Flags in front of European Parliament building. Brussels, Belgiu

Demographics Squeeze Advanced Economies’ Long-Term Growth Potential; Big Test for Italy & Japan

Scope Ratings has examined the impact of demographic trends on long-term economic growth in major economies, assuming productivity growth and employment rates remain constant.

“We show that GDP growth rates are likely to decrease in all countries in the coming decades, but large differences exist between advanced economies. Comparing the best and worst performers – the US on the one side and Italy and Japan on the other – over time highlights the magnitude of the problem: by 2050, US GDP could be significantly higher compared to its 2020 level in real terms, while, in the absence of significant productivity and employment gains, Japan and Italy would likely have lower real GDP levels than potential GDP today,” says Giulia Branz, analyst at Scope Ratings.

At the same time, countries can enhance productivity to maintain positive long-term growth and implement policies to address adverse demographic trends and employment trends – two key variables that are captured in the ESG-risk pillar in Scope’s forthcoming update to its sovereign rating methodology.

Demographics explain a large part of structural downward trends in growth

Demographic factors explain a large part of the downward trend in advanced economies’ recent economic growth rates and are likely to remain important over the coming decades according to Scope’s study of the 1960-2050 period, focusing on working-age populations, productivity, and employment rates.

“Our model holds productivity and employment rates constant at 2014-19 levels – which we recognize is a bold assumption as these can change significantly as a result of government policies – but this allows us to estimate a country’s growth prospects based only on its demographic trends that are less likely to fluctuate as significantly,” says Branz.

Significant differences in growth prospects between countries

Growth prospects are structurally declining in all advanced economies, but significant differences exist across selected countries:

  • The US, UK, and France are likely to continue to grow over the long term thanks to relatively favorable demographic trends.
  • Germany and Spain are likely to see GDP stagnate over the coming decades. Adverse demographic trends are likely to offset some of the expected gains in productivity and employment (assuming the latter are sustained over the coming period).
  • Japan and especially Italy would likely experience a marked decline in GDP levels over the next decades based only on adverse demographic trends were such trends not offset with productivity and employment gains that have been distinctly lacking over recent years.

“Our findings have important implications for public debt dynamics and, as a result, sovereign ratings,” says Branz. “Policies that improve countries’ productivity levels, demographic trends, and employment rates are critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of public debt.”

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Giulia Branz is Associate Analyst in Sovereign and Public Sector ratings at Scope Ratings GmbH.