In-depth research by Dr Stuart Basten into Asian fertility helped convince the United Nations to revise its influential forecasts on future population trends, with particularly large effects for Pacific Asian economies.

Impacts

  • Due to Dr Basten's research, UN reviewed the methodology and redesigned the projection model for the 2012-2013 WPP
  • Dr Basten has ongoing engagement with policymakers in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, to ensure social and economic planning (ie schools, healthcare, housing, old-age care systems) is based on rigorous evidence-based population projections.

"The depth of Dr Stuart Basten's research and extent of his scholarly work in documenting the Pacific Asian situation, especially in major urban areas, was seminal in motivating the UN and its collaborators to revisit the statistical modelling used for the long-term fertility recovery assumption. His contribution has not only been useful to re-evaluate the prevailing views, but also very constructive in providing empirical evidence to justify alternative ones." (Dr Patrick Gerland, Senior Analyst and Population Officer, United Nations)

About the research

Policymakers all over the world turn to population forecasts produced by the United Nations (UN) as the key source of authoritative projections on future population trends. Known as the World Population Prospects (WPP), these forecasts are hugely significant in formulating policy, particularly in developing countries and emerging economies where much of the future population growth will be concentrated.

Identifying a shortcoming in the UN's 2010 forecast, Dr Stuart Basten from the University of Oxford offered the UN an alternative view. As a result, the UN's redesigned WPP for 2012-2013 provides a forecast which is not only more in tune with current evidence, but is based on a stronger methodology for use in the future.

"We challenged the 2010 model because it was too Eurocentric and ignored current evidence on population dynamics in individual countries, especially in Pacific Asia," Dr Basten explains. "It suggested that much of Europe's experience of moving from low to higher fertility would automatically happen in Pacific Asia. But, based on our ESRC-funded research on the ground in settings such as China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan, we could find no justification for this view. Through a combination of published papers and face-to-face contact we were able to convince the UN of our case."

Revising future population trends is crucial, Dr Basten points out. "A belief that fertility will automatically rise over the next 40 years would have given policymakers in countries such as China, South Korea and Thailand no incentive to address the huge challenges associated with low fertility including an ageing population and shrinking workforce, as well as the root causes of low fertility such as gender inequity, poor work-life balance and inadequate social support systems. As the UN forecasts are so influential, more easily justified population projections will have far-reaching implications for policymaking, not just in Pacific Asia but also in low- and middle-income countries around the world."