2016 Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom winner

2050 Demographics

Explaining how global demographics are reshaping everything about our world

Judges comments

This is a very well reported series with great data visualization tackling numerous topics related to demographics. And it works really well on mobile too!

About the Project

“Previous generations fretted about the world having too many people. Today’s problem is too few.”

With those surprising and provocative words, The Wall Street Journal launched one of the most intellectually ambitious reporting projects it has ever undertaken. Its goal: explaining how the oceanic forces of global demographics are reshaping everything about our world: labor, technology, health, food, economics, immigration and, ultimately human prosperity and happiness.

The Journal did this in 10 stories that deployed all the tools of traditional and cutting-edge journalism. It fielded a team that filed reports from the U.S., China, India, South Korea, Nigeria, Japan, Thailand, Canada, Belgium, Lebanon, Brazil, Kenya, France and Mongolia. Their dispatches offered intimate on-the- ground reporting about vivid characters. A 93-year- old nut trader nicknamed “Mr. Cool” has 118 grandchildren who are helping turn Africa into the epicenter of the biggest human population increase in modern history, even as growth rates slow on every other continent. Fifteen-year- old Maria Luiza Santos’s ambitions to escape her slum and get a good job exemplify both a step forward and a problem for Brazil as it seeks to rebuild its workforce.

The Journal’s team illuminated the series by digging deep into the field of demographics, lucidly explaining the subtle interplay between population and economic fortunes. Among the arresting findings that shaped the entire project:

  • There are 100 million women missing in Asia today because of prenatal gender selection and neglect of girls.
  • By 2050, nearly a fourth of the people on earth will have passed their 60th birthday, compared with just one-eighth now. A swelling portion of the global economy will be spent hospitalizing or retiring old people.
  • When the century closes, if projections hold, four out of 10 people will be African.
  • Next year, for the first time since records were kept, the combined working-age population of the world’s advanced economies will decline, and by 2050 it will shrink 5%.

In all, nearly three dozen reporters, videographers and photographers traversed five continents to deliver a series that put on display the strength of a global news organization committed to enduring long-form journalism.

To give this series maximum impact, the Journal devoted extraordinary digital resources. More than a dozen programmers, interactive designers and graphics editors spent months bringing to life reams of data. The result: everything from a stark illustration of the burden on the globe’s peaking workforce to a dynamic map of the world’s fast-growing migrant population. Journal video editors experimented with cutting-edge virtual-reality technology that provided viewers with a face-to- face look at innovations among Japan’s elderly population and a state-of- the-art chicken farm in Thailand, to name two venues. The project was optimized for mobile platforms, reflecting the surging mobile readership. The series drew hundreds of thousands of readers.

At a time of accelerating news cycles and sound bites, the Journal’s project demonstrated that readers also have an enormous, unfilled hunger for depth and sophistication, in the service of explaining the unseen forces shaping a complex world.