The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has increased mortality rates across the world, birth rates have reportedly dropped in some countries, while migrations may be ebbing a little. Will this significantly impact how the global population evolves over the next few years? That was the focus of the discussion during a webinar at Ajman University, organized on the occasion of the UNESCO-promoted International Day of Women in Science on February 11.
Dr. Zahia Ouadah-Bedidi, Research Professor at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Paris was the guest speaker at the webinar, presided over by Professor Shaher Momani, Dean at Ajman University’s College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) and moderated by Dr. Soumaya Abdellatif, Assistant Professor, CHS. The webinar was entitled Demographic Transition in Times of Crisis: What are the Consequences of Covid-19?
Dr. Zahia used the Theory of Demographic Transition to examine and explain historical trends in global population evolution. Population projections for all countries over the world are based on three key parameters: mortality, births (fertility) and migration, she said. These parameters when juxtaposed on the current situation may suggest a need to revise global population projections in the near future.
There have been several momentous events in history when the natural process of demographic transition has been disrupted due to abnormal circumstances such as war, Cholera, Smallpox, Spanish Influenza, HIV etc. In certain countries, this disruption led to changes in life expectancy and birth rates. For example, a serious increase in mortality, significant reduction in births and migration flows affected population growth and consequently the population structure.
Global population projections were consequently revised to factor in these unanticipated developments. So, are we going to review the recent predictions of the world population again as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, demographers are mobilized around the world, trying to understand this phenomenon and its impact on the global demography. Demographers need time to obtain strong and valid indicators, they need to ask about the methods and the tools used for producing statistics especially in an international comparison scheme. We have to be sure about the comparability of data and indicators obtained,” said Dr. Zahia.
With no disrespect to those who perished in this pandemic, some of the broad trends that are emerging are indeed grim. For instance, men and women in France lost 0.2 years and 0.1 year of life expectancy respectively, according to preliminary estimates at the beginning of the pandemic by researchers Michel Guillot and Myriam Khlat from the French Institute of Demographic Studies (INED).
The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies in France (INSEE) confirms this, estimating the pandemic-induced drop in life expectancy at 0.4 years and 0.5 years respectively for women and men in France (https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/5012724). The number of marriages and births have also declined, according to INSEE estimates. However, the situation is still not comparable with the world AIDS epidemic which has affected millions of young people, without changing the curve of global demographic development.
The data available do not allow us to conclude that the current pandemic is actually a real mortality crisis, said Dr. Zahia. A mortality crisis, as defined by eminent French demographer Hervé le Bras, is a situation when annual deaths are three times higher than usual. With a Covid-19 mortality rate of around 0.7%, and 80% of these deaths having occurred in those over 70 years old, it cannot be classified as a mortality crisis nor does it have a significant impact on demographics. A decline in births has also been observed, but this could merely be a postponement of parenting plans due to the current pandemic and not a real change in reproductive behavior.
“As for migrations, time will allow us to see the international flows taking place and whether it will continue to compensate for the low birth rates observed in some old countries,” added Dr. Zahia.