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Europe, North America Lead Global Trends for Childless Households and Fewer Married Couples

Source: Regional values calculated by UN Women using published country-level estimates from the UN DESA 2018a. For this analysis, data on China are based on estimates produced and published in Hu and Peng 2015.

Note: Regional estimates marked with an asterisk (*) are based on less than two-thirds of their respective regional population and should be treated with caution: Europe and Northern America (41% of the population) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (36.1% of the population). Global and regional distributions of households by type may not total 100 due to rounding. Population coverage was insufficient for Oceania and therefore not shown.

Family structures are rapidly changing, with fewer than four of every 10 households across the world reflecting the “traditional” composition of a couple with children, according to a new UN Women report

But the trends diverge per region, with Europe and North America having the highest portion of couple-only (24%) and one-person occupancy households (27%). Conversely, 59% of households in the Middle East and North Africa include children. 

Nevertheless, shifting employment trends and changing societal norms toward women and marriage are being felt globally, but at varying paces. For example, the proportion of women aged 45-49 to have never married has increased across the world since 1990, with the rate skyrocketing by 220% in Australia and New Zealand compared to just an 18% increase in Latin America.

To ensure socioeconomic prosperity, governments and employers need to enact policies that recognize evolving family dynamics, such as equal employment opportunities for women, paid parental leave and child-related support for lone-mother households. “The relationship between families, economies and governments is a symbiotic one: Each needs the other to flourish and to achieve stable and prosperous societies,” the report adds.

Are Pandemic-Driven Salary Freezes Beginning to Thaw?

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, many companies instituted cost-cutting measures like salary freezes to curb potential negative financial impacts. But according to new data from Mercer, the general trend indicates that the percentage of freezes will decline in 2021.

This year, the total percentage of Western European companies freezing salaries has declined by 6%, with large salary freeze decreases in high tech (18% less in 2021) and manufacturing (15% less in 2021). In the life sciences sector — which includes pharmaceuticals, one of the key industries leading “return to normalcy” efforts throughout the pandemic — the proportion of companies instituting or continuing salary freezes is projected to dip even below 2020’s already-low rate. 

Of course, companies worldwide are still adjusting as new variants, labor trends and market evolutions continue to foster an environment of uncertainty. For example, industries like consumer goods and energy — which are dealing with the dual challenge of the pandemic and climate change or inflation — are still instituting freezes at higher levels.

U.S. Household Consumption Sees Dip in 2020, Still Outpaces Europe

The United States leads the world in consumption per capita, according to a recent article by Bloomberg opinion columnist Allison Schrager. An average household consumed $43,500 in goods in 2020, accounting for 67% of the GDP. The number has grown 43% since 1990.

Countries in Europe pale in comparison. Germany, for instance, had an average household consumption of $21,500 in 2020, accounting for 50% of its GDP. For Europe as a whole, household consumption per capita grew just 35% since 1990.

The rising trend in U.S. consumption, per the author, reflects the changing lifestyle that revolves around spending. Forty-three percent of American households own three T.V.’s, for instance, while clothing purchases have increased 500% since 1980. It also is a result of having more space to put things — the average U.S. home was 2,000 sq. ft. in 2015, compared to 1,700 sq. ft. in 1980.

Shifts in Precipitation Patterns Threaten Health and Food Security

Temperatures will rise between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to a Climate Ambition Tracker analysis of the decarbonization commitments made by countries at the 2021 COP26, which does not rule out higher levels of warming. 

In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights how climate change is shifting global precipitation patterns: On average, wet regions are expected to become wetter and dry regions drier. 

Extreme rainfall events are becoming more common, and flood risk is increasing. Climate change is also reducing water availability in many regions, exacerbating drought, wildfire and health risks. According to the World Health Organization, by as soon as 2025 half of the world’s population will be living in areas impacted by water scarcity. Changes in rainfall and rising temperatures will also compromise food security by reducing crop yields and livestock productivity.

How Much Could Global Warming Impact the World Economy?

The effects of a 3.2 degree Celsius warming would reduce global GDP by 18%, according to The Swiss Re Institute. The increase in global temperatures has already reached 1 degree Celsius and is accelerating. To contain global GDP losses to 4% by 2050, warming would have to be below 2 degrees Celsius.

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched the first installment of its Sixth Assessment Report. The document posits that the Paris Agreement goal of holding global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will not be achieved without “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” 

World leaders met in November at COP26 to redouble their commitments to curb emissions. According to the Climate Ambition Tracker, global temperatures are set to rise between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, depending on whether all decarbonization targets announced at COP26 will be implemented, with the risk of even more pronounced warming. 

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