Seven countries with big (and small) population problems


Image copyright
Getty Images

Nigeria and other African countries counteract declining population trend

Major new study published in Lancet medical journal suggests falling fertility rates mean almost all countries could see population decline by the end of the century, and warns of a “breathtaking” impact on societies.

We looked at seven countries facing some of the most dramatic demographic changes and the measures they are taking to combat them.


The Japanese population will decrease by more than half, going from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century, predict the researchers of the new Lancet study.

Japan already has the oldest population in the world and the highest rate of people over 100 years of age.

This has strained the country’s workforce and the problem is only likely to worsen.

Official forecasts indicate that the elderly will represent more than 35% of the population by 2040.

This, combined with a low fertility rate of just 1.4 births per woman, means that the number of people able to fill jobs in the country is declining.

Countries need a fertility rate of around 2.1 births to maintain the size of the existing population.

Although Japan has traditionally been wary of immigration, it has relaxed the rules in recent years in an attempt to address the problem.

However, numerous cases of exploitation of migrant workers have been reported.

Media playback is not supported on your device

Media captionBBC spoke to migrant workers who say they are overworked and underpaid


The Italian population is also expected to more than halve, from 61 million in 2017 to 28 million by the end of the century, according to the Lancet study.

Like Japan, Italy is known for its aging population. More than 23% of people over 65 in 2019, according to World Bank data.

In 2015, the government launched a program offering a payment of € 800 (£ 725) per couple per birth to try to boost fertility rates.

  • How are countries fighting against declining birth rates?

However, they remain among the lowest rates in the European Union.

The country also experiences high emigration rates. About 157,000 people left the country in 2018, according to official data.

Several cities have introduced their own programs to try to stimulate local populations and their economies. This includes selling houses for just € 1 or even paying people to live in underpopulated communities – if they start a business.

Cities with declining populations in Spain – which is also expected to see its population decrease by more than half – have launched similar programs.


In 1979, China famously introduced its controversial one-child policy in an attempt to slow population growth amid concerns about the effect it would have on its economic growth plans. Today, the most populous country in the world is faced with the problem of significant declines in birth rates.

The Lancet study predicts that the Chinese population will reach a peak of 1.4 billion in four years before decreasing by nearly 732 million in 2100.

Official data has shown that the country’s birth rate fell to its lowest level in 70 years in 2019.

Some fear that the country may be a “demographic time bomb”, which will force a smaller working age population to support the needs of a larger and retired population. As one of the largest economies in the world, this would have global ramifications.

Concerns about the aging of the Chinese population led the government to end the one-child policy in 2015, allowing couples to have two children. But while it did trigger a brief increase in birth rates, it failed to reverse the long-term trend.

  • What was China’s only child policy?

The one-child policy has been accused of a serious gender imbalance in the country, with men still outnumber women over 30 million in 2019. This has been partly attributed to some couples opting for sex-selective abortions.

Experts also said that easing demographic restrictions was not accompanied by additional support for families, which meant that many people could not afford more than one child.


Iran should also see its population decrease considerably by the end of the century.

The country experienced a population boom after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but then implemented an effective population control policy.

Last month, the Ministry of Health warned that annual population growth had fallen below 1%. Without action, he said he could become one of the oldest countries in the world in the next 30 years.

The public news agency Irna reported that marriage and the children in marriage were both in decline, mainly due to economic hardship.

In an effort to increase its population, Iran decided last month that vasectomies could no longer be performed in public medical centers and that contraceptives would only be offered to women whose health might be at risk.


Brazil has experienced a dramatic decline in fertility rates over the past 40 years, from around 6.3 births per woman in 1960 to 1.7 in the most recent estimates.

The Lancet study predicts that the population of Brazil will drop from around 211 million in 2017 to less than 164 million in 2100.

A 2012 study suggested that soap operas representing small families had helped lower birth rates in the predominantly Catholic country.

Image copyright
Getty Images


Brazilian Damares Alves speaks at conference on preventing teenage pregnancies

As the overall birth rate is declining, Brazil is actively trying to stem the high rates of teenage pregnancy, by launching a campaign called “Adolescence first, pregnancy after”.

  • Everything in its time: why Brazil wants its teens not to make love

“We have to cut the numbers. We had the courage to say that we are going to talk about delaying the onset of sex, “Damares Alves, Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights, told the BBC earlier this year.


India is expected to overtake China as the most populous country in the world by 2100, according to the new study.

This is despite the fact that its population size is expected to decrease from today’s numbers – from 1.3 billion in 2017 to less than 1.1 billion at the end of the century, according to the researchers.

The birth rate in the country is currently around 2.24, against 5.91 in 1960.

As other countries try to encourage rising fertility rates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on people to have smaller families.

“The population explosion will cause many problems for our future generations. But there is a vigilant part of the public who stops thinking, before bringing a child into the world, if it can do justice to the child, give them everything he or she wants.

“They have a small family and express their patriotism in the country. Let’s learn from them. There is a need for social conscience, “he said in a speech last year.


Nigeria and other African countries are countering the declining population trend.

According to the new Lancet study, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to triple in size to reach more than three billion people by 2100.

Nigeria will become the second most populous country in the world, with 791 million inhabitants, the report says.

The new study predicts that Nigeria will have one of the largest working age populations in the world by 2100 and will see a sharp increase in GDP.

But the rapidly expanding population is straining infrastructure and social structures, and the Nigerian authorities have spoken out to try to slow population growth.

Media playback is not supported on your device

Media captionNigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed: “We need to talk about the birth rate in Nigeria”

In an interview with the BBC in 2018, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said there should be a discussion on the country’s birth rate – which is among the highest in the world.

“We have a lot of families who can’t even feed their children, can’t talk about good health care or even give them good quality education, so we have to talk about these things,” she said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here