I see two important trends shaping the future of the global debate: the first is population aging and the second is migration. It’s an old story in a new setting. People in developed parts of the world are getting older, while young people in poor places are trying to get away from their circumstances. I see a global role for countries like Turkey in shaping the solutions to these problems. Let me explain.
First, let’s take a quick glance at the data on aging. Globally, the population aged 60 and above is growing faster than all younger age groups. The UN Population Division projects the number of those over 60 from just fewer than 1 billion today, representing 12 percent of world’s population, to just over 2 billion in 2050, representing 21 percent of world’s population.
Think of it in economic terms. Between 2028 and 2058, the global working age population is to decline by 169 million while retirees (age 65 and over) are to increase by 487 million. Population giants will not be spared. In China, the number of individuals in the working age will decrease by 257 million while number of retirees will increase by 168 million. In Turkey, there will not be changes in the working age, but number of retirees will welcome another 13 million. As you can surely guess, the ratio of aging population varies from one continent to another. The number of people over 65 is 3.5 percent in Africa, the lowest in the world. Africa is followed by 7.6 percent in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. In contrast, the continent with the highest ratio of aging population is Europe, with 17.6 percent, trailed by North America and Oceania with 14.8 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively. It would only make sense for this to even itself out, right?
Just in twenty years, the number of international migrants almost doubled and reached 258 million. Of these, there are 68.5 million refugees, people who are forced to leave their countries of origin. Note that the migrant/refugee population is young. Just take a look at the age distribution of 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey: there are 1.16 million Syrians in the age cohort of 5 to 18 years old. Meaning, one-third of Syrians in Turkey are minors. The ratio jumps to 45 percent if to add the 482,983 infants (0–4 years old). Looking at Syrians in the working age, there are 2.07 million or 57 percent of all Syrians in the country. Put into context, while Turkey’s population is aging, due to decline in fertility rate and increase in life expectency, keeping the wheels of the economy running will, in the long run, depend on Syrians. Overall, the vast majority of migrants are young, and the vast majority of target countries have aging populations. Countries with old people are rich and create jobs. So poor young people try to get to the places with rich old people. This process is mitigated by forces such as nationalism and sovereignty.
What if we did away with those forces for a second? You could just put young migrants and refugees on busses, drive them to rich countries, where a mature state apparatus would presumably sort them, spread them out across the country, and teach them skills. The migrants would get to live in advanced countries and old people in said countries would have people to pay their retirement premiums. It’d be what is happening now, except in much greater volume and with better organization. Two big problems solved with one daring new policy.
Some time ago, I was talking to a high level official from Germany, a country known for bringing technical solutions to big problems. It was after the German decision to allow around a million Syrian refugees into the country. “We need to have many more immigrants to participate the German labor force. Around 450 million,” he said, “yet the ones that came in do not have necessary skills. Even thinking of developing those skills, in the near future, is beyond hope.” So there is a skills mismatch that we need to take into account.
There are aging populations, jobs to be distributed in advanced countries, young migrants and a skills mismatch. That’s where developing countries with an industrial base, like Turkey, become important. When people talk about migration, they often do so as a developed country problem — something that triggered Brexit and Trump’s wall. But 85 percent of the refugees relocate in regional countries, like Turkey. Integrating migrants into the labor markets of developing industrial countries, turning transit countries into destination countries, could provide a solution. Think of it as a training ground for skills development. That’s what the Turkey-EU deal should be about.
Countries like Turkey are only gradually getting used to the idea of becoming destination countries, what the Germans call Einwanderungsland. Our populations will have to adjust to the idea of foreigners coming in and trying to become part of our societies. The Ottomans never did this quite in the same way, so we are at the beginning of what France and Germany went through decades ago, and what the UK and US have been doing for centuries. When the rich economies of Europe invest into intermediary countries like Turkey, this is what they should be thinking about.
Originally published at www.tepav.org.tr.