When Will China Become No. 1? Predicting GDP Growth

In case you haven’t heard, according to figures released earlier this week, China has surpassed Japan as the world’s second economic power, its GDP now second only to that of the United States.

The news wasn’t shocking: economists had expected this to happen for a while now. But it still served as a wake up call to the fact that emerging economies are growing at a much faster rate than those of developed countries.

Granted, the United States is still the clear world clear leader in terms of GDP (note that we are talking about GDP, not GDP per capita), but for how much longer?

The most straightforward estimate we’ve been able to find so far is this Global Economics Paper published by Goldman Sachs (GS) in March 2007. Although more than three years old, its predictions are strikingly accurate. The paper compares, side by side, GDP estimates for 22 countries in five-year increments, starting with actual figures for 2006 and going through 2050. It estimates China’s GDP in 2010 at $4.667 trillion, compared with $4.604 trillion for Japan.

As for the question we posed above, the answer is 2030: by then, China’s GDP will be $25.61 trillion, according to Goldman’s paper, while that of the United States will be $22.817 trillion.

For a visual presentation of GDP growth over the next 40 years, take a look at our interactive infographic above. And if those percentage-growth numbers look unbelievably high, keep in mind that you are looking at a fairly long timeframe. India’s cumulative 2,899% GDP growth, for example, actually breaks down to an 8.87% average per year, making India the world’s fastest-growing economy in terms of GDP. Japan’s 45.03% increase through 2050, meanwhile, is the world’s smallest, at just 0.93% average annualized. For more details, as well as per capita GDP numbers, be sure to check out the Global Economics Paper yourself.