You are here

Every year on July 11, the international community marks World Population Day, an international day that highlights the urgency and importance of population and reproductive health issues.


This year's theme for World Population Day is “A World of 8 Billion: Towards a resilient future for all - Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all”, which aims to underline the importance of population data for sustainable development.


Later this year, on 15 November 2022, the world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion -- another milestone in the rapid growth of the number of people on this planet.


For the first time in history, we are seeing extreme diversity in the mean age of countries and the fertility rates of populations. While the populations of a growing number of countries are ageing and about 60 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with below-replacement fertility of 2.1 children per woman, other countries have huge youth populations and keep growing apace.


Such diversity in population dynamics requires much more granular data for better and smarter policies. But focus should be on people, not population. Reducing people to numbers strips them of their humanity. Instead of making the numbers work for systems, make the systems work for the numbers by promoting the health and well-being of people.


In light of this, Turkmenistan is well positioned to seize the momentum of obtaining the comprehensive population data as the country prepares to hold the Population and Housing Census from 17 to 27 December 2022.  The upcoming census will provide a unique opportunity for Turkmenistan to generate, disseminate and use disaggregated data for domestic strategic planning and policy development.


In addition to the population size, a complete census provides detailed information on the demographic characteristics of the population (sex, age, marital status); geographical characteristics (place of birth, current place of residence, migration in a life time); level of education; ethno-cultural characteristics (nationality, knowledge of native and other languages); economic characteristics (sources of livelihood, employment, job search); health status and living conditions of the population.  This is indispensable in order to have up-to-date data on the size and characteristics of the population, which makes it possible to track changes in the composition of society. The results of each census represent an information base for the development of sound policies that meet the specific needs of the population without leaving no one behind.


If, for example, fertility is falling, is it because prospective parents worry about how they will provide for a family, find affordable living space or how going on maternity leave might hamper a mother’s career trajectory?  If fertility is rising, is it by choice or because women don’t have knowledge of or access to modern contraception and services? Making sure everyone is counted can allow governments to better assess the needs of a changing population and chart a surer path to addressing those needs for demographic resilience.


UNFPA is offering support to countries in their efforts to tackle the effects of shifting demographics through a regional Demographic Resilience programme.  Last year the member states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia launched a Decade of Demographic Resilience at a Ministerial Conference in Sofia in December 2021 to galvanize action for enabling countries to thrive in a world of shifting demographics.


Within the framework of the Decade of Demographic Resilience, as we approach the world population’s 8-billion mark, UNFPA offers  8 things countries in this region can do to mitigate potentially negative effects for individuals, societies and economies, and prosper in a world of rapid demographic change:


  1. Ensure people can have the number of children they want

The gap between desired fertility and actual family size signals that there are significant barriers that prevent people from realizing their fertility intentions and reproductive choices. These include high costs (especially for care arrangements and education), difficulties in combining work and family responsibilities, barriers in accessing the services and harmful gender norms expecting women to shoulder much of the care and housework burden.

Governments can dismantle these barriers through expanding social and family policies, making reproductive health services more accessible and workplaces more family-friendly, combating persistent gender inequalities in society, and more broadly creating environments allowing young people, in particular, to be confident in their country, their community and their economic prospects to plan their future and start a family. This requires progress on good governance, respect for human rights, and ensuring sustained and sustainable economic growth.


  1. Create societies where people want to live and plan their future in

Across much of the region, outmigration results in brain drain, contributes to population decrease, exacerbates the ageing of societies, and affects fertility rates as many young people of reproductive age are starting families abroad. Dissatisfaction with the quality of life is a main driver of young people’s interest in going abroad, according to the UNFPA survey conducted in the region.


Countries need to create policies and take action to improve education and job prospects, expand quality public services and access to housing, restore people’s trust in public institutions and young people need to be encouraged to participate in public affairs. Migration, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing: it opens up opportunities for studying and gaining professional experience abroad, learning new languages and getting acquainted with different cultures. But people shouldn’t feel they have to leave, or cannot return to, their own country because of a lack of opportunities at home. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of governments to build societies where people want to stay, live and have families, if they so choose.


  1. Empower older people to remain healthy and active members of society

With a healthy increase in life expectancy,  societies on the whole are getting older.


The ageing of societies is still widely seen through a negative lens: a threat to the welfare state and a burden for the young. However, ageing only becomes a problem when institutions do not prepare and adjust. There are huge potential gains when people have access to education and health care throughout their entire life course and enter old-age with useful skills and in good health, and remain active participants in the economy and society, as the notion of retirement age is becoming more flexible and older people are the engines of an ever-growing “silver economy” developing around their needs and choices.


The rampant exclusion of older people from society is a human tragedy and moral failure. But it also hurts countries – economically and socially. In a rapidly ageing region, countries simply cannot afford to push to the margins a quarter of the population with all their skills, talents and other contributions.


  1. Invest in family policies (and make sure they don’t disadvantage women)

Strong social and family policies are key for ensuring that people can have the number of children they want. Highly developed countries spend between 1 and 4 per cent of GDP on

supporting families. One of the most effective policies is providing affordable, high-quality childcare, starting when parental leave finishes and aligned with parents’ working hours.


Policies work best in supporting fertility choices if they respond to the various needs of individuals in diverse life situations. They should allow men and women to reconcile work and family responsibilities and provide financial support to low-income families. Evidence shows that narrow policies focused only on providing financial incentives for having more children are unlikely to have a lasting impact.


Also important is to make sure that family support measures do not inadvertently put pressure on women to step back from pursuing their education and careers. For example, very long maternity leave periods, while seemingly a generous benefit, tend to make it harder for women to return to work after the birth of a child. Family support policies must take such effects into account and ensure that both working women and men can do their fair share in dealing with care and household responsibilities at home.


  1. Tackle stereotypes about gender roles in family and society

Pervasive gender inequality and stereotypes about the respective roles of women and men in the family, at the workplace and in society are key factors in preventing people from realizing their fertility aspirations. Countries with low levels of gender equality tend to have very low fertility rates, even if the country is highly developed. This is largely because women continue to be expected to shoulder much of the unpaid care and household work at home (in Europe and Central Asia, women spend on average 2.5 times more time on unpaid care work than men). In a region where women are well educated, this essentially means that they are forced to choose between work or family. Tackling harmful stereotypes and social norms takes time, but the potential benefits are massive – and go far beyond the prospect of increasing birth rates. Because when women can fully participate in all spheres of society without having to give up childbearing, countries are likely to grow, not only in numbers, but in opportunity, stability and prosperity for generations to come.


  1. Provide better opportunities to young people

Young people’s deep sense of uncertainty about their future drives the high levels of outmigration in the Eastern Europe and Central Asian region and contributes to keeping fertility rates down. A mix of unemployment and unstable jobs, lack of good governance and limited opportunities for engagement prompts many young people, especially in Eastern and South-East Europe, to look for better opportunities elsewhere. The widespread sense of uncertainty and instability, coupled with poor support and services for families, is a major barrier for young people to have the number of children they want, or have children at all. Addressing these challenges requires comprehensive policy responses related to education, health, the labour-market, good governance and political participation, and the strengthening of social protection systems.


  1. Build more inclusive societies

As much as demographic change is often perceived as a challenge, it can also be seen as a tremendous opportunity to build stronger, more inclusive societies. In today’s world, the strength of a country is not measured in numbers, but in the education, skills and talents of its population. But too little is done to nurture this human capital, and too many people remain excluded from mainstream society and unable to fulfil their potential. Countries dealing best with demographic change understand this and develop policies that bring people in: they foster women’s access to the workforce, attract talent from abroad, integrate minorities, and empower older people to remain active, beyond retirement, in their communities, the economy and public life. Inclusive societies are much more resilient to demographic change, and more likely to prosper, irrespective of population numbers.



  1. Generate better data for better policies

Data is key. It allows governments to analyse the present, respond to needs, and plan for the future. The data we have allows us, with a high degree of certainty, to predict demographic developments in the coming decades. We know, for example, that the rapid ageing of populations across the region will continue for the foreseeable future, and governments can use this data to prepare by adapting systems and institutions to the changing realities. But to do this effectively, much more granular data is needed, disaggregated by sex and age and other characteristics, including at subnational level. And we must adjust the way data is collected to the new realities. For example, lumping  young people in a single age category, risks overlooking the patterns and needs of adolescents, and hiding the increasing diversity in this ever-increasing cohort.


With better, more granular data derived from the Population and Housing Census 2022, Turkmenistan will be well-placed to enhance its demographic resilience and anticipate and prepare for the demographic future.