Population time bomb part one

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‘I’m sure something must lie behind all these stories I am writing!’

During 23 years with the BBC, and 40 years in journalism, a major factor has driven many of the stories covered by our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry-population growth, and new figures showing that numbers may be about to decline relatively in many countries underline this.


You didn’t realise it at the time, of course, but there was a big factor driving many of the stories I have covered over the years.

DEMOGRAPHY, or to be more precise, a growing population.

Sometimes Phil had to go undercover to see how bad things were

Families being forced into sub-standard accommodation because they were the only places available to rent?


Overcrowding in housing leading to appalling examples of domestic violence?


A stretched police force trying to monitor growing levels of crime in an expanding area, resulting in terrible mistakes?

A stretched police force can mean major errors


These are all examples of stories which have been thrown up by a population growing, but now new figures for countries around the world, show that the growth in the number of people within their borders is DECLINING, which will prompt a very different sort of story.

More people, means more stories…

The problem is less severe here, as the population of Wales doubled from 587,000 in 1801 to 1,163,000 in 1851 and had reached 2,421,000 by 1911.

It now stands at over 3.1 million.

But in other countries the numbers going DOWN (in relative terms) are worrying leaders.

Asked what keeps him awake at night, Vladimir Putin identified as a major problem; that Russia’s relative population decline threatened his country’s economy.

‘Hello, is that the population department? Tell women to have more babies’

Mr Putin, speaking at a news conference as he was massing troops along the border with Ukraine, said the birth rate had dropped hugely in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, leading to significant shortages in the labour force.

He admitted: “From a humanitarian point of view and from the perspective of strengthening our statehood, and from the economic point of view, the demographic problem is one of the most important”.

‘I’m telling you families – grow!’

Even Mr Putin doesn’t try to spin this information, because it is freely available worldwide, and he is only too aware of the scale of the issue, as the figures don’t lie.

The month before Mr Putin spoke, it was reported that Russia’s population had undergone its largest ever decline, compared with other nations, during peacetime. And this remarkable event had happened over the previous 12 months!

The flag cannot be raised for population growth in Italy

Mr Putin is far from being alone in worrying about demographic issues affecting his country.

The populations of Japan, Italy, South Korea and many other nations are expected to shrink at an incredibly fast rate over the next two decades.

The fertility rate is falling (as Mr Putin has alluded to), so a relatively smaller number of young people have to support a relatively larger number of older people.

‘Others will have to support us now…’

For example, if China’s old people formed their own country, it would be the fourth most populous in the world, right behind America.

This silver-haired state would be growing fast, too, China’s over-60 population sits at 297 million, or 21 per cent of the total.

By 2050 those figures are expected to reach 520 million and 38 per cent. Demographers describe China’s future as greyer – and smaller.

The population of China is a major issue for Xi Jinping

For while the country’s oldest cohorts are growing, younger ones are not.

China’s total population declined for the second year in a row in 2023, and the country’s labour force has been shrinking for most of the past decade.

So a population getting smaller (relatively) as opposed to larger, provokes another set of problems, which will have to be covered by journalists across the globe.

The population of Wales is at a record level – but life is not a beach!

Wales had better watch out!


Phil’s memories of his extraordinary award-winning career in journalism (when demographic changes drove a lot of his stories) as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in the major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!


Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.

Population time bomb part two comes tomorrow, where Phil looks at how population issues even affect our financial future.