THE population of the world is changing rapidly, and the spread of modern technology is giving these changes new political meaning. Yet in the present welter of ingenious political formulations one finds scant recognition of the fact that many of the terms in which international problems are posed have changed since 1918 and will continue to change in the future. There appears to be no general awareness that the postwar settlement, to be just and durable, should take account of the shifting demographic and technological setting.

Of course, these are the views of a demographer riding his hobby. He is not one, however, who thinks that "population change is the cause of war," or that manpower is the only factor in political strength. Let us agree that position, resources, technical skills, economic and political organization, the psychological characteristics of the people, national aims, leadership and doubtless many other factors in addition to the size of population are components of political power and national influence. Let us agree also that numbers do not always count in the same direction—that Alaska would be stronger with more people but that India and Java might be stronger with half their present populations.

It remains true that at relatively equal levels of economic development sheer numbers count heavily in political strength. They should count even more heavily in the appraisal of future strength because the rapid spread of modern technology will bring power to populations now comparatively impotent. The success with which the Soviet Union has brought to bear the manpower of a population that was relatively ineffective twenty years ago demonstrates that fact. Moreover, in general, technological developments and population change are not independent terms in the equation. They are both dependent variables of the same broad processes of social change that are rapidly altering the world's balance of power. Political formulations that fail to take these changes into account are worse than futile. The world's changing people and power cannot be locked in the vise of the past, nor long contained in the framework of the present. Surely realistic planning can be undertaken only on the basis of as much information concerning the changing terms of the problem as the exigencies of an uncertain world make possible.

The writer thinks that such useful forecasting of relevant changes is possible in a number of fields. He undertakes, in what follows, to validate that opinion in the field of population, drawing heavily, in the process, on a study of the prospects for population change in Europe and the Soviet Union recently made by his colleagues and himself.[i]


Obviously no one can say how many people will be living in any specified area at any specified date. War losses, forced and free migrations, changes in political boundaries and a host of other factors make attempts at such prediction foolish. But in spite of the impossibility of obtaining final answers, forecasting is far from futile. The components of future change range from those that are wholly unpredictable to those that are as predictable as the passage of time. Therefore, we need to simplify the terms of the problem by introducing artificial assumptions that eliminate the less predictable factors. Having established a frame of reference, we can reinstate the uncertain factors with such accuracy as the circumstances permit.

We shall ask, then, not what the populations in the area under consideration will be, but what they would be: (1) if there were no migration across the national boundaries of 1937; and (2) if the trends of fertility and mortality which prevailed during the inter-war period developed in an orderly manner during and after this war. Obviously both assumptions are false. Migration has occurred and will continue, and the war's impact on both fertility and mortality has been far from orderly. However, the assumptions have the advantage of making the problem manageable; of showing the population changes implicit in the underlying demographic situation; and of encompassing the variables that, in spite of war and movement, have been in the past the major determinants of population change.

Even on these simplified terms the problem is difficult, but perhaps not so difficult as it appears at first glance. One fact helps greatly. Whatever the future brings, population change must start from existing age distributions. The old people of the years between now and 1970, the older workers, and most of the younger workers and potential parents, are already born. Their respective numbers will greatly affect the number of births and deaths just as the amount of money in the bank affects the size of interest payments. Moreover, we start from existing levels of fertility and mortality, which in the 'thirties ranged from those that would ultimately yield declines of 25 percent per generation to those that would result in increases of more than 60 percent.

Of course neither mortality nor fertility will remain fixed at their levels during the 'thirties. Peacetime mortality rates have been declining for a long time in accordance with rather well-established patterns and will probably continue to decline. In Europe they are lowest in the North and West and in general become progressively higher as one moves to the South and East. In general, they were declining most where they were highest.

Fertility, too, has declined throughout the area under consideration since before the turn of the century. It has dropped largely as a result of the growing rational control that characterized populations becoming increasingly industrialized, urbanized and educated. The trend has followed that of mortality, spreading in lagging fashion with the current of modernization from the highly developed regions of the North and West toward the South and East. In general, it too has been dropping most where it was highest, but even where it is very low there is no indication of a fundamental reversal of trend. Some increases have come since the middle of the 'thirties. However, there is every indication that they were, for the most part, the result of economic revival and war. To marriages and births postponed from the depression have been added those advanced by the anticipation of war. Thus far they reflect no fundamental change in family size. Greater Germany was an exception. There energetic governmental policies favoring births, assisted by the large-scale reemployment of the armament boom, brought Germany's reproduction from levels that would yield declines of 30 percent per generation in 1933 to levels that would maintain a stationary population in 1940. However, in the absence of a very strong governmental policy there is every reason to believe that fertility will continue to decline.

These qualitative predictions concerning the trends of fertility and mortality can be given explicit form. The technical details need not detain us. It is sufficient to note that the procedures incorporate generalizations drawn from past European experience in a manner to make them systematically applicable to the situation of each country considered. In accordance with past experience they provide that both fertility and mortality will decline rapidly where they are high and gradually where they are low, and that the decline will become progressively slower as time goes on. Existing populations can be systematically depleted by the appropriate mortality and recruited by the appropriate fertility to yield projected populations for any selected dates. The writer and his colleagues have constructed a series of such projections for the U.S.S.R. and each country of the Europe of 1937, covering the years 1940 to 1970.[ii] These projected populations are not the ones that will exist, but those that would exist if the basic assumptions were valid. The actual populations will differ because of migration, war losses and any new factors of peacetime that modify the orderly development of the vital trends of the inter-war decades. Nevertheless, because they show the population changes implicit in the underlying demographic situation, they afford a valuable frame of reference with which to analyze the prospects for future change.


In Figure 1 the actual total populations for the demographic regions of Europe [iii] as they were from 1900 to 1940 are shown by heavy lines. The populations as projected to 1970 are shown by the lighter extensions of those lines. It will be seen that (without making any allowance for war losses or migration) the total for Europe and the Soviet Union increases by about 96 million between 1940 and 1970. However, only 18 million of that increase occurs west of the 1937 Soviet boundary—an amount less than the total population deficits caused in that area by the last war. Moreover (without allowance for war loss), the maximum population is reached by 1960.

The small change projected for Europe west of the Soviet Union (as existing in 1937) is the resultant of widely divergent trends within that area. The population of Northwestern and Central Europe increases only 3 million to its maximum by 1950, and thereafter declines. Moreover, every country of this region reaches its maximum before 1970, and most of them prior to 1960. By 1970, France has a population about 4 million smaller than in 1940. So does England and Wales. The German total is about the same as in 1940. War losses, in terms of direct casualties, excess civilian mortality and birth deficits will speed these declines. It is apparent that this region's period of population growth is coming to an end, and that progressive decline can be forestalled only by heavy immigration or a sharp reversal in the past trend of fertility.

The projected population of Southern and Eastern Europe increases by about 27 million between 1940 and 1970. However, even here there is evidence of slowing growth quite apart from war losses. Two-thirds of the projected increase comes between 1940 and 1955. By 1970 the populations grow rather slowly. War losses will check the growth sharply, but they would have to be extremely heavy to eliminate it. In the absence of heavy emigration a considerable growth may be expected, particularly in Eastern Europe.

The Soviet Union is now in a demographic position somewhat analogous to that of Western Europe during the latter part of the nineteenth century.[iv] Death rates are high and birth rates higher, and the age structure favors rapid growth. Although the projections are based on the assumption that such rates will decline sharply, they yield very rapid increases. Between 1940 and 1970 the population increases by 77 million to attain a total of 251 million. The increase alone exceeds the total present or prospective population of Germany. Between 1900 and 1940 the population grew by 55 percent despite war and revolution. The projected growth of about 44 percent between 1940 and 1970 is not unreasonable (war losses being disregarded).

Such differences in rates of growth sharply modify the distribution of Europe's people. As may be seen from Figure 2, the population of the Northwestern and Central region in 1900 was more than half again as large as that of either Southern and Eastern Europe or the 1937 territory of the Soviet Union. By 1940 the differences were much reduced. By 1970, if the projections were to be realized, the population of the Soviet Union would be the largest of the three, and that of Southern and Eastern Europe only about 15 percent less than that of Northwestern and Central Europe. In 1900 the latter region contained 45 percent of the total population; by 1970 it would have just over one-third. Differences in war losses may considerably modify these trends, as may migration. However, they are not likely to nullify them. The balance of Europe's population will almost inevitably shift sharply eastward in the coming decades.


Changes in the age composition of populations are more important, from many points of view, than those in total numbers. They also come more rapidly than those in total numbers. These changes are illustrated in Figure 3 by a series of pyramids. In these diagrams each bar represents a five-year age group with the males to the left and the females to the right. The group aged 0-4 years is at the bottom, that 5-9 years next above, and so on to the top bar, which represents the persons who have survived 85 years or more. The three pyramids at the left represent populations of the demographic regions in 1940; those at the right, the corresponding populations as projected to 1970.

Some common elements stand out in the 1940 structures. Each shows a relatively small number of males aged 40-55 in 1940 because that group bore the brunt of the casualties of the last war. Each has a gash at age 20-24 as the result of the birth deficits of 1914-1918. The differences in shape are characteristic of the different stages of demographic evolution.

Thus the pyramid for Northwestern and Central Europe is relatively large at the top, reflecting both the low death rates and relatively slow growth of past years. The erosion of the base shows that births had been declining progressively for many years. The concentration of population in the childbearing ages, which has recently supported growth, is clear. No less clear is the fact that only time is required to make that same concentration foster decline.

The pyramid for Southern and Eastern Europe has the profile characteristic of regions with a history of high mortality and still higher fertility. The number of babies has become progressively larger with passing time. The pyramid is relatively narrow at the top because persons in the older age groups are the survivors of the smaller birth cohorts of earlier years whose ranks have been sharply depleted by high mortality from birth onward. The age structure favors growth because parental stocks will increase for some time without equal gains in the ages of high mortality. It also foreshadows an eventual end of growth. The oblong base shows that fertility declines of the past fifteen years have begun to check the increase of births, a development that occurred about twenty years earlier in Northwestern and Central Europe.

The pyramid for the Soviet Union shows even higher fertility and mortality, and greater potentialities for future growth. It also records catastrophes. The war and revolution, and the hardships of the early 'thirties, plus policies toward abortion in that period, are evident in the recurrent notches. However, as yet there is no suggestion of a check to the increase of births.

In the pyramids for 1970 all age groups have been moved up thirty years (6 bars) from their position in 1940, after making allowance for deaths in the interval. New groups have been substituted for the ages under thirty on the basis of the assumptions concerning fertility and mortality.

The heavy erosion of the 1970 pyramid for Northwestern and Central Europe might give the impression that sharp declines in fertility have been assumed. Actually, since fertility is already low, the declines projected were the most gradual of all. The heavier undercutting of this pyramid is due less to the assumptions concerning what will happen in that region than to what has already happened to fertility and to the contingents of potential parents.

The 1970 pyramid for Southern and Eastern Europe shows a population nearing the end of its growth. The undercutting of the base has gone a little beyond that of Northwestern and Central Europe in 1940.

In 1970, the Soviet Union still has rapid growth ahead. In spite of the largest of all assumed declines in fertility, undercutting does not appear here because of the counterbalancing increase in the parental group. The oblong base begins to show about twenty years later than it does in the case of Southern and Eastern Europe. In general terms, then, the populations of the major demographic regions under consideration are in growth stages separated by somewhat less than a generation.

Changes in the component age groups of the population have an important bearing on nearly every phase of social, economic and political life. For present purposes, the matter may be sufficiently illustrated by confining attention to the males aged 15-64, the group that corresponds rather closely to the male labor force. In some respects the coming changes in this group are less speculative, in other respects more speculative, than those in the population as a whole. Until 1960 these ages include only persons born prior to 1945. Postwar changes that might reverse the trend of fertility therefore cannot become effective until after 1960. On the other hand, this is the group that suffers the most casualties and supplies the most migrants. On the whole, it appears likely that the projections represent maximum numbers.

In Northwestern and Central Europe, the projections show rather small changes in the number of males aged 15-64. By 1970 the number exceeds the 1940 number by about 2 million, although the total population declines by about 9 million. The region can therefore withstand sharp war losses without impairing its present ratio of productive males to total population. It can do so, however, only on terms of the effective use of older workers; for within the productive group the shifts are rapid. The projected young workers (15-34) decline by 7 million, or nearly as much as the total population; the middle group (35-44) remains relatively unchanged; while the group 45-64 increases by nearly 9 million. This latter gain is much too large to be wiped out by war losses. The economic prospects of the region will turn heavily on the effective use of this group.

In Southern and Eastern Europe between 1940 and 1970 the increase in males of working ages exceeds by 3 million the increase in the total male population. The gain is particularly rapid in the Eastern region, where it amounts to 11 million, or an increase over 1940 of 41 percent. War losses and probably some emigration will cut heavily into the gains, but they are unlikely to eliminate them. In spite of such losses there is every prospect that males of productive age will become a growing part of the population. The increases, however, will be almost entirely confined to the ages over 35.

The projected increase of males of working age in the Soviet Union, like that in the total population, is most spectacular of all. The number rises from 49 million in 1940 to 84 million in 1970, an increase exceeding that in all Europe west of the 1937 boundaries of the U.S.S.R. For 1970, the projections show males of working ages to be substantially more numerous than in either region to the west. Moreover, increases characterize each age segment within the group. Russian losses from the last war and revolution probably exceeded those of all Europe west of her boundaries. Losses from the present conflict would have to be much heavier to wipe out the projected increase. It is difficult to imagine conditions under which a spectacular growth in the Russian male population of working age will not take place during the next decades.

Changes in the number of males 15-34 years of age are particularly important. On this group depends much of the flexibility of productive skills, and from it come the new military recruits and the cream of the fighting forces. Changes in the projected values from 1940 to 1970 for the major countries and regions are strikingly apparent in Figure 4. In Northwestern and Central Europe the number declines by nearly 7 million to give a total in 1970 little above that of the Soviet Union in 1940. Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the combination of all other countries each decline by amounts ranging from one to a little more than two million. These declines probably are a minimum, for it is somewhat unlikely that the losses of the war will be more than counterbalanced by immigration and increases in births prior to 1955.

The trends in Southern and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are quite different. The projected increases of males 15-34 in the South and East are small and largely confined to the Balkans. War losses and emigration may more than cancel them. However, by 1970 the number in the region will not be far short of the total in Northwestern and Central Europe.

The projected increase in the Soviet Union is very large, rising from 30 million in 1940 to 43 million in 1970. This increase alone exceeds the total present or prospective number of that age group in Germany within her 1937 boundaries. If the projections were to be realized, the Soviet Union by 1970 would have within her 1937 boundaries more men of prime military age than the total of Northwestern and Central Europe, or than that of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Poland, Spain and Rumania together (these being the seven next largest countries of Europe). Obviously the war will heavily reduce the projected values in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. If the U.S.S.R. should sustain heavier losses than at the present writing seem likely, she might have only 37 million in this group by 1970, or an increase of only 7 million over the number of 1940. Even so, she would have more men of prime military age than the projections show for the four next largest countries (without allowing for their war losses).


The demographic changes described above are more important than their numerical magnitude suggests because they are not isolated events. They are only one phase of broader processes of social evolution; of the eastward sweep of technology, education and wider popular aspirations. The whole chain of events means growing power as well as population. The broader implications of these trends can be only briefly suggested here.

The Soviet Union is clearly the major power of the Eurasian continent. Its people are still poor and they have suffered beyond belief from wars, foreign and civil, since 1914. Nevertheless, Russia has great demographic and economic resiliency. Numerically, her population probably will recover its war losses before 1950, even inside the old boundaries, and go on to rapid growth. This growth should bring no serious internal strain, for her resources are ample and industrial skills are being rapidly proliferated. She has achieved political unity and solved serious problems of cultural heterogeneity. Her people have developed a vision of better things to come and will have a confidence bred of victory. Clearly she will play an active rôle in the world's affairs and will not be thwarted easily. However, the problems of recovery and the opportunities for vast development at home should serve to direct her major attention to internal problems.

In Southern and Eastern Europe the basic demographic situation is favorable to economic development. Falling growth potentials already indicate that rapid increases in population will end before the carrying capacity of the region is seriously strained. Moreover, the same changes are generating age structures progressively favorable to the maintenance of high ratios of producers to dependents in the population, and this in turn makes possible rising levels of living.

Whether conditions actually improve in Southern and Eastern Europe is, of course, another matter. Thus far the region has not made effective use of its human resources. The situation is particularly acute in the Eastern region. There, the pressure of population on a predominantly agricultural economy is heavy and rising. Obsolete agricultural techniques, fragmented land holdings, archaic property systems and a plethora of workers on the land have all combined to produce mass underemployment and poverty. Under such circumstances a growing labor force will not yield a growing product. Yet the labor force will increase rapidly. The projections show the number of persons 15-64 years of age increasing by about one-quarter between 1940 and 1955 and by more than one-third between 1940 and 1970—an additional 13 million by 1955 and over 19 million by 1970. Of course, war losses will reduce this increase but probably without changing the essentials of the problem. Smaller increases will be met with smaller resources. The whole problem is vastly complicated by the fact that the region is a tangle of linguistic, religious and political cleavages. Poor populations, increasingly aware of the advantages they do not share, and fired by hatreds ancient and modern, are not the material from which durable peace is easily made.

There is no strictly agrarian solution. Agrarian reform of a sweeping character is needed, but this will not be enough. Indeed, one prerequisite of agrarian reform is the reduction of the number of workers on the land to perhaps two-thirds of those before the war. Emigration from the region may help to some extent. However, as pointed out above, it is not the young and mobile groups that will be increasing rapidly, but the groups over 35 years of age. Under this circumstance, the governments concerned are not likely to favor mass emigration of their youngest workers. The efficient use of the region's growing labor supply can only be obtained by industrialization and urbanization to the limit of the area's potentialities. These potentialities are not large and are not spread evenly. They cannot be realized within a political framework that blocks the movement of men, capital and goods within the region. Problems of this scope are not to be solved by minor border revisions or by ethnic reshuffling. Broader views, integrated planning and the assistance of outside capital and skills will be required for the rapid changes that the situation demands. Such changes could give the people a new hope with which to sublimate their older hatreds. To that goal a world interested in peace should turn its attention.

In Northwestern and Central Europe the demographic problems will be largely those of adaptation to absence of the growth and youth that characterized the region in the centuries of its rising power. On the economic side, rapid aging and the trend toward decline will complicate somewhat the already difficult problems of maintaining a fully functioning economy. However, if the major problems of economic dynamics are solved, and effective use is made of the rising group of older workers, there is no demographic reason why high and rising levels of living should not be attained in times of peace.

Nevertheless, there will be great and growing concern over the threat of depopulation. Probably immigration will not be encouraged as the major solution, for the countries concerned already are worried by cultural inundations. Rather, strenuous efforts will be made to lift the birth rates, probably with some measure of success. However, such developments can bring no substantial change in the projected economic or military manpower before 1960 or 1965.

It does not seem likely that any nation of Northwestern and Central Europe will challenge the world again. Germany, like her western neighbors, has passed the period in which she could become a dominant world power, owing to the diffusion of technological civilization to peoples that are growing more rapidly. Those who view the prevention of a new German attempt at conquest as the major problem of the peace seem to the writer to be looking backward rather than ahead. The power and interests of the Soviet Union are an adequate guarantee against that contingency. Nevertheless, important issues turn on the nature of the treatment meted out to the German people in the peace settlement. Germans will continue to form the largest ethnic group west of the Slavs. On their continued productive efficiency will depend much of the economic welfare of Europe. It is important that, whatever the political safeguards adopted, this productive efficiency be maintained. Otherwise, a train of poverty and disillusionment spreading throughout the Continent might soon bring a new political upheaval. The realities of the changing demographic and technological situation suggest that the danger of economic frustration in Europe may be greater than that of renewed attempts at military conquest.

[i] Notestein, Taeuber, Kirk, Coale, and Kiser: "The Future Population of Europe and the Soviet Union." Geneva, League of Nations (Columbia University Press, Agent), 1944.

[ii] Notestein and others, op. cit.

[iii] The following classification of countries into regions is used: 1. Northwestern and Central Europe: United Kingdom and Ireland (England and Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland); West-Central Europe (Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Switzerland); Northern Europe (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden). 2. Southern and Eastern Europe: Southern Europe (Italy, Portugal, Spain); Eastern Europe (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Jugoslavia, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania). 3. U.S.S.R.

[iv] The material for the Soviet Union was largely prepared by Dr. Frank Lorimer of the Office of Population Research, and will appear in a forthcoming study, "The Population of the Soviet Union: History and Prospects."

Author's Note

The materials drawn upon in preparing this article were developed in the Office of Population Research, School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, with the generous financial assistance of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Milbank Memorial Fund. Neither of those organizations, however, is in any way responsible for the results or the interpretation.

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  • FRANK W. NOTESTEIN, Director of the Office of Population Research, Princeton University; author of many studies in the same field and joint author of the forthcoming League of Nations volume, "The Future Population of Europe and the Soviet Union"
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