Why global youth migration will re-map the world by 2050

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - society
Strategist Parag Khanna discusses the mega-trends and scenarios that will dictate the movement of billions of people, shaping our borders, work and beliefs

Can you begin with an introduction to your new book, Move – why is now a fitting time for its release?

The short answer is because the world is moving again. The long answer is that all of the deep forces that promote human movement are in hyperdrive now – whether it's climate change, labour market imbalances, political unrest and refugee crises, or labour automation that puts people out of work or digital connectivity that allows people to move and work from anywhere.

The big difference – and I think this is so interesting from a technological, geographical and a demographic standpoint – is that from 2021 versus all of human history, we will quantify much better exactly who moved, where and when. We are digitising migration mobility in the wake of Covid-19. It can be scary, obviously, from a privacy standpoint, but the meta-data for physical and digital mobility is at an unparalleled level.

With these deep forces seemingly unrelenting, how might people’s attitudes to migration evolve in the decade ahead?

Firstly, we tend to overstate the policy impact of xenophobia, nationalism and so forth. You can only have an anti-immigrant backlash if you have lots of immigrants – and immigration has been happening at a similar scale for the past 75 years, almost completely uninterrupted. But it’s about the opinions and sentiment of some, versus the overall facts at play. Despite Brexit, or a right-wing party that seems like it’s a threat in Germany or having Trump elected, if you look at the impact on immigration trends, it’s literally zero.

With Brexit, it’s easier to enter the UK today as a potential worker than it was in 2015, pre-vote. The US census just came out and it shows that America has become more racially diverse, with a rebound in immigration. The number of Chinese students that have been granted student visas this year is at an all-time high. Even Japan, which is reputationally a culturally isolated civilisation, is home to 3m non-Japanese people. We have to remember that Britain, the US, France and Italy are not representative of the West. Canada is massively expansionist in immigration, with no [public] backlash.

Published by:

14 September 2021

Author: Kathryn Bishop

Image: Citizens of Earth by Marc Thorpe


Flags of America by Anjela Freyja

A chapter of the book, Generation Move, highlights the 4bn restless young people who will transform human geography by voting with their feet. Will they see themselves as global citizens, or will their movements drive the promotion and protection of their national identity?

It’s both. And both evolve. The notion that people are tuning back into their heritage doesn’t mean they’re reproducing the past. The example in the book is Germany, because they are embracing changing German-ness. They call it Die neuen Deutschen – the new Germans – and they are creating a debate about what it means to be German. In China, [youth] are becoming in touch with their past – what are called Millennial Maoists, more extreme [socialists] than their parents.

We can say categorically, however, that young people across the whole world – whether rich, poor, north, south, east or west – believe in connectivity, mobility and sustainability as their three cardinal virtues. That’s a really big deal; people have never had so much of a sense of global consciousness in a feedback loop with their own identity. So, when you have Black Lives Matter, or defund the police, or general social justice pressure and sustainability movements, it’s because there are young people who see each other and they have much more trust [in their peers than older generations].

You describe a future war for young talent. What is underpinning this and what will fewer, more mobile young people mean for the future of work, employment and skills?

You have collapsing fertility already – Millennials are not having children, and that pattern will probably continue with Generations Z and Alpha, so that means fewer young people. Then it depends on where; for example, a country could be socially liberal and desirable but environmentally degraded, so people may want to leave. Some countries are offering benefits and tax breaks to young people, like Poland, to desperately stem the emigration of talented youth. If you are a Polish Millennial, you will not pay taxes, but many Polish youth think ‘Nah, the government still sucks because they’re conservative.’

That also applies to the labour force. When we consider the future of work, some companies are choosing remote work for ever, others are adjusting salaries based on where people are moving to ­– if you live in Panama, you’re not going to make a San Francisco salary. Then there is the four-day working week factor, which Japan and Finland are trying, which will raise employment, because you’re creating jobs for people the other three days of the week. Of course, automation will take over some roles, which means diffusion of skilled and unskilled people. In reality, all of this is already happening every day.

‘Chinese youth are becoming in touch with their past – what are called Millennial Maoists, more extreme [socialists] than their parents’

Key Takeaways

1. While Covid-19 has accelerated some of the mega-trends underpinning global migration, technology, the climate crisis and politics will continue to play a major role in why, when and how people move nations.

2. For brands and organisations, consider how you can instil a more elastic approach to your business workings and values to ensure you are able to retain talent and relevancy in a more nomadic future.

3. By 2050, global borders and continents could be re-zoned based on the benefits or attributes they offer – with young people set to define and augment populations based on their changing values and needs.


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