In 1980, 41 percent of the world’s population was children under age 18. By 2050, children will make up just 25 percent of the global population, according to a recent report by Unicef (PDF), which uses data from the United Nations Population Division.
What’s worth noting, though, is not simply that the globe is graying—and whether that’s a terrible or perhaps beneficial is actively debated—but that different countries and regions will have radically different aging structures.
The absolute number of children on the planet will change only slightly between 2010 and 2025, Unicef predicts, but where they’ll be born and grow up will change dramatically. By 2025, 90 percent of the world’s children will be born in less developed regions. By 2050, one in three children will be born in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Baby booms in different parts of the world will bring both opportunities and risks. On the up side, more babies—combined with decreased child mortality—will later yield a larger cohort of people in the workforce, potentially producing a “demographic dividend.” Economies can grow and nations can thrive when the ratio of workers to elderly dependents is high.
As for the risks, a growing proportion of the world’s children will be born in places where access to prenatal services, hospital services, and adequate nutrition may be lacking. At the same time, as the world urbanizes, these children will be more likely than their own parents to be born in cities.
Global resource jousting may intensify in the future, Mathew J. Burrows, counselor at the National Intelligence Council, warned in a recent panel in Washington, D.C., discussing the NIC’s “Global Trends 2030” (PDF) forecast. “With the global middle class tripling, what does that do to the demand for water and food?” It could, he suggested, “pit the young people of the developing world against the aging people of rich countries in the global struggle for resources.”
In 1990, half the world’s children were living in low or lower-middle income countries. By 2025 that proportion will haven risen to about 65 percent.