Demographic Trends, Fertility, & Migration

June 17, 2015

This resource consists of graphs and articles that review general demographic changes and related national policies on migration. The goal is to provide information about general population trends, while encouraging a critical examination of policies, such as replacement migration, which are designed to address these trends.


Towards the end of the 20th century, the global population growth rate declined, and many countries, such as Italy, Japan, and Russia, even began to face the prospect of absolute population decline. Complicating this demographic change is the fact that many nation-states with declining population numbers will also have an increasing proportion of persons older than 65 (mostly non-working age). Some demographers and economists view this trend with alarm and argue that the working age population will not be able to support such large proportions of pensioners. In response, some policy makers have argued that 'replacement migration,' or migration to counter population decline, should be encouraged and is needed in order to maintain economic growth and sustain large populations of retired persons.

In 2000, the United Nations Population Division issued a report, entitled "Replacement Migration: Is It a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations?" This report detailed the numbers of migrants that various countries would need to avoid population decline. This specific report quickly ignited many diverse debates and controversies, but the widely discussed implications of 'replacement migration' have revealed broader racial and ethnic tensions. Other policies towards population decline include pronatalism, which encourages women to have children in order to increase birthrates. In addition to the gendered dimension of this purported 'solution,' certain ideas regarding race, nation and ethnicity often implicitly inform and shape population policies.


The following sources provide a perspective on contemporary population trends and their implications.

  1. Graph, called a population pyramid, displaying the age distributions of developing and developed countries.
    Population Reference Bureau. 2006. Age Distribution of the World's Population.

    Age Distribution of World's Population

  2. Bar graph showing which places have the lowest fertility rates globally.
    Population Reference Bureau. 2006. 10 places with the lowest total fertility worldwide.

    Bar Graph Demographic Trends IHRC

  3. Article discussing the main findings of the United Nations report. 
    Tarmann, Allison. 2000. The flap over replacement migration. Population Reference Bureau.
  4. Article providing an overview of falling fertility rates in Hong Kong as well as the implications for population policy.
    PDF iconExcerpts for Demography Fertility Migration 
    Manuel, Gren. 1999. Waking up to the baby blues: Faced with a declining birth rate, the Government is working on a population policy for the SAR. South China Morning Post. Full text (through LexisNexis).

Discussion Questions

  1. How have academics and politicians responded to the idea of 'replacement migration'? How do race and nationality figure into discussions on replacement migration?
  2. Demographic changes are complex phenomena, caused by multiple factors. How are different groups, like migrants, pensioners, and women, represented in the articles? Are certain groups bearing a disproportionate amount of responsibility to remedy the perceived negative consequences of demographic change?
  3. A more recent UN Population Division report reveals that by 2050, 75% of all developing countries will also have fertility rates that are below replacement levels. Considering this projection, as well as the data from the second source, if developed countries, such as the United States, France and Germany, pursue a policy of 'replacement migration', what are the implications for other countries who may also be experiencing fertility declines but may not be able to draw migrants? What kind of assumptions does the concept of 'replacement migration' rely on?

Suggested Readings

Krause, Elizabeth. 2001. "Empty Cradles" and the Quiet Revolution: Demographic Discourse and Cultural Struggles of Gender, Race, and Class in Italy. Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 4:576-611.

Riley, Nancy E. 1999. Challenging Demography: Contributions from Feminist TheorySociological Forum 14, no. 3:369.

Sexton, Sara. 2006. Too Many Grannies? The Politics of Population Aging. DifferenTakes 42.