The State of the World: 2062

What will the world be like in 50 years? We explore the trends of that vibrant and worrisome time.

By Linda Marsa|Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Illustrations by Chris Gall


Earth now home to 2 billion people age 60 and over.

Coastal cities go under. Renewable energy rules the day. Cows use up precious water and drive the ongoing greenhouse effect. 

Incomes skyrocket in developing nations.

6 billion people live in cities—the population of the entire world at the turn of the century.


Ice caps melt. Industry booms at top of the world.



PLANET OF THE AGED  “Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old.” —Jonathan Swift

Gray is the new color of the world population. Today the globe is home to 2 billion people over the age of 60, 
a group growing five times as quickly as the population as a whole. Five nations contain more than 50 million of 
these elders: China (440 million), India (316 million), the United States (111 million), Indonesia (72 million), 
and Brazil (64 million). The aging demographic combined with declining fertility rates—especially in industrial 
countries—has sent medical costs skyrocketing while economies sputter. The race to attract young immigrant 
workers, including caregivers for the elderly, is on.


2012: 82,302,0002062: 72,371,000

Life Expectancy2012: 80.62062: 86.5
Elderly (Over Age 65) as Percent 
of Population2012: 20.52062: 30.1

Population2012: 60,551,0002062: 57,399,000
Life Expectancy2012: 822062: 87.2
Elderly as Percent 
of Population2012: 20.42062: 31.4

Population2012: 310,384,0002062: 421,050,000
Life Expectancy2012: 78.82062: 84.6
Elderly as Percent 
of Population
2012: 132062: 21.9

2012: 126,536,0002062: 103,241,000

Life Expectancy
2012: 83.72062: 88.9

Elderly as Percent 
of Population
2012: 232062: 35

Profile: Japan 
 Land of the aging son

Japan, an economic powerhouse late in the last century, is a shadow of its former self. Because of a low birthrate and increased longevity, its population in the past 50 years has shriveled 18 percent. The workforce has dwindled as much as 36 percent, stalling economic growth. Japan’s GDP of $7.1 trillion is a pittance compared with China’s $89 trillion (although China now faces its own aging crisis).

Japan’s demographic shift has triggered dramatic changes. The country’s erstwhile tradition of cradle-to-grave employment, with people working for one company for an entire career, has been phased out in favor of a Western-style meritocracy where jobs, promotions, and wages are linked to performance. High-paid senior executives have been encouraged to retire earlier or work part-time, creating new jobs at better pay for younger generations. Increased tax revenues ease social service burdens, enabling humane eldercare.

With higher wages and greater opportunity, Japanese women have ever more power in the workplace. Flextime and extended maternity leave, European-style child care, and use of fertility aids have helped nudge the birthrate back up. The population, once in free fall, is finally just short of replacing itself.

In Tokyo, still one of the world’s largest cities with nearly 39 million people, chains of senior living facilities cater to a huge but active and healthy elderly population. Robots patrol hallways and do menial tasks such as housekeeping, distributing medications, helping residents dress, and ferrying them to doctors’ appointments. They even perform minor surgeries. Automated vehicles have restored some of the elderly’s lost mobility. Anti-Alzheimer’s drugs have drastically improved the quality of life for many.

Spurred by a series of nuclear-power mishaps, starting with 2011’s disaster at Fukushima, large-scale solar and wind plants now dot the country.

Top 5 Leap in Median Age from 2012 to 2062

1. Iran: 27 to 50 (23 years)
2. Vietnam: 28 to 48 (20 years)
3. Mexico: 27 to 45 (18 years)
4. India: 25 to 40 (15 years)
5. Republic of Korea: 38 to 51 (14 years)

What They Were Saying 50 Years Ago…  
“The traditional 
extended family 
is no longer the 
norm. Younger 
Japanese are unwilling to take care of their 
family, and when they get married, 
they choose someone who won’t come 
with that kind 
of baggage—which adds to 
a ticking 
time bomb.” 
 —Julian Chapple, 

Fertility Rate  is the average number of children born to a woman in a given country. 
Fertility rate is like Goldilocks’s porridge: It has to be just right (approximately 2.1) to generate a 
robust and self-sustaining population. Too high and you get a youth bulge that can’t be absorbed 
into the economy. Too low and the shrinking workforce slows economic growth to a crawl.

Next Page: 2062 State of the Environment


To feed a hungry population of 9 billion people, the total production of grains, meat, vegetables, and dairy products has increased 70 percent in the past 50 years. Consumption of water for agriculture—which constitutes more than 90 percent of global water use—has increased 19 percent. Despite that long record of success, agricultural production is stressed by floods, deforestation, drought, urbanization (land-devouring cities), and a growing appetite for resource-intensive meat. More than 
4 billion people live in areas at risk of water shortages. The map below illustrates the top threats to agricultural production.


Clean Energy in Charge
  Energy sources that generate the world’s electricity*

Nuclear 24%
Hydropower 14%
Coal + Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) 12%
Solar 12%
Wind 12%
Natural gas 11%
Biomass waste 5%
Natural gas + CCS 5%
Geothermal 3%
Biomass + CCS 1%
Oil 1%
Coal 1%

Top 5 
by World 

1. Latin America: 87%

2. Africa: 81% 

3. Europe: 55%

4. Middle East: 49%

5. United States: 45%

* From a best-case scenario 
prepared by the International Energy Agency, a 
nonprofit research group whose members hail from 28 
countries. Under this 
scenario, carbon emissions are cut 50 percent 
from 2012 levels.

Going Under

More than 150 million people worldwide are at risk from rising sea levels and extreme storms that cause coastal flooding. Overall, sea level is some 35 centimeters (14 inches) higher than it was in 2012. The most vulnerable major cities include Mumbai, India; Guangzhou, China; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. United States cities at risk include Miami, New York, and New Orleans. Globally, flooding due to climate change threatens to exact a $35 trillion economic toll by the 2070s.

High Cost of Meat

With rising incomes, meat consumption has increased 73 percent over the past 50 years. But a beefy diet exacts an environmental toll: Cows consume vastly more water and produce far more greenhouse gases than crop foods.

Cubic meters of water (264 gallons) 
consumed to produce one ton of food:
Vegetables: 300
Nuts: 9,000
Beef: 15,400

Global meat consumption in 2012: 270 million tons
Global meat consumption in 2062: 470 million tons
Proportion of global greenhouse gases produced by meat production (2062): 70%

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Technology  proved crucial for controlling greenhouse-gas 
emissions starting in the 2020s. Installed at plants that produce iron, steel, pulp, paper, 
chemicals, and cement, CCS collects carbon gas, concentrates it, and pumps it underground 
for permanent storage in natural geologic formations. Despite many early fears, 
very little CO2 has leaked out from those storehouses.

Global Footprint  is the size of human impact on Earth’s natural resources. In the past 50 years, thanks to education and technology, more than 2 billion people joined the middle class, swelling the human footprint nearly 50 percent. At the same time, millions of acres of cropland have been devoured by population growth and by persistent drought in China and India. But improvements in agriculture have opened up millions of acres of flourishing new cropland in Africa and Brazil.

Next Page: New World Dynamos


China and the United States still have not been dethroned, but much of the world’s economic might now resides with Brazil, India, Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey. Their rise in status has been driven by young labor forces, investments in education and technology, and thriving middle classes with money to burn. Per capita income in those nations has skyrocketed, raising the standard of living to unprecedented heights but creating ravenous new 
demand for energy and natural resources.

Profile: Turkey  Beacon of the Middle East

Per Capita Income
2005: $7,920

2062: $53,560

Gross Domestic Product
2009: $509 billion
2062: $5.93 trillion
Annual GDP 
Growth Rate
2009-2062: 4.4%

Full admittance into the European Union four decades ago solidified Turkey’s position as an economic powerhouse and global player, making it a beacon of modernization for the Middle East. Today this Muslim 

nation holds the same vital economic role it once did for hundreds of years as the seat of the Ottoman Empire.

Capitalizing on its location on the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, Turkey continues to benefit from a huge influx of foreign investments. It is a transportation hub for oil and gas from neighboring Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Iraq, as well as a crucial launching pad for the construction industry throughout Russia, Asia, and Africa. Turkey has also emerged as a leading shipbuilder and a major manufacturer and distributor of heavy consumer goods, including automobiles, home appliances, and refrigerators. Over the past half century, the nation’s capital, Ankara, has transformed from a sleepy provincial town into a cosmopolitan city, while Istanbul, long a sophisticated tourist mecca and industrial center, has grown into a megacity of 20 million situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Shaking off the political convulsions of the late 2010s and 2020s, Turkey made smart investments in education. Its cohort of young, educated workers grew by nearly 20 percent in the first three decades of the 21st century, delivering a demographic dividend that continues to stoke economic engines.

INDONESIA Per Capita Income
 2005: $3,702 
2062: $38,800 
Gross Domestic Product
 2009: $354 billion 
2062: $5.22 trillion 
Annual GDP 
Growth Rate 
2009-2062: 4.8%
Per Capita Income
2005: $9,939 2062: $63,300 Gross Domestic Product
 2009: $866 billion 2062: $9.46 trillion Annual GDP 
Growth Rate
 2009-2062: 4.3%
Per Capita Income 
2005: $3,224 
2062: $36,250 Gross Domestic Product 
2009: $1.065 trillion 2062: $30.61 trillion Annual GDP 
Growth Rate 2009-2062: 5.9%

What they were saying 50 years ago…
  “A substantial number of people over 65 in Japan, 
the United States, and Europe will go abroad to 
work because that’s where their skills will still be 
valued and in demand, and their retirement 
money will go further. Property developers in 
Mexico and Tunisia, like those in Florida 
and Arizona, are beginning to create turnkey 
retirement communities for expatriates.” 
—Jack A. Goldstone, director, Center for Global 
Policy, George Mason University

Next Page: Surge of the Cities


The exodus from rural areas, where agriculture is now primarily automated, to cities, where opportunities abound, has 
continued unabated for decades. Today more than 6 billion people live in cities—about 70 percent of the world’s population, roughly double the proportion of a half century ago. The urban shift is especially pronounced in the East, where Beijing, Manila, and Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh) have nearly tripled their populations since 2012. Meanwhile, cities in impoverished regions, such as Lagos, Karachi, and Mumbai, are bursting at the seams, putting clean water, sanitation, policing, 
electricity, and health care in short supply.


Profile: Nigeria 
 Chaos nation


2012: 158,423,000

2062: 462,103,000

Fertility Rate

2012: 5.43

2062: 2.87

Life Expectancy 

2012: 52.5

2062: 69

Mortality Rate

2012: 87.6

2062: 29.0

Sitting on tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, Nigeria ranks among the top fossil fuel producers on the globe. But after decades of halting political progress, its democracy remains fragile. Behind the scenes, Nigeria continues to be dominated by oil-rich despots and military strongmen. The nation still feels the effects of the collapse of fishing and farming in its northern regions due to climate change in the 2030s and 2040s, which raised 

food prices and displaced millions, sending them fleeing into cities in search of better wages.

In Lagos, a sprawling city of 39 million, ostentatious mansions sit next to teeming slums. The dilapidated roads are congested, and refuse collection is sporadic at best. A lack of adequate sanitation and health care has led to recurring epidemics of cholera, malaria, typhoid fever, hepatitis, yellow fever, and aids.
A high birthrate has translated into a 
population of more than 400 million people, half of whom are under the age of 24. Unemployment and civil unrest are rife, fueled by lack of access to education, persistent poverty, and long-simmering religious tensions between northern Muslims and the relatively affluent southern Christian majority. Robberies, assaults, extortion, and murder are facts of life. Piracy off the coast of Nigeria is rampant as smugglers transport heroin, electronic devices, 

and electronic waste from Southeast Asia.

But there are bright spots. Over the past 50 years, life expectancy has climbed, the infant mortality rate has dropped by 67 percent, and a once overwhelming fertility rate is coming under control. The exploding population has stoked the economy and created a relatively large, politically influential middle class, which has contributed to a recent improvement in political stability.

Infant mortality rate refers to how many infants die per 1,000 born. 
It is a critical indication of a nation’s overall health. In 2062 Afghanistan has among the 
worst rates (51), while Singapore ranks among the best (2). The United States’ rate is 4. Admirably, 
in the past 50 years the world’s average infant mortality rate has fallen from 42 to 18.

What they were saying 
50 years ago…
  “Nigeria is going to become 
the place in Africa. The rising middle class has an interest 
in a stable investment 
environment and will put 
pressure on the government 
to get its act together and 
enforce anticorruption measures.”
 —Jennifer Cooke, director, 
Africa Program at the 
Center for Strategic & 
International Studies



1. Delhi (52.9 million)

2. Mumbai (42.7 million)

3. Lagos (39.0 million)

4. Dhaka (36.6 million)

5. Tokyo (34.6 million)

1. Tokyo (37.2 million)

2. Delhi (22.7 million)

3. Mexico City (20.5 million)

4. New York City 
(20.4 million)

5. Shanghai (20.2 million)



2012: 1,341,335,000

2062: 1,211,538,000

Fertility Rate

2012: 1.562062: 1.88

Life Expectancy 

2012: 73.82062: 80.8

Mortality Rate

2012: 19.6
2062: 8.3c

2012: 148,692,000
2062: 192,384,000

Fertility Rate

2012: 2.16
2062: 1.68

Life Expectancy 

2012: 69.42062: 79.0

Mortality Rate

2012: 41.8
2062: 12.5


2012: 93,261,0002062: 165,507,000

Fertility Rate

2012: 3.052062: 1.95

Life Expectancy

2012: 69.22062: 78.4

Mortality Rate

2012: 20.9
2062: 10.2

Next Page: Arctic Powerhouses


A warming climate largely eliminated summertime sea ice along the Arctic coasts, exposing vast fossil fuel reserves. The Arctic may hold 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and natural gas resources. Canada, 
Russia, Greenland, Norway, and the United States have all prospered. Canada and Norway are among the world’s five fastest-growing nations (alongside Iceland, India, and the United States). Although mounting worldwide energy 
demand continues to stress the environment, it has powered large-scale development of renewable energy.


Profile: Canada  Melting ice, liquid riches

It’s hard to remember that Canada’s vast Arctic regions were largely uninhabitable 50 years ago. Melting ice has liberated immense oil and natural gas reserves. Tankers and container ships move freely through shipping lanes—once treacherous with ice—between Europe and the Far East. The energy bonanza has spawned Wild West–style boomtowns in the Arctic Circle. The city of Churchill and deepwater ports accommodate ship traffic in agricultural and trade goods, while the Bathurst Inlet serves the diamond mines in the Northwest Territories.

The once sparsely populated Nunavut Territory, controlled by the native Inuit people, has undergone rapid economic and population growth. The infusion of petrodollars has trans-

formed the previously impoverished Inuits into North American sheikhs.

Although 25 percent of Canada’s population—roughly 10 million people—is over the age of 60, the population has increased 30 percent in the past 50 years due to an influx of immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The country presciently established guest-worker programs and recruited heavily among the 
millions of refugees 
displaced by 
drought and 
heat waves in 
Africa and Asia 
to fill jobs on the new frontier.

What They Were Saying 50 Years Ago…  
“Canada is a country that has a sound immigration policy, 
dignity for aboriginal people, good democratic 
institutions, and a liberal trade policy codified into law. 
It is well-positioned in a world where globalized 
business is the norm.” —Laurence C. Smith, 
author, The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping 
Civilization’s Northern Future



2012: 34,017,000
2062: 45,101,000

Oil Reserves 175,200,000,000 barrels*

Oil Produced 
Annually3,483,000 barrels*

Per Capita Income

2005: $31,874
2062: $94,358

Gross Domestic Product

2009: $ 1.171 trillion2062: $4.292 trillion

2012: 142,958,000
2062: 120,761,000

Oil Reserves 60,000,000,000 barrels*

Oil Produced 
10,270,000 barrels*

Per Capita Income

2005: $10,358
2062: $64,350

Gross Domestic Product

2009: $869 billion

2062: $6.34 trillion

*2011 estimates
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