Global Population Megatrends and their Potential Impact on the World of Project Management


By David L. Pells 



This essay is based on Jack A. Goldstone’s fascinating and illuminating 2010 article entitled “The New Population Bomb: The Four Megatrends That Will Change the World”, in Foreign Affairs, one of the leading international relations and foreign policy publications in the United States. [1]  Professor Goldstone begins with a reference to The Population Bomb, an international best selling book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich published in 1980 that predicted mass global starvation as global population outstrips food production in the future. [2]  That 1980 book was based in no small part on the same predictions by the 18th century English political economist Thomas Malthus. [3]

As Goldstone points out in his paper, Ehrlich’s dire predictions have not occurred, in part due to increased agricultural productivity,  the “green revolution” [4], family planning and other economic, social, technological and political developments.

According to the United Nations’ Population Division [5], global population is expected to top out at around 9.2 billion in 2075. [6]  Based on medium growth prospects for the global economy, barring calamity, global economic output is expected to increase by 2-3% per year, meaning that global income will increase faster than population.  In theory, this means that the world should be able to feed itself.

But total population growth is only one view of the issue.  It is necessary to consider global demographic trends within the context of population growth – things are not the same the world over.  Professor Goldstone identified four global population-related demographic megatrends that are occurring, and that politicians and policy makers are not yet seriously responding to, as follows:

  1. Increasing Populations in Developing Economies – the relative demographic weight of the world’s developed economies will fall by 25% or more, shifting economic power to developing countries;
  2. Aging Populations – populations in developed countries are aging rapidly, leading to declining labor forces, constraining economic growth and increasing demand for immigrants;
  3. Increasing Young Populations in Muslim Countries – most future population growth will be in developing countries with large Muslim populations where lack of education, investment and employment opportunities create serious problems; and
  4. Urbanization – much of the world’s population is rapidly becoming urbanized.

What are the potential impacts of such trends on the project management world?  I have wanted to address this topic since reading the Goldstone article last year.  I would also like to add another demographic megatrend related to the above that has been causing political turmoil in Europe and the United States in recent years, where political leaders only seem to consider the issues on a local basis rather than the global trend that it is, that is…

  1. Labor Migration – the global movement of people across borders in search of employment and economic opportunities

This article explores these five megatrends and some implications for project management, drawing heavily on Professor Goldstone’s 2010 article and a few other references.


To read entire paper (click here)

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  This paper was originally published in the PM World Today eJournal, now discontinued, in October 2011.  The paper is republished here with permission of the author.  If you have a good paper that you would like to see republished in the PMWJ, contact [email protected].

About the Author 

david-l-pellsflag-usaDavid L. Pells

Managing Editor

PM World Journal

David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal, a global eJournal for program and project management, and Executive Director of the PM World Library. He is also the president and CEO of PM World, the virtual organization behind the journal and library, and of PM World Services, an executive P/PM advisory firm.  David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 35 years of experience on a wide variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, defense, energy, transit, high technology, and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from several thousand to ten billion dollars. He has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, serving on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice.  David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award in 1999. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; Project Management Associates (PMA – India); and of the Russian Project Management Association SOVNET.  From June 2006 until March 2012, he was the managing editor of the globally acclaimed PM World Today eJournal.  David has published widely, speaks at conferences and events worldwide, and can be contacted at [email protected].