Demographic Trends and Urbanization: Planning for greater prosperity and wellbeing in cities

NICA is delighted to have authored the concluding chapter of the World Bank’s report on Demographic Trends and Urbanization, launching today, and to be part of the global conversation on how to respond to demographic trends in urban environments.

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Over 55 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas in 2018 and by 2050, this proportion will grow to two-thirds (World Bank, 2021).

The World Bank report on Demographic Trends and Urbanization is both important and timely as countries and cities navigate uneven patterns and outcomes of “demographic mega-trends” – population growth, ageing, urbanisation, and international migration (UNDESA, 2019) – and continue to respond, transition, and rebuild economies following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Certainly, the events of the last year have brought into sharp focus the inequalities of longevity and healthy life expectancy between groups and communities, and how these have been exacerbated during the pandemic. The recently published census data for China and data from the US on declining birth rates illustrate the latest debates around slowing population growth and implications for current and future generations.

These demographic trends present cities and countries with challenges, but also opportunities. NICA’s contribution to this report aims to help cities reflect on the analysis and consider the opportunities of longevity and healthy ageing for all. The focus of this must be:

  • Shared prosperity and wellbeing needs meaningful engagement with citizens, across the generations, appreciating how important human capital is, and expanding and valuing the knowledge, skills and experience. Older adults as both inventors and beneficiaries of new social policies and innovations, and working towards healthier lives for all.
  • Only through inclusive development and addressing inequalities will cities be able to truly capitalise on the immense opportunities – economic and social – of healthy longevity.

Congratulations to our wonderful colleagues Horacio Terraza, Lead Urban Specialist and Carina Lakovits, Urban Development Consultant at the World Bank who led the report.

World Bank chapters: regional analysis  

The report offers a rich analysis of demographic and urbanisation trends across both advanced and emerging economies in the six operational regions of the World Bank, including Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia. The report draws on historical data, current trends and projections to 2050, and covers both national and sub national analysis, including urban and rural trends.

The report uses a typology to classify regions and cities based on the concept of “demographic dividends” – the extent to which a place has to provide for the care of “dependents” as opposed to benefitting from the “dividend” of having higher proportion of working age adults (World Bank Group, 2016). Analysis focuses on fertility, mortality and migration indicators, but brings out other associated demographic patterns and their implications for urban policy and the wellbeing of residents.

It is intended as a roadmap for cities and towns to help them prepare for a changing population and make proactive policy decisions, engaging with civil society, investors, and communities.

The regional analysis does not, in the main, discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, however in our concluding chapter we discuss some of the emerging impacts of the pandemic on populations and cities.

NICA analysis: Planning for greater prosperity and wellbeing in cities

Our concluding chapter in the report summarises i) cross-regional reflections on trends, describes ii) emerging impacts of COVID-19 (as understood back in Summer 2020 when we prepared the chapter), and recommends iii) future considerations to help cities and countries reflect on demographic transitions, gather and analyse better data, inform policy and investment decisions, and engage with citizens.

i) Cross-regional reflections on demographic and urbanisation trends

This is a summary of some of the main themes across regional chapters that are shaping demographic change in cities and regions.

  • The pace and direction of demographic transitions vary across cities, and within cities, accelerating ageing trends for some. Transitions are shaped by structural legacies and challenges including poverty and inequality, conflict, and climate change. The report finds that ageing is more pronounced in cities shifting the balance from younger to older people, and the pace of this transition is most striking in younger cities (for example, Manaus in Brazil and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia). Diverse patterns of growth and decline are resulting in a combination of shrinking and ageing cities in Latin America and Eastern Europe, with the latter case not experiencing worse economic performance.
  • Migration and changes in demography are intertwined with global challenges, such as climate change, conflict, and poverty. Migration also intersects with ageing trends in both origin and destination areas, leading to population growth in some cities and population decline (and ageing) in others, for instance in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Population movements as a result of climatic conditions or conflict can change existing territorial settlement patterns very quickly. Also, younger migrants moving from rural to urban has implications for intergenerational transfers and social protection in these areas.
  • Gender disparities show how women are disadvantaged in different ways across the life-course. The analysis points to instances of excess female mortality after birth and the phenomenon of “missing women” in South Asia, also increased violence and sex trafficking in places where there is a deficit of women. The lowest levels of female labour participation rates are in South Asia and the Middle East. For some places, gender disparities are more pronounced in urban than in rural areas, highlighting the importance of studying more closely the demographic dynamics at play in the region’s cities so that decision makers can develop effective policy responses. Tracking these patterns and outcomes is critical as equality earlier on in life leads to more equitable outcomes later (WHO, 2020).
  • ‘Reaping’ the demographic dividend in ageing societies – Globally, regions and cities are growing more slowly or even shrinking, and populations are ageing but at varying speeds. The challenge lies in supporting a growing older population with a shrinking labour force and making cities into productive, liveable, attractive, and accessible spaces for their changing populations. A better understanding of the capabilities and contributions of older populations will help cities become more productive, attractive, and accessible for all residents. Older adults provide important contributions to the economy and society that are not fully captured by indicators that emphasize dependency and burden. These multiple roles can include paid and unpaid work, civic and voluntary activity in local communities, and vital caregiving for parents, partners, adult children, and grandchildren.

ii) The emerging impacts of COVID-19 on demographic and urbanisation trends

Research on the impact of the pandemic on highly connected and dense urban spaces was only beginning to emerge back in Summer 2020 when we prepared the concluding chapter. At the time, researchers were questioning what a “post-pandemic city” (Batty, 2020) and ‘new normal’ would be like for city workers, residents, and the economy (Nathan, 2020).

The pandemic increased multiple kinds of inequality with impacts falling disproportionately on women, poorer individuals, older adults, disabled people and migrant populations (WEF, 2020). The acceleration of digital services also reinforced and exacerbated the digital divide, affecting age and socio-economic groups differently. The ensuing global economic crisis was a particular concern for the developing world with the threat of deepening poverty (Elliott, 2020).

While both young and old could be infected by the virus, the risk factor of older chronological age and advice to older adults in some countries to self-isolate was also seen to exacerbate entrenched ageism against older people and bring about intergenerational tensions. Older adults were seen as a homogenous group and vulnerable, a burden, or a risk to others (BSG, 2020).

Over a year on from the start of the pandemic, we are still understanding and counting the significant human costs associated.

iii) Future considerations for cities and countries

Globally, the population is living lon­ger and healthier lives, however inequalities in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy persist. Ageing is projected to increase in all regions, offer­ing governments an opportunity to reimagine the provision of fundamental services and policies for healthy longevity – both to be inclusive, and to support the social and economic contributions of individuals throughout the life course.

With a better understanding of demographic trends and the lived experience of citizens and communities, cities and countries can prepare for demographic transitions with forward-looking policies – from the provision of services to the planning of infrastructure, to the design of urban spaces, and to the structure of economic markets.

Longevity economies represent a significant emerging market opportunity for businesses, consumers, and older workers. They create opportunities for extended work patterns and lifelong learning in all sectors, and create markets for products and services that meet the needs and aspirations of older populations.

In the United States in 2018, the overall contribution of the 50-and-older cohort’s economic and unpaid activities was $9 trillion, and this group accounted for 56 cents of every dollar spent in the economy ($7.6 trillion) (Accius and Suh 2019).

Key considerations for cities and countries from our analysis include:

  • Planning for the quality, not just the quantity, of future urban populations’ lives. Planning for healthier, longer lives, requires a sustained focus on healthy life expectancy and caregiving throughout the life course.
  • Developing a life course approach to urban plan­ning and infrastructure to support healthy ageing and active living for all cohorts of the population, now and in their later life – Understanding the role of urban environments and infrastructure – social and economic infrastructure – on the health and wellbeing of residents. Planning principles that make cities more livable for older populations can improve quality of life for all residents, but this will require challenging assumptions and stereotypes about what older populations want and need.
  • Collaborating across sectors and regions to ad­dress complex, interconnected challenges such as inequality, poverty, conflict, and climate change – and responding to COVID-19. Legacies of inequality and poverty, and the scale of the crisis, highlight the urgent need for cross-sector collaboration and investment to address complex challenges with citizens and communities.
  • Examining how longevity economies can be effective in both advanced and emerging economies, and how they can support wellbeing and address inequalities. Longevity economies aim to meet the needs and aspirations of an increasingly older population, and support labor force participation.
  • Exploring how to plan cities at the intersection of ageing populations and climate change – looking ahead at climate migration and demographic and urbanization trends.

If you would like to discuss the report or any of the themes within it, please email anja.mccarthy@ncl.ac.uk.