Last month, out of the blue, I received a couple of articles from an investment company that specializes in working with nonprofit organizations. The articles dealt with world demographics for the next 40 years and the impact they would have on nonprofit organizations. The articles were real eye-openers for me, especially coming as they did just before the General Definitory met with the Capuchin Conferences of Africa, India and Asia. I would like to share with you some of the information contained in those articles.
First of all, as one article pointed out, there is no magic involved in predicting future demographic trends. Someone born today will, barring an untimely death, be fifty years old in fifty years. Demographers can know with great precision the current birth and death rates of most countries. These trends change, but at a relatively slow pace. It is, therefore, relatively easy to predict the population and age distribution of a country for a fifty year period.
The articles focused on the economic impact of demographics, with which I will deal in a later post. These populations studies alone, however, have interesting implications to ponder. Consider for instance the fact of Europe’s negative population growth. By 2050, one article stated, Europe will have lost the equivalent of the current populations of France and Italy combined. In addition, the average age of Europe’s population will continue to increase. This has tremendous implications for the future of the Order in Europe. Even if one ignores the effect of secularization, there will be far fewer young men in Europe available to enter religious life. Barring a massive change in attitudes regarding immigration and family size in the next few years, the Order’s jurisdictions in Europe will certainly continue to become smaller.
The situation in North America is somewhat different because of its higher birth rate and greater openness to immigration (at present, anyway). The population of the U.S. is expected to continue growing, but at a smaller pace than in the past. The “baby boom echo” of the 80’s and early 90’s resulted in an increase in America’s birth rate, which may partially explain the recent increase in vocations there. Youth at the “peak” of this boom are just entering their university years, which indicates that the next ten to fifteen years have the possibility of providing the greatest number of candidates to religious life since the 1960’s. Once the peak has passed, the number of vocations to religious life will slowly, but surely decline. The provinces and congregations that will profit most from this increased pool of possible candidates are those that appeal to the ever-changing sensibilities of young people and who have invested the resources to get their name in front of them.
Probably to no one’s surprise, the areas of the world that will have the greatest growth among youth, and thus the greatest potential for providing vocations to the Order, are India and parts of Africa. What some might find surprising is that China will soon enter a period of negative growth because of its “one child” policy in the past. The number of males significantly outnumbers females among China’s youth, which will add to the country’s low birth rate in the future. Asia, as a whole, will experience only slight growth in the next forty years. Vietnam has a relatively low birth rate. The population of Japan already entered a period of negative growth several years ago, and there are no signs of change for the near future. These trends have implications for our current presences in Asia and for the missions that are planned for China and Vietnam. On the other hand, there are good prospects for the continued growth of the Order in India. Strong population growth is also projected for Nigeria and the Congo, which bodes well for the future of the small, but vibrant Capuchin jurisdictions in those countries.
Overall, these figures indicate that the Order’s center of gravity will continue to move south for at least the next forty years. In many cases, the Order’s growth will be in the developing world and its greatest declines will be in the developed world. This will have important consequences for the Order’s economic solidarity, which will be the focus of my next post.