The Demography Group aims to better understand the role of “Human Capital” – the human resource base in terms of the number of people and their changing structure by age, gender, location, education, health status, cognitive skills and other relevant characteristics that help with the production of human wellbeing.
Societies and economies change as a consequence of the evolving composition of their membership as captured by selected key characteristics of people. Conventionally, demography has focused primarily on the changing composition of a population by age and gender. At the Wittgenstein Centre we have now added educational attainment as a third demographic dimension that should routinely be taken into account. In addition, labour force participation, health status, place of residence and other measurable characteristics of people can be captured and modelled using the powerful tools of multidimensional population dynamics that were developed at IIASA during the 1970s. Making further progress in these directions is the core of our research agenda. This more comprehensive approach has the potential to develop into a new social science paradigm, the theoretical foundations of which are detailed in the article “Demographic metabolism: A predictive theory of socioeconomic change” in the 2013 PDR supplement Population and Public Policy: Essays in Honor of Paul Demeny.
This approach also has immediate practical potential for dealing with key policy challenges of our rapidly changing world, along the way providing new and sometimes surprising answers to such questions as: What is the desirable level of fertility and how can it be measured and assessed? Will population ageing actually result in the often feared massive increase in disability? Can education help to slow cognitive ageing and what should be the priority investments for our ageing Western populations? What are the population and human capital futures in today’s developing countries and, in particular, what would be the best investments for enhancing the adaptive capacity for dealing with climate change? Researchers at the Wittgenstein Centre deal with many such questions in an innovative way.