and adherence of formal and informal norms.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 represent a milestone in efforts to advance global development on value-based principles. At their core, they postulate a shared vision of sustainable existence and co-existence for all human beings.

An important aspect is gender equality. A great deal of catching up is still necessary regarding the participation of women in management positions in business as well as in leading positions in politics. Over the last two decades, the share of women in managerial positions – in companies and administration – has increased globally across all levels from 25% to only 28%. In national parliaments, the share of women rose from 11% in 1995 to 25% in 2020 but it is the developed countries that are trailing behind in increasing the proportion of women.

Education: More and more people are getting access to good education – the key to social advancement as well as economic growth

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the temporary closure of schools around the world, causing a great many number of school days being lost. However, in the medium and long term, the trend towards ever better schooling will continue worldwide. Crucially, the length of schooling correlates with a country's economic wealth – a clear indication that investment in education pays off. India is showing a particularly strong dynamic by 2050 and will almost double the number of students within the 30-34-year-old group to more than 38 million compared to 2020.

How companies can take advantage of megatrends

The strong population growth of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America makes these markets attractive to companies looking for new sales opportunities or to use the large supply of manpower for new production facilities. This is particularly true for companies in developed countries where society is ageing more rapidly and where there is an impending shortage of labor. However, ageing societies can also be an opportunity, as older people's consumption is proportionally larger and they often have considerable purchasing power due to savings. It is important for companies to adapt to the needs of older customers, but also to those of an aging workforce.

By hiring skilled migrants, companies can overcome domestic labor market shortages. For this, it is necessary to position yourself internationally as an attractive employer. New workers from abroad are also bringing new perspectives to the company. This applies to diversity in general: diverse teams often achieve better results, develop innovations more readily, and attract further talent.

Increasingly better educational outcomes globally benefit companies not only in their home markets, but also internationally. It opens up opportunities for new locations where previously a lack of qualified staff has been an obstacle. Further educational progress can be achieved through digital solutions . Companies can use these, for example, to train employees as well as users of their products. Finally, for companies operating in educational sectors, digital solutions open up enormous opportunities to expand their market and to spread their know-how quickly and efficiently to their customers.


Roland Berger Trend Compendium 2050: Population and Society


In Trend 1 of our Trend Compendium we are dealing with the basis of all other megatrends: population and society.

Published May 2021. Available in
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