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Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Considering 2030: Demographic Shifts – How might Wikimedia extend its reach by 2030?

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As part of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, the Wikimedia Foundation is working with independent research consultants to understand the key trends that will affect the future of free knowledge, and to share this information with the movement. This report was prepared by Dot Connector Studio, a Philadelphia-based media research and strategy firm focused on how emerging platforms can be used for social impact, and Lutman & Associates, a St. Paul-based strategy, planning, and evaluation firm focused on the intersections of culture, media, and philanthropy.

Who is in the world in 2030?  What places will most people call home?  Will there be more people over or under the age of 30?  What impact might factors like mobile phone access, literacy, and language distribution have on Wikimedia’s global reach in the future?

Who uses Wikimedia now?


Wikimedia’s global reach is vast -- today more than one billion unique devices access Wikimedia projects every month.[1] Where in these world are these users? Wikimedia pageviews by country correlate strongly with a country’s economic strength. Of the 10 countries with the most Wikimedia pageviews, all 10 rank as top 20 in gross domestic product.[2] Most notably, pageviews from the United States make up more than 22 percent of total Wikimedia traffic, greater than any other country. Japan accounts for the second most traffic at 7 percent, with Germany rounding out the top 3 at 6.4 percent. Regionally, Europe and North America account for 65 percent of Wikimedia’s total traffic. Africa, Oceania and Central America comprise less than 5 percent of total share of traffic (see chart below).

Proportion of total Wikimedia traffic by region

Chart generated with data from Wikimedia Traffic Analysis Report, 2017[3]

Wikipedia, Wikimedia’s most visited project, displays similar traffic trends to the whole of Wikimedia. The presence of heavy traffic from Europe and North America contributes to a stout representation of English speakers on Wikipedia, both in terms of English-speaking contributors and English-written articles. In fact, as of July 2017, forty-nine percent of active Wikipedia contributors (Wikipedians who contribute at least once per month) edit articles written in either English or Simple English. German, Spanish, French, and Japanese articles are the next most edited by Wikipedia contributors.[4]

Text chart showing Wikipedia article and contributor rank by language.

Table generated with data from Wikipedia Statistics:Contributors[5] and Wikipedia Statistics[6]

The table above represents rankings based on total article and contributor counts since the launch of Wikipedia in 2001. Here, a contributor is defined as any Wikipedian who has edited 10 or more times. Examining the speakers’ rank column hints at underrepresentation of articles and contributors for major languages including Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, and Malay.

What are global demographics predicted to look like in 2030?


A growing Africa


The global population is expected to reach 8.4 billion by 2030, a 15 percent jump from 2015.  High and middle-income regions are projected to experience moderate growth over this period with growth rates of 5 percent and 14 percent, respectively.  It is predicted that the rate of growth of low-income regions will far outpace that of high/middle-income regions over this period, with a projected 35 percent jump.

Regionally, Africa boasts the highest predicted growth rate of any region from 2015 to 2030 with a projected 40 percent increase, equivalent to nearly 470 million people.  The Americas are anticipated to experience moderate growth during this period at 13 percent, with a combined contribution of 128 million people.  Asia too is expected to experience a moderate growth rate during this time.  At a growth rate of 11 percent, Asia’s population is anticipated to grow by roughly 500 million people amid this 15 year period.  Europe’s population is predicted to plateau between 2020 and 2025, and decrease slightly from 2025 to 2030.  Oceania, comprised of Australia/New Zealand and other Central Pacific islands, posts the second highest growth rate from 2015 to 2030, at 20 percent.  Oceania’s expected contribution to the global population growth during this period is 8 million.[7]  

Population (in billions) by major area - 1950-2030.[7] Black=World, Yellow=Africa, Red=Asia.
Population (in billions) by major area - 1950-2030.[7] Purple=Europe, Green=Latin America and the Caribbean, Light-Blue=North America, Blue=Oceania.

Shift to urban living


The proportion of the global population residing in urban areas is growing faster than in rural areas.[8]  In every region, the relative urban population is increasing.  Though Asia and Africa are the least urbanized regions in 2015, they are expected to experience the fastest rates of urbanization.  Oceania’s urban population proportion is anticipated to experience little change, while the globe’s three most urbanized regions Northern America, Latin America/Caribbean, and Europe are projected to meet moderate urban growth rates.   

Proportion urban by region, 1950-2030.[7] Red=Africa, Yellow=Asia, Purple=Europe, Green=Latin America and the Caribbean, Light-Blue=North America, Blue=Oceania.

Africa’s expected population swell and rapid rates of urbanization will likely thrust it into the center of global affairs.  The continent is predicted to rejuvenate an aging global workforce with a supply of young consumers and college graduates.[9]  However, in spite of Africa’s forecasted urban and total population growth, its rates of full-time employment among adults lag behind the rest of the world.  A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that in Nigeria, the continent’s most populated country, only 9 percent of the adult population had a full-time job.[10]  In fact, no sub-Saharan African country posted rates of adult full-time employment above 20 percent.  Thus, the eventual impact of Africa’s budding workforce on the global economy remains uncertain.

An aging population


The global median age is projected to rise from 29.6 to 33 over the next 15 years.  Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia are forecasted to experience the largest increases in median age of any region, both posting an increase of over 5 years.  Africa is the world’s youngest region, with a median age of 19.4 in 2015.  Owing to its projected population boom in the near future, Africa is expected undergo the smallest median age increase from 2015-2030 at 1.8 years.    

Median Age by Region, 2015-2030[7]
Region 2015 2020 2025 2030 Difference 2015-2030
World 29.6 30.9 32.1 33.0 3.4
Africa 19.4 19.8 20.4 21.2 1.8
Asia 30.3 32.1 33.8 35.3 5.0
Europe 41.6 42.7 43.9 45.1 3.5
Latin America, Caribbean 29.2 30.9 32.8 34.6 5.4
Northern America 37.9 38.6 39.3 40.1 2.2
Oceania 32.8 33.5 34.3 35.1 2.3

The world is anticipated to experience a reduction in the percentage of the population that resides in the workforce age range of 15-64.  Attributed to decreased fertility, Europe and Northern America are predicted to undergo substantial decreases in their workforce population proportions, dropping approximately 5-6 percent each.[11]

Percentage of the population aged 15-64 - 1970-2030.[7] Red=Africa, Yellow=Asia, Purple=Europe, Green=Latin America and the Caribbean, Light-Blue=North America, Blue=Oceania.

Evidence of Africa’s expected population explosion is manifested by an upward trend in the figure above.  The boom in the workforce-aged population that Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean enjoyed over the past 30 years due to fertility reductions is coming to an end.  As population aging progresses into 2030, the workforce population percentage in these regions is expected to stabilize or decrease slightly.

The impact of an aging workforce is already being felt in Japan.  Currently a quarter of Japan’s population is over the age of 65, compared to 15 percent in the U.S.[12]  To combat its rapidly aging population, Japan has begun to push its official age of retirement into later years.  The Japanese government has set the official age of retirement to 65 by 2025, compared to age 61 in 2013.[13]  Other nations will likely follow Japan’s approaches to an aging population because it is projected that by 2050, 32 countries will have same ratio of senior citizens as Japan does now.

Increasingly male met by equilibrium in future


In 1960, the global population transitioned from female majority to male/female equivalent.  Since then, the world has become increasingly male-prevalent.  This trend is slated to continue and reach its peak in the next 10-15 years.  After this point, the global population is expected to trend towards male/female equivalence once more.

Males per 100 Females by Region, 2000-2030[14]
Region 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030
World 101.3 101.5 101.7 101.8 101.8 101.7 101.6
Africa 99.3 99.4 99.5 99.7 99.9 100.0 100.0
Asia 104.3 104.6 104.8 104.8 104.7 104.5 104.2
Europe 93.1 93.1 93.2 93.4 93.7 93.9 94.0
Latin America, Caribbean 98.2 98.1 97.9 97.8 97.6 97.5 97.4
Northern America 97.2 97.5 97.7 98.0 98.2 98.4 98.5
Oceania 100.2 100.2 100.5 100.2 100.1 100.1 100.0

The male-skewed sex ratio in Asia, which has a projected value 104.8 males per 100 females in 2030, is largely carried by male-dominated India and China whose projected 2030 sex ratios fall at 106.8 and 106.1, respectively.  The ramifications of the overabundance of males in these regions brought on by prenatal sex-selection practices in the 1980’s and 1990’s are beginning to unfold as males during this time are reaching marriageable age.  The gender imbalance is expected to not only contribute to an increasing number of unwed males, a Columbia University study suggests that there may be increasing rates of crime.[15]  

Increasingly educated


Projection data drawn from Barro and Lee’s book on global educational attainment entitled “Education Matters”, suggest that the proportion of the global population in the age range of 15-64 that possesses no education is diminishing over time.[16]  Europe and the Americas, which have the smallest percentage of non-educated people relative to their total population at present, are expected to remain highly educated.  In 2015, approximately 26 percent of people aged 15-64 in sub-Saharan Africa possessed no education, the highest rate of uneducation out of any region.  By 2030, however, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have the largest decrease in relative uneducated population, with an expected reduction of 10% over the next 15 years.  The Middle East and North Africa as well as Asia and the Pacific are expected to see similar trends of educational improvement with 5 to 8 percent reductions in their proportion of uneducated people.

Proportion of the population with no education, by region. Blue=Asia, Orange=Europe, Grey=Latin America and Caribbean, Yellow=Middle East and North Africa, Blue=Northern America, Green=Sub-Saharan Africa.

Rising Literacy Rates


According to projection data from the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver, the proportion of the global population that is literate will increase from 83 percent to 90 percent between 2015 and 2030.[17]  Africa scores the highest improvement in literate population over this period, jumping from 62 percent in 2015 to 80 percent in 2030.  

Literate Population Proportion Growth, 2015-2030[17]
Region 2015 2030 Growth
World 0.83 0.90 0.07
Africa 0.62 0.80 0.18
Asia 0.83 0.90 0.07
Europe 0.99 1.00 0.00
Latin America, Caribbean 0.92 0.95 0.03
Northern America 1.00 1.00 0.00
Oceania 0.92 0.95 0.03

Asia too, is expected to enjoy improvements in literacy, increasing their literate population proportion by 7 percent.  Oceania and Latin America and the Caribbean are projected to achieve moderate literacy Europe and Northern America are forecasted to retain their high literacy rates.

Languages of the future


At present, the most widely spoken language in the world is Mandarin, followed by English and Hindi.  Spanish and Arabic round out the fourth and fifth spots.  According to the engco model of language forecasting, based on first-language speaker numbers, the most widely spoken language in 2050 will still be Mandarin.  The model predicts that Spanish will become the second most spoken language, followed by English with Hindi moving to fourth and Arabic retaining its position as the fifth most spoken language in the world.

Speaker Rank by Year[18][19]
Speaker Rank 2015 2050
1 Mandarin Mandarin
2 English Spanish
3 Hindi English
4 Spanish Hindi
5 Arabic Arabic

Access to technology


A Cisco generated report suggests that the percentage of the global population who are internet users will rise from 44 percent to 58 percent from 2016 to 2021.  Globally, IP traffic is expected to grow 3-fold during this time, with the fastest growing IP traffic occurring in the Middle East and Africa at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42 percent.  Asia Pacific is also forecasted to experience rapid IP traffic growth, with a CAGR of 26 percent.  Devices and connections per capita, average speeds, and average traffic per capita per month are all expected to rise globally.[20]

Global Internet Growth[20]
Year Internet Users: % of population Devices and Connections per Capita Average Speeds Average Traffic per capita per Month
2016 44% 2.3 27.5 Mbps 12.9 GB
2021 58% 3.5 53.0 Mbps 35.5 GB

Mobile data traffic is expected to increase 7-fold worldwide from 2016-2021.  This growth rate is twice as fast as fixed IP traffic over the same time period.  Mobile data traffic is growing fastest in the developing regions of the Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.  Mobile data and internet traffic from the Middle East and Africa are expected to surpass that of traffic in North America by 2020.

Mobile Data and Internet Traffic (PB/month), 2016-2021[20]
Region 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 CAGR (2016-2021)
Asia Pacific 3,135 4,943 7,470 11,105 15,991 22,715 49%
Middle East and Africa 612 1,200 2,020 3,194 4,893 7,428 65%
North America 1,369 1,887 2,571 3,438 4,525 5,883 34%
Central and Eastern Europe 901 1,355 1,956 2,755 3,772 5,071 41%
Western Europe 724 1,073 1,530 2,135 2,947 4,036 41%
Latin America 459 724 1,098 1,593 2,254 3,137 46%
Total 7,201 11,183 16,646 24,220 34,382 48,270 46%

Who will Wikimedia need to engage in order to grow  its reach by 2030?


Wikimedia must accommodate the population boom in Africa.  Africa accounts for only a small proportion of the total Wikimedia traffic at present, but the region’s mobile and fixed IP traffic are expected to increase substantially.  It was estimated that in 2010 there were roughly 120 million French-speaking Africans distributed across 24 African countries.[21]  Because of prevalence of French in sub-Saharan Africa and in addition to the region’s rapid expected population growth, some argue that French may surge up the ranks as a language of importance.[22] However, Wikimedia provides reasonable resources for francophones in terms of existing article count and number of French contributors.  Accommodations for Arabic-speaking countries in Northern Africa should be considered as the region is forecasted to experience a sizeable growth rate (roughly 23 percent) from 2015 to 2030, a contribution of nearly 50 million people, and there is an under-representation of Arabic articles and contributors on Wikimedia pages.  Moreover, given Africa’s expected literacy improvements, access to information technology will play a monumental role in the growth of the region.   

The expected growth rate of China, though low, is predicted to contribute approximately 52 million Chinese to the global population.  As China enjoys upward trending economic growth over the next 15 years, so too may Mandarin enjoy increased influence as a language of business.[23]  Mandarin is the most spoken language globally, but Mandarin articles are the 15th most abundant on Wikimedia.  There is an underrepresentation of Mandarin-fluent contributors on Wikimedia as well; Mandarin ranks only 8th in number of contributors.        

What scenarios might drastically challenge consensus views about demographic trends?


The aging workforce


All regions, with the exception of Africa, are trending towards a reduction in relative workforce-aged population.  Regions with drops in labor-force growth will become increasingly dependent on increases in the minimum age of retirement and the development of new technologies in order to increase labor productivity.[24]  Aging workforce populations run the risk of economic stagnation and decline.    

Antibiotic resistance


The misuse and overuse of antibiotics provides opportunity for bacteria to mutate into antibiotic resistant strains.  Antibiotic resistance is an immediate threat and has the potential to lead to higher medical costs, lengthened hospital stays, and increased mortality.[25]  Infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, and gonorrhoea are becoming increasingly more difficult to treat as the effectiveness of antibiotics diminishes. The impact of antibiotic resistance is particularly detrimental to the populations of developing nations as they lack the resources such as supply-intensive instruments or highly trained/salaried staff to combat its negative effects.[26]

Increased conflict


There is potential for intrastate conflict in countries that contain an aging population and a politically dissonant youthful ethnic minority.[27]  Such examples at present are ethnic Kurds in Turkey and the Pattani Muslims in southern Thailand.  Sub-Saharan Africa will likely also be at risk for conflict as it contains insufficient natural resources (water and cultivable land) to support future populations and it trends towards rapid population growth.  

Improved medical technology


Improvements to disease management technologies such as molecular diagnostics and genetic sequencing may allow for increased life expectancy and quality of life, while providing more personalized healthcare.[28]  At present, prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons with limited functionality and mobility are available.  By 2030, we may expect fully functional limb replacements, enhanced eyesight, and hearing augmentations to be widely available.  Additionally, the inevitable dispersion of leading centers of health technology innovation and disease management into the developing world may accelerate the development of impactful health care technologies.

Unpredictable climate events and catastrophes


In 1859, a powerful solar storm, dubbed the “Carrington Event”, erupted and bombarded the Earth’s magnetosphere.  Telegraph wires melted and auroras were visible as far south as the Caribbean.  Auroras over the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. shone so brightly that gold miners awoke and started preparing breakfast, mistaking it for morning.[29]  It is believed that storms of this magnitude are not uncommon.  In fact, a solar storm of a comparable magnitude was ejected from the sun in 2012, but missed Earth.  The effect of a similar storm today would have devastating effects on the electric grid, satellites, and other communication infrastructures.  Researchers at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in the U.S. estimate that the damage of another Carrington event in the U.S. alone would cost between $600 billion and $2.6 trillion.[30]  

Questions for the Wikimedia movement

  • How can Wikimedia expand content and recruit editors in the parts of the world expected to grow most quickly over the next 15 years?
  • How can Wikimedia serve the mobile-first internet users who will access and contribute to Wikimedia sites from small devices?
  • How can Wikimedia projects be made more accessible to aging populations—and can those people be recruited as contributors?
  • What shifts in editing protocols, sensibilities, or media may be needed to serve the users from distinct new cultures and geographies?
  • How can the movement protect itself from disease, civil unrest, and environmental events that have the potential to disrupt the continuity of service to users?
  • What roles could Wikimedia projects and the Wikimedia movement play in the event of such crises?


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  12. Schlesinger, Jacob M.; Martin, Alexander (November 29, 2015). "Graying Japan Tries to Embrace the Golden Years". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2017-06-15. 
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  28. "Global Trends 2030" (PDF). National Intelligence Council. 2012. p. 92. Retrieved 2017-06-15. 
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