Demographic Changes Looming (Part Two)

10.17.13_BlogRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

Part two of a two-part blog series. Head here to read part one.

Urbanization
Another noticeable change has been the amount of people living in urban versus rural areas.  The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history.  For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns or cities.[1]  In 1970, 73.6% of the population lived in urban areas in the U.S., compared to 79% in 2012.  In China, the shift has been even greater; 51% of people live in urban areas today, compared to just 20.6% in 1982.  Other major nations have experienced similar degrees of urbanization (percentage of population living in urban areas below)[2]

10.17.13_Demographics_Part2

Cities provide numerous economic benefits and challenges; some of which include: entrepreneurialism, education opportunities, traffic congestion, pollution, and poverty to name a few.  Perhaps the biggest challenge as a result of this trend will be a spike in food, water and commodity prices, which are already high.[3][4]  Some Governments, scientists and environmentalists are already working on solutions to these problems (such as China’s plan for a massive new desalination plant[5]), but in many areas resources are limited and solutions are inefficient on a large scale.

Wealth Inequality
Finally, the trend of wealth inequality in the United States is approaching an all-time high.  For perspective, in 1928 the top 1% of the population earned nearly 20% of all income.  The wealth gap was at its lowest in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been steadily widening since then.

Demographics_Part2

This trend has been made public in the U.S. as demonstrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012.  Regardless of your opinion surrounding the subject, wealth inequality has created noticeable economic challenges.

Some of the nationwide problems associated with wealth inequality include deteriorating health,[6] the potential for corruption (in many different facets), and a relatively weaker middle class which has historically fueled the most economic growth in the U.S.

The income gap has been blamed on everything from computers, to immigration, to global competition, but simply stated there is no clear consensus regarding the cause.[7]  This needs to be kept in mind by investors, economists and especially politicians before we spend public dollars on initiatives that aren’t effective at reducing the problems previously mentioned.

These changing demographic trends will no doubt provide challenges, but can also present exciting opportunities for generations to come if they are properly prepared for.


[1] The United nations Population Fund.  http://www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm  May, 2007.

[2] Population Reference Bureau, 2012 World Population Data Sheet, 2012.

[4] New York Times Online.  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/world/22water.html?_r=0  Celia Dugger. August 22, 2006.

[5] China Daily.  http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-04/09/content_12298084.htm  Cheng Yingqi.  September 4, 2011.

[6] American Medical Association.  http://www.who.int/social_determinants/publications/health_in_an_unequal_world_marmott_lancet.pdf Michael Marmot.  December 9, 2006.

[7] The Great Divergence.  Timothy Noah,  2012

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