Population Projections in Asia

Terence H. Hull, Australian National University

For much of the last century policies and plans developed by Asian governments have been inspired and guided by demographic projections. At times these calculations have been based on a number of assumptions to show the likely paths population numbers might take if different policies were enacted. These were seen to be aids to the bureaucratic imagination, but were also intended to be tools to argue particular cases, and educate the political elite. Sometimes, though, confident governments did not want to broach the possibility of alternative policies and directed analysts to stick to a single set of assumptions about trends in fertility, mortality and migration. In such cases the projections were treated as forecasts and attention was focussed on the mechanics of budgeting. Irrespective of how national government projections were made they always stood in contrast to the calculations made by independent researchers or supra-national institutions such as the United Nations Population Division, the World Bank. Five decades ago almost all Asian countries were projected to have high rates of fertility and population growth, and governments were encouraged to adopt family planning programs to avert a perceived demographic challenge. Over the last three decades a growing number of countries have reduced fertility to replacement levels, and often well below long-term replacement. Projections have become politically charged, to the point that the general public may lose confidence in the discussions of alternate demographic destinies.

Presented in Session 163: Assumptions and Presumptions of Population Projections in Asia: Case Studies from China, India and Indonesia