Within the next five years rural living will have reached its climax. According to the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects (a biennial publication from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs), rural populations will have reached their absolute high in 2022 with approximately 3.38 billion people. This is only slightly up from the current 3.37 billion people, showing how the number of people not living in cities has flatlined since the turn of the century and comes after a period of continuous growth since the 1950s when only 1.78 billion people lived in the countryside. The current long-term projections see this number going slightly down to 3.2 billion people by 2050.
While the rural population has become a minority globally (at approximately 46 per cent), the majority of those are increasingly concentrated in the poorer parts of the world. Sixty-nine per cent of people in the least developed countries live in rural areas, while this number is at only 20 per cent in higher-income countries.
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Some time ago I have published an analysis of the changing demographies of Germany on this website (see also the map at the end of this post). I used the data from this analysis to develop some further cartogram visualisations that put the increase and decline into the focus, showing how heterogeneous these trends are evolving spatially in Germany. The following maps show gridded cartogram transformations of population change in Germany in which each grid cell (representing an equal physical space) is resized according to the total estimated population increase (right map) or decline (left map) in the period of 1990 to 2010. They show, how population patterns chances in the first two decades after reunification:
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What is it about London? Population growth is slowing across most of Europe – people are having fewer children and, it could be argued, steps are being taken to try to reduce social inequalities. But London is unusual. London continues growing, and London is becoming more youthful. The middle aged and those who are poor, but not desperately poor, are being squeezed out. Graduates from the rest of Britain and the rest of the world flow in ever greater numbers and require ever higher degrees of optimism. Many fail to achieve their aspirations. Above them a few are becoming ever richer. Below them, as private rents and social housing becomes too expensive for huge numbers of lowly paid families and many leave, a new poor may be growing, less well documented, less well protected, with even less to lose.
With a population of currently 8.2 million (according to the 2011 Census), London is not only unique for one of the old world’s megacities by being projected to continue rising significantly in population size over the forthcoming decades, but also by its specific demographic structure. Like many large cities, London has a large share of people in the younger age groups – over 20% in the cohorts from 25-34 – but also a significant share of the youngest with around 7% of its population being 0 to 4 years old. Here is a population pyramid of London compiled from the 2011 Census data that has been released recently: Continue reading
See more related maps about population changes here
22 years after re-unification Germany has become an ‘accidental empire’ (Guardian) in Europe through its economic might. It is the largest economy in Europe and also happens to be the largest country by population. Germany has gotten into a political role that it seemed to be reluctant to take over ever since – in many regards the country is still seen as a reluctant power as Meier described it in a paper published in 1995 (today going much further than the role of the nation’s army). Post-unification Germany has been marked with many changes and the emergence of a reborn nation which stands in the centre of the future challenges of Europe. While the country struggles with a redefined role in Europe, its domestic challenges are appear equally tough: They are those of building a sustainable future for a rapidly changing demographic structure of society that is able to sustain a strong economic base. With a declining population, Germany may be smaller than France or the United Kingdom by 2060 if current trends were to continue (predicting future populations must always be seen with great caution – as some predictions from almost 50 years ago demonstrate quite well). Putting uncertainties about future trends aside, the question may also be whether a decline in population is a negative thing (and on the opposite, whether growing populations are bad either)? The pure numbers are less the problem, rather than the spatial and social implications that come with them.
Panic is never helpful for finding solutions, but look at what demographic changes are actually happening to find ways of dealing with it. The decrease of the fertility rate down to 1.36 children per woman in 2011 (according to the Federal Statistical Office) is already tackled with political measures (which may even already have first influences on the predicted trends as suggested by the MPG) and could lead to a changing trend – though probably not a reversal in the general trend of an ageing population (as reflected in the changing population pyramid of Germany). But most of the negative impact of demographic change in a spatial context have started with reunification in 1990 and lead to specific geographic problems that are the much more imminent for the country, as they led to a considerably changed population landscape:
(click for larger and more detailed version)