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UN: 5 Megatrends

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October 13, 2020

The UN in September 2020 released a report on five megatrends that examine human activities that are reshaping the world: climate change, demographic shifts, urbanization, digital technologies, and inequalities.

The demographic discussion emphasizes that the world’s population tripled between 1950 and 2020, from 2.5 billion to 7.8 billion. The world’s population continues to grow by one percent or 78 million a year. The UN projects that the world’s population will stabilize at 11 billion people in 2100.

The world is projected to add more than 3 billion residents by 2100

The share of people who are 65 and older is rising, but aging is occurring at different rates around the world. There are more people 65 and older than children under 15 in many European and Asian countries, and the share of those 65+ is expected to increase further in rich developed countries as fertility remains low and lifespans rise. Sub-Saharan Africa is the exception. High fertility and relatively short lifespans yield two or three times more children under 15 than adults 65 and older.

The share of residents 65+ is rising fastest in Europe and slowest in Africa


Half of the world’s people lived in cities in 2008, and 70 percent are projected to be urban residents in 2050. Urbanization varies by region. Over 80 percent of people in the Americas live in cities, compared with less than half in Africa.

The Americas have the highest shares of residents in cities, over 80%, and Africa the lowest share of urban residents, 43%


The number of megacities, those with 10 million or more residents, is expected to increase. There were two megacities in 1950, Tokyo and New York, 29 megacities in 2020, and a projected 43 in 2030. New Delhi is expected to be the world’s largest city with 39 million residents in 2030.

Delhi is projected to be the world’s largest city in 2030

The World’s Ten Largest Cities in 2018 and 2030
City size rank City Population in 2018
City Population in 2030
1 Tokyo, Japan 37,468 Delhi, India 38,939
2 Delhi, India 28,514 Tokyo, Japan 36,574
3 Shanghai, China 25,582 Shanghai, China 32,869
4 Såo Paulo, Brazil 21,650 Dhaka, Bangladesh 28,076
5 Ciudad de México (Mexico City), Mexico 99,591 Al-Qahirah (Cairo), Egypt 25,517
6 Al-Qahirah (Cairo), Egypt 20,076 Mumbai (Bombay), India 24,572
7 Mumbai (Bombay), India 19,980 Beijing, China 24,282
8 Beijing, China 19,618 Ciudad de México (Mexico City), Mexico 24,111
9 Dhaka, Bangladesh 19,578 Såo Paulo, Brazil 23,824
10 Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka), Japan 19,281 Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 21,914

The inequality megatrend highlights the growing concentration of wealth and income within countries. There are many reasons for rising inequality, including technological change and the integration of the global economy. Many countries use taxes and transfers to reduce inequality, which is measured by a Gini coefficient that ranges from zero (complete equality or all residents having the same income) to one (complete inequality when one person has all of the income).

Among selected middle- and high-income countries, South Africa has the highest income inequality, which is reduced by taxes and transfers, while Scandinavian and Eastern European countries have the lowest Gini coefficients, and they are reduced further by taxes and transfers. There is very little redistribution in Turkey, Mexico, and Chile, making the pre-tax and the after-tax distribution of income very similar.

Taxes and transfers can reduce income inequality, measured by the distance between the blue dots and the end of the orange inequality lines

Source: Report of the UN Economist Network for the UN 75th Anniversary: Shaping the Trends of Our Time

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