The Next Generation: A World Forecast for the Year 2020

By Bloom, Mitchel F. | The Journal of Business Forecasting Methods & Systems, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

The Next Generation: A World Forecast for the Year 2020


Bloom, Mitchel F., The Journal of Business Forecasting Methods & Systems


By 2020, three persons will be living for every two in the world today. The third world will account most for the world population growth during the period 1990 to 2020. Despite this population growth, we will not fall into the Malthusian abyss. Because of technological developments, food production will keep a pace with the population growth. Metropolitan cities, particularly in the third world, will get overcrowded as more and more people move into cities in search for a job. Although illiteracy will decline from 26% in 1990 to 19% in 2020, the number of illiterate adults will rise. These are some of the findings of the study conducted by the author.

APPROACH USED

This article gives a view of what life will be like for the next generation. It is a surprise free forecast, i.e., extrapolation of trends of the past 30 years, 1960 to 1990, over the next 30 years, 1990 to 2020. Where past trends are approximately linear, extrapolation has been made by assuming constant increment per year; where exponentially increasing, extrapolation has assumed constant growth rate per year. The aim was to present a general picture, not a detailed description. My scenario is what the world will look like in the year 2020 if the past trends continue into the future, which, of course, they won't.

These forecasts are really intended for your children. It is they who will be your age when the year 2020 rolls in, assuming you are in the age group of 30-45 and your children are in the ages of 5 to 15. What kind of world will they live in the year 2020 when they reach your present age? Will they have a job? Will they be able to afford a house, a yearly vacation? Will their children get as good education as they received? As you received? In short, will they have about the same quality of life as you have today? Or will they have a much better or much worse quality of life than you have now?

To answer these questions, a number of trend variables have to be selected. These should be the variables that could provide a "feel" for the nature of a future society? Then certain extrapolating methods have to be used to peek into the future. With the projections in the year 2020 in hand, together with knowledge of the past trend values in 1960 and 1990, one can compare the past and future to the present. In the end, flesh has to be added to the forecasts by qualitatively interpreting the numbers, that is, what would life be like as indicated by future trends in the year 2020.

WORLD POPULATION GROWTH AND THE MALTHUSIAN TRAP

As a result of the world population trend forecast, the following conclusions are reached:

1. By 2020, three persons will be living for every two in the world today.

2. We will have a world population of 8.3 billion people by 2020 versus 5.3 billion today.

3. The third world will account for 95% of world population growth from 1990 to 2020.

Table 1 displays the world population projections to the year 2020, obtained by extending the trend from 1960 through 1990. While the world's population is projected to grow by 56% over the next 30 years, the third world is expected to grow by 68% over the same period. (Table 1 omitted)

Will we fall into the Malthusian abyss? That is, if population outruns the food supply, will famines and depopulation occur? Or will technology come to the rescue as it has throughout recent history? From 1960 through 1990, wheat production increased by 147 percent, and rice production, by 121 percent. To maintain current yearly wheat and rice consumption per person, the annual production of rice and wheat must increase by only 56 percent in the next 30 years, a target which should be relatively easy to achieve since it means a less than 2 percent per year increase in both food grains.

The escape from the Malthusian abyss of population outrunning food supplies will more likely result from the application of new biogenetic techniques of food production.

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