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The more, the mightier?

Why human capital counts in order to assert oneself in the global power structure

Population size has always played an important role in the rise of states to great powers. Now the populations of more and more countries around the world are shrinking and ageing. Does this herald a loss of power on the global stage, and does population growth go hand in hand with an increase in a country's importance? The analysis of economic, security policy and social factors in middle and great powers sheds light on the connections between demographic change, national strategies and the global power structure.

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‘Behind every great economic power there is also a demographic power’, wrote Josef Schmid, the first holder of a German chair in demography, back in 1999. The well-known quote from French philosopher Auguste Comte ‘Demography is destiny’ also testifies to the importance of demographic developments for the future of a country. However, more and more countries around the world, including the major powers, are being affected by demographic change - the ageing of their societies.

Does the shrinking and ageing of a society inevitably lead to a ‘decline’ in the sense of a loss of power on the global stage and does a growing population predict an increase in a country's importance? How do different countries around the world deal with the challenges of demographic change and what impact does this have on their position in the global power structure? How does the demographic factor influence the status of a great power?

To answer these questions, the following analysis examines the demographic situation in the USA and China, which are regarded as great powers, in imperialist Russia and in Japan, the country with the highest average age in the world. In addition, we look at the demographic development and how it is dealt with in the middle powers India, Mexico and Nigeria, whose populations are (still) growing and which are mostly neutral in the geopolitical field of tension. This comparative analysis of economic, security and social factors in countries with different demographic developments and political systems enables a broad international view of the connections between demographic change and the global power structure.

There are clear indications that in autocratic states, demographic-related domestic challenges tend to be neglected in favour of geopolitical and power-political ambitions. However, focussing on the needs of their own ageing society can have a positive impact on their position in the international power structure in the long term.

Read the full Monitor ‘The bigger, the more powerful? Why human capital counts in order to assert oneself in the global power structure’ here as a PDF.

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Magdalena Jetschgo-Morcillo

Magdalena Jetschgo-Morcillo bild

Global Order and Inter-System Competition +49 30 26996-3866 +49 30 26996-53796

Natalie Klauser

Natalie Klauser

Demographic change and integration policy +49 30 26996-3746


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About this series

The Monitor series deals with one main topic at a time from the perspective of KAS experts and places it in the political and social context on the basis of a few key points.

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The contributions appear exclusively online and can therefore not be ordered.


The current main topics are “Development policy”, “Sustainability” and “Election and social research”. The contributions of these sub-series are presented for you on separate overview pages in addition to the overall series.