April 18, 2024

Our greying planet

A new UN population projection is lower than previous estimates

Population growth can have an impact on controversial bioethical issues like abortion, contraception, aged care and euthanasia. That’s why a projection of world population trends from United Nations, released this week, should be of great interest.

There are no big surprises, but the UN has revised its projections downward. Two years ago, it predicted that global population in 2100 would be 11.2 billion. The 2019 projection is only 10.9 billion.

Below are the UN’s 10 take-aways from the report.

The UN’s figures are not definitive. In fact, there are dissidents who believe that the UN is seriously overstating population growth. While the UN projects that world population will peak and begin to stablilize or decline in 2100, others think that decline will begin as early as 2050. Even the UN acknowledges that there is “roughly a 27 per cent chance that the world’s population could stabilize or even begin to decrease sometime before 2100.” For more on this, read Wired’s review of the book Empty Planet – which is headlined, chillingly, “The world might actually run out of people”.

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1. The world’s population continues to increase, but growth rates vary greatly across regions. The world’s population is projected to grow from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 8.5 billion in 2030 (10% increase), and further to 9.7 billion in 2050 (26%) and to 10.9 billion in 2100 (42%). The population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double by 2050 (99%). Other regions will see varying rates. These include Australia and New Zealand (28%) and Europe and Northern America (both 2%).

2. Nine countries will make up more than half the projected population growth between now and 2050. The largest increases in population between 2019 and 2050 will take place in: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the US (in descending order of the expected increase). Around 2027, India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country.

3. Rapid population growth presents challenges for sustainable development. Many of the fastest growing populations are in the poorest countries, where population growth brings additional challenges in the effort to eradicate poverty, achieve greater equality, combat hunger and malnutrition, and strengthen the coverage and quality of health and education systems.

4. In some countries, growth of the working-age population is creating opportunities for economic growth. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, and in parts of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, recent reductions in fertility have caused the population at working ages (25-64 years) to grow faster than at other ages, creating an opportunity for accelerated economic growth.

5. Globally, women are having fewer babies, but fertility rates remain high in some parts of the world. Today, close to half of all people globally live in a country or area where fertility is below 2.1 births per woman over a lifetime. The global fertility rate, which fell from 3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.5 in 2019, is projected to decline further to 2.2 in 2050.

6. People are living longer, but those in the poorest countries still live 7 years less than the global average. Life expectancy at birth for the world, which increased from 64.2 years in 1990 to 72.6 years in 2019, is expected to increase further to 77.1 years in 2050.

7. The world’s population is growing older, with persons over age 65 being the fastest-growing age group. By 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65 (16%), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9%). Regions where the share of the population aged 65 years or over is projected to double between 2019 and 2050 include Northern Africa and Western Asia, Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. By 2050, one in four persons living in Europe and Northern America could be aged 65 or over. In 2018, for the first time in history, persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five years of age. The number of persons aged 80 years or over is projected to triple, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.

8. Falling proportions of working-age people are putting pressure on social protection systems. The potential support ratio, which compares numbers of working-age people aged 25-64 to those over age 65, is falling around the world. In Japan, this ratio is 1.8, the lowest in the world. An additional 29 countries, mostly in Europe and the Caribbean, already have potential support ratios below three. By 2050, 48 countries, mostly in Europe, Northern America, and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, are expected to have potential support ratios below two.

9. A growing number of countries are experiencing a reduction in population size. Since 2010, 27 countries or areas have experienced a reduction in the size of their populations of 1% or more. This is caused by low levels of fertility and, in some places, high rates of emigration. Between 2019 and 2050, populations are projected to decrease by 1% or more in 55 countries or areas, of which 26 may see a reduction of at least 10%. In China, for example, the population is projected to decrease by 31.4 million, or 2.2%, between 2019 and 2050.

10. Migration has become a major component of population change. Between 2010 and 2020, Europe and Northern America, Northern Africa and Western Asia, and Australia and New Zealand will be net receivers of international migrants, while other regions will be net senders.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge