Paleodemography and the future

Recent news stories have noted that population growth is turning negative in many places around the world. What happens when populations decline? This has been a large challenge in Japan for the past few decades and has recently been seen to be a challenge in China. These challenges can be demographic (who cares for the elderly?), but they also affect the labor market and the prospects for economic growth, concerns for China today. 

Archaeologists have long studied population change, and rapid swings in population are routinely noted in settlement pattern data and in compilations of direct dates in almost every area investigated. An example is below. The archaeological record thus provides a broad and long-term view regarding the impacts of population decline on society. At the same time, modern studies give us the minutia play-by-play of how population decline is impacting society as it occurs, something difficult to see in the archaeological record.

Porčić M, Blagojević T, Stefanović S (2016) Demography of the Early Neolithic Population in Central Balkans: Population Dynamics Reconstruction Using Summed Radiocarbon Probability Distributions.

Demographers and archaeologists should work together to see the depth of these issues—how do societies respond well or poorly to population decline?—and to understand the ways these events impact people as they occur. 

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