World demographic and economic evolutions, 1952-1998

World-Trade-1996-2000-02The accelerating globalisation and new emerging markets will have major impacts on Europe and in particular on its territory, its cities and regions. European policy making related to the territorial development, competitiveness and cohesion, has in future to consider deeper the global context. Countries, regions and cities will increasingly need to understand their development opportunities and weaknesses by examining their position as part of a world-wide competitive reality.

This is why the ESPON programme has carried through an applied research project in order to contribute to the understanding of Europe in the World, focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats which European regions and cities facing globalization are exposed to.

Some facts and key-findings from the recent ESPON report “Europe in the World” will be presented in this column over the months ahead. The aim is to improve the understanding and create awareness of the increasingly global context that of Europe is part of and its relevance for the development of the European territory, its regions and cities.


The map gives a synthetic typology of the evolution of the share of World population and GDP (ppp) of the different states of the World over the last 50 years. In general terms, five different patterns can be identified, corresponding to different types of evolution (type A, B, C, D, E):

  • States classified as type A and B, respectively named as “positive divergence” and “positive equilibrium” experienced a joint increase of their share of population and GDP in the world over the period considered. However within type A.1 the relative increase of GDP/inh is higher than in type A.2 and type B (which had the lowest increase of GDP/inh).
  • Types C (Golden decline) correspond to states with a decreasing share of world population and either an increasing (type C.1) or slightly decreasing share of world GDP (type C.2) (1952-1998). Moreover, countries within type C have experienced a relative increase of GDP/inh as the decline was generally more important for the population than for the GDP.
  • Type D, Negative Equilibrium, corresponds to a joint decrease of share of world population and world GDP (1952-1998).
  • Finally, states classified as type E have experienced the worst situation, with an increase in the share of population associated with a decrease in the share of GDP. In addition, within type E.2 the relative decrease of GDP/inh was higher than in type E.1.

Basically, this typology enables a sound evaluation of the real potential of the states. For example, the stability of the level of GDP per capita (compared to the World mean) of a given country can be attributed to (1) the joint stability of its share of population and GDP, (2) a joint decline of both factors or (3) a joint increase of both factors. 


It is clear that a number of very important changes have occurred during the last 50 years with a global transfer of population and wealth from the traditional centres of the Triad (i.e. Northern America, Western Europe and Japan) to their peripheries. Most of the countries of the European Union have experienced a “golden decline” as both their share of World GDP and world population was reduced in the period considered. However, the decline was generally more important for the population than for the GDP, which implied that their level of GDP per capita increased as compared to the world average.

In fact, the Triad has generally experienced a joint decline in their share of GDP and population, but as the reduction was generally equivalent or higher for population than for GDP, they maintained or increased their level of GDP per inhabitant (type C and D). The states located in their immediate periphery have however generally experienced the reverse evolution, with a joint increase of their share of population and GDP in the World. Even if their GDP per capita did not necessary increase more quickly than the rest of the World, their economic and demographic size has clearly increased. The states in this situation (type A and B) define a “Golden ring” of growth from Mexico to Brazil, Northern Africa, the Middle East and south-eastern Asia. It is generally only in the deep peripheries, located at longer distance from the Triad that the worse situation of an increase in the share of population and a decrease of the share of GDP (type E) became manifest. 


The European Union will not in the future automatically maintain its rank in the world in economic and demographic terms. Other centres of the World (USA, China and Japan) develop actually strong economic or demographic relations with the most dynamic countries located in their immediate neighbourhood. This is not to the same extend the case for the European Union that tends to focus its major economic investments towards more distant emerging markets and not towards its own southern and eastern neighbours. Future accessions of Turkey and the Western Balkan countries will not be sufficient for the EU to maintain its rank both in demographic and economic terms.

Further reading: Europe in the World Report



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