Data 8 – future trends

Some trends hit economies and societies by surprise. Others are known tensions that rumble away for decades. In our final chapter we look at the trends that look set to define economies between now and 2050. Each chart is interactive – hover over them to reveal more information.


A Digital World

In 1965, Gordon Moore looked at the nascent semi-conductor industry and made the bold prediction that that the number of transistors we can cram into our chips would double every two years. Over the last 6 decades, Moore’s prediction has been proven strikingly accurate. Computers today are orders of magnitudes more powerful than when Moore’s Law was born, with societal and economic consequences.


Looking to the future, many are concerned about the effects of automation. Frey and Osborne (2018) estimate the vulnerability of different jobs to automation and their estimated risks are shown below. Using Bureau of Labour Statistics data for the US, we can see a rough negative relationship between income, as well as education, and automation risk. However, there are high income automatable jobs and and low income unautomatable jobs. A job being at risk does not mean a risk of widespread unemployment. As the world has transitioned from carts to carriages to cars, employment has maintained even as jobs have changed.


Technology is also changing our relationship with the state. More and more people are accessing government services online with some surprising leaders including Estonia.


An Ageing World

Since the 1950s a large demographic transition has begun to take place; people are getting older, having fewer children, living longer, which is all leading to a slowdown in population growth. These trends are expected to continue, if they do it will result in the first global population decline in modern history.


Countries that went through rapid periods of development are expected to experience the most extreme demographic transitions. Japan is one of these countries which, without immigration, will see continued and sustained population decline as its population continues to age and its fertility rates continue to fall.


This ageing is also clearly shown on population pyramids. See how the world’s pyramid gets wider but also less bottom-heavy.


The change is more dramatic for some countries than others. Japan’s population has increased, stagnated and started to decline. On the other hand, see how the USA’s population has steadily increased and DR Congo’s has surged.


As the world’s population ages governments will be forced to alter existing pension and retirement schemes as the ratio of working aged adults to retirees begins to decline. Inaction will lead to smaller state budgets and restrict governments’ fiscal capabilities which could lead to greater borrowing and spiraling government debts.


A Warming World

Global warming poses a large threat but the danger is not evenly distributed. Countries between the tropics, where the most rural poor reside, will experience the largest rise in temperatures. While international efforts aim to limit the rise to 1.5°C, this objective already looks beyond reach in many places.Every year between 2015 and 2020, average temperatures in Africa exceeded historical averages by more than one degree.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) had long been recognized as the principal driver of climate change. The amount released per person varies by country and over time. China and India have generated vast emissions in recent history in their efforts to industrialize. The United States, despite efforts to decarbonize, remains a clear front runner in per capita terms.


The trend in renewable energy costs has often been seen as a cause for optimism in the battle against climate change. Many forms of renewable energy are estimated to cost the same or less compared with conventional fossil fuels by 2024.

These three trends, and others raise important quesions that E4E participants gain the tools to answer.