Published: Written By: Steven Thai and Amrita Datar

Demographics are important.  And countries around the world have proven, often through unconventional means, that they understand this fact.

Singapore put a limit on the number of one-bedroom apartments in parts of the city to encourage starting a family and even released a rap-song to get citizens to ‘fulfill their duty’ and increase the country’s birth rate.

Russia declared a national day of conception in 2007 and offered couples prizes to have more children.

At the other side of the spectrum, China enforced a strict “one-child” policy to control its growing population.

In the past, governments have tried hard to ensure that their country’s demographics remain favorable.  But what about the future? Demographic factors like aging, rapid urbanization and the globalization could create ripples of change in 2020 that governments will need to adapt to.



The Aging Population: By 2020, the aging population issue will deepen. One in every five citizens in developed countries will be above the age of 65. Not only is the aging population set to grow, the average person will live longer.

Governments are faced with a changing working population and a steady increase in dependents it has to support. As a result, the delivery of health care and human services is going through some big changes.

The greatest changes are in the development of digital services delivery. Mobile, cloud, GIS, and other emerging technologies will enable governments to track, monitor, and provide many basic health and human services remotely.  Wearable devices such as Lively—a sensor-equipped smart watch designed to track living patterns, provide medication reminders, and alert family and emergency services—should help the elderly remain independent for longer while keeping costs associated with providing care, in check.

Everything from self-driving vehicles to sensor-powered smart homes could create large cost savings for senior care by removing some of the need or desire for senior based assisted living facilities. Already virtual villages of senior citizens are being created giving access to resources and social connections that help them age in place rather than moving.


Mega Cities and Slum Growth: 2020 sees a two-pronged outcome of rapid urbanization—the rise of mega cities and the simultaneous growth in slum-dwelling populations in developing countries.  It is projected that by 2020 more than 1.4 billion people will live in slums – more than one in seven people worldwide – creating greater obstacles for governments to deliver services.

The rapid development of mega cities also will create opportunities for governments to drive innovations and build connected transportation networks and sustainable “smart” cities. One example is Santander, Spain which developed an intricate network of nodes, sensors, and network infrastructure to measure and monitor air quality, weather, traffic, and other parameters in real time.

If the rapid growth of slum populations is not abetted, this growing population will continue to be deprived access to basic amenities, a safe and healthy environment, education, and employment opportunities.  This is where increased quality service delivery for the poor becomes critical.  Innovation and the frugal redesign of basic services in health care, human services, and education attempt to bridge this gap. For example “no-frills” health care franchises like India’s Aravind Eye Clinic or South Africa’s Unjani provide services at significantly lower costs.  Critical inventions like the $6 GravityLight uses gravity to provide clean and safe power and light to those without access to electricity.


The Rise of the Global Citizen: Increased migration, improved education opportunities and the global demand for skilled talent lead citizens to study, work and live outside their home nation, often moving between multiple countries.  According to UNESCO, 7 million students will be studying outside their home countries by 2020. These ‘global citizens’ are no longer bound by national identity, but are driven instead by opportunity.  Many governments will restructure immigration policies to attract top talent and accelerate economic growth.

Demographic factors will play a significant role in determining how the future takes shape. To adapt, governments will have to explore new ways of delivering services and adapting to meet the evolving and changing needs of its citizens in the future.


For more on how demographic changes could impact the future see Demographic Drivers