How or why this happens is outside the scope of the question, but suppose one day roughly half of the human race vanishes out of the blue. The "disappearance" happens completely randomly, with no concern for age, gender, ethnicity, location or whatever.

After the obvious initial catastrophe and enormous chaos, how long would it take for society in the developed world to return to the state it is in currently?

I'd like to focus on the general infrastructure (government, transportation, goods and services) and the economy.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Renan, sphennings, JBH, RonJohn, Bellerophon Apr 27 '18 at 21:00

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    $\begingroup$ It really depends on the story, doesn't it? What does the story focus on -- individual tragedies, mass bereavement, restoration of transport and utility networks, honest-to-goodness economic indicators? Very well organized countries will restore their transportation and utility networks in a short time, several months. Mass mourning and psychological problems will last for years. The world economy will take several decades to recover, because it has just lost half the workforce, and half a billion missing Chinese workers will result in a massive gap in the world economic output. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '18 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I added a few focus points, hoping it makes the question clearer $\endgroup$ – Hankrecords Apr 27 '18 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ In other recent questions, it was established that if half the world population died and all of the modern infrastructure was destroyed, it would set us back to the year 1800 at worst, or something closer to 1900 with the knowledge that we have about sanitation etc that doesn't require infrastructure. If the infrastructure was untouched, people would quickly adjust to a new normal that was less crowded. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 27 '18 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy I just want to point out in case the OP just accepts this without thinking it through and not to start an extensive argument about such details, I think I get what your actual intentions are, it would require an extremely well-made argument to justify 1900 (or you don't justify it, but then this question is pointless as well). Saying that we would go backwards in time or reverse progress or lose the ability to make some stuff (sometimes called technology) is problematic on so many levels that it's hardly a good way to think about such a problem $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Apr 27 '18 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ It is not very clear that there would be anything for society to readjust to. Admittedly, the workforce would diminish by about half, but there is no damage to physical infrastructure and, helpfully, there would be half as many people to support. Some key people would go but, in terms of government, there should be sufficient left to support a smaller population. Government tends to be overstaffed anyway. At a social and personal level the impact is likely to be severe but this is likely to reinforce the societal structures they have, not to seek to destroy or change them significantly. $\endgroup$ – Lee Leon Apr 27 '18 at 12:13

I'm gonna guess about 20 years until you are functionally similar to modern day.

My reasoning is thus:

First, given computers and libraries and the random nature of the disappearance, You are not going to be losing that much knowledge. Sure, you are going to lose a lot of momentum behind development.

Second, you are probably going to have to deal with a pretty crushing economic downturn. Production capability will fall sharply and demand for products and services will literally fall in half. This might be mitigated by the fact that the workforce falls off by half. A lot of turmoil in the modern day during economic fluctuations is caused by an imbalance. The balance will be upset, but not by enough to cause total collapse. I'm thinking something between the 2008 recession and the great depression.

The reason for a short turnaround lies in the fact that a lot of infrastructure will remain. The physical bits and pieces are still there. It will begin to deteriorate, but a road with potholes is still passable for some years. Power plants will still be there. If some smart people take some action, a lot of stuff can be mothballed and preserved fairly easily for quite some time.

I say 20 years because that's the amount of time for an entire generation to be born into the new state of affairs and come to maturity. The fresh generation will come in and hopefully start the forward momentum once again.

The biggest upheaval will be in areas of religion and in social philosophies. A big die off, even one with no bodies to clean up, is going to start a wave of doubt in communities of faith (Some will try to capitalize on this). It will also turn nihilism into a growth industry. That might be where a lot of opportunity comes in for You, the world builder. The scars from this kind of event are not going to go away, not until every single person who lived through it and their children's children are dead.

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    $\begingroup$ I would like if you mentioned the ensuing paranoia. "Will this happen again?" type stuff and how long that might last. but Good answer. $\endgroup$ – goodguy5 Apr 27 '18 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @goodguy5 The "Will it happen again" will start on day one, and be a part of the social philosophy and religious part. It won't die off for probably 60 or 70 years. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Apr 27 '18 at 18:58

About 1 year to return to a "new normal". 20-30 years to replenish the population so we can call it "full return".

While losing half of the population seems to be a devastating blow, there is nothing that would prevent the world from quickly readjusting. There are a few things that would change the balance, like major natural disaster which would coinciding with disappearance event, or triggering of the nuclear war. Barring those calamities, things should stabilize pretty quickly.

The main key is that all emergency services - army, law enforcement, firefighters, hospitals, major utilities - are designed with redundancy and flexibility in mind. Losing half of the staff in a military unit or police department will be tough, but those institutions should quickly readjust and try to do their best. Hospitals will also stay open, and lights will stay on.

Transportation would not take this event easy. Airlines and airports will have to shot down and rethink what to do next. But buses can keep running.

There will be plenty of food supplies in warehouses and fuel in the depots, so there would not be any risks of starvation. Some supermarkets will close, but army and national guard will keep the worst off.

On day 1 there will be a lot of chaos, but it would not develop into an apocalypse. Police will be out on the streets, electricity and phones will keep working, and food will be easy to find.

There will be a need to quickly find all the children that were left without parents and ill/disabled/old people who were relying on their relatives for survival.

What is the biggest risk is that government institutions that were not designed for emergency operations would be paralyzed. For example, in the US, if half of Congress, half of federal department's staff, half of the Supreme Court (give or take a person, because there are 9 judges), and maybe the President himself disappeared, it might be difficult to show the necessary leadership and steer the country out of crisis.

For the first month or two the crisis would deepen, however, there still not going to be break down of order, no massive riots, no civil war, and hopefully no international war as well.

After the government will find its footing and people would accept the new order, things will start to improve. In the new economy there will be half as many workers, but then there is only a half of population to support. Planes will start flying on a new schedule, schools will reopen (though not all of them), factories will resume production. In one year's time, the world would be on a firm path to recovery.


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