Should we be celebrating or mourning?
World Population Day passed largely unnoticed here in the PC imperium, submerged in the rapturous runup to America’s latest guilt fest, the Juneteenth holiday.
Yet World Population Day matters. It was originally the idea of World Bank demographer Dr K. C. Zachariah, who forecasted July 11, 1989, as the date world population would surpass 5 billion. At his urging, the United Nations designated July 11, 1989, as the first World Population Day. It is commemorated every year to raise awareness of critical population issues including poverty, human rights and maternal well-being.
This year the UN (specifically, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division) marked the occasion by releasing the “World Population Prospects 2022” report that included some intriguing projections:
- Global population will reach 8 billion on November 15, 2022.
- By 2050 there will be 9.7 billion people.
- Sometime in the 2080s world population will peak at 10.4 billion, levelling off until 2100, then declining.
- By 2050 those 65 and over will be 16% of world population; coincidentally, children under 12 will constitute another 16%.
That’s a lot to unpack.
First, consider the source. Anything coming from the UN has instant cred. As the exclusive club of independent states, UN access to money, academic resources and agents of influence is extensive. The General Assembly Building is impressive, as are UN job titles and salaries. Working there carries consequential cachet. UN staffers are a cosmopolitan bunch – after all, it’s the UN. The place is so prestigious that the Postal Service doesn’t require an actual street address, just United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY.
However, prestige aside, the thousands of UN staffers, including a plethora of “experts” on just about anything under the sun, are flesh-and-blood bureaucrats just like the folks in government offices anywhere. Thus the UN report is just as fallible as any other population study.
Returning to “World Population Prospects 2022,” some context is in order. In living memory virtually everything has been based on population increase. The idea of progress, the notion of non-stop growth and continual improvement in human affairs has been our guiding light since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. That is a long time, and the abiding secular faith in humanity forever forging ahead is hard to shake. Today some of these temporal concerns are moving in another direction, which the UN report confirms. One revelation (well known to demographers) is that many places (East Asia and Eastern Europe) have declining populations with no end in sight. UN experts peg the average global fertility rate at 2.3 (and falling), down from 5.0 in 1950.
While demographers agree on population trends, projections differ. In 2020 The Lancet published a comprehensive study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It projected world population to peak in 2064 at about 9·73 billion people and to decline to around 8·79 billion by 2100. On the other hand, the UN projects world population to peak during the 2080s at 10.4 billion, leveling off until 2100. That is a significant difference in projections.
Anything coming from the UN must mind the politics. Perhaps political concerns led “World Population Prospects 2022” to project a higher population peak and much later decline than The Lancet. No country wants to be seen as withering away. (I’m not saying The Lancet is immune to politics!)
Then there is China, usually regarded as the world’s most populous country, with supposedly 1.4 billion inhabitants. The Lancet and UN agree about that. But highly respected Chinese demographer Dr Yi Fuxian does not. The University of Wisconsin scholar contends that Chinese officials have been puffing up population statistics to conceal the underlying vulnerability of a world economic behemoth. Dr Yi declared on Twitter:
China’s offshore neighbour Japan also has a population crisis. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan had projected births to fall below 815,000 in 2027. It happened six years earlier. A 2017 projection by Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research correctly pegged 2021 as the year when that would come about.
Then Japan’s Itochu Corporation published the fertility rate of female employees to show that women could have both children and a successful career. A national outcry ensued. These are sensitive issues.
Why are population stats important? They determine government spending, social policy and national well-being. Projections are analysed by the military, higher education and business for long-term planning.
Then there is the matter of sub-Saharan Africa. Here’s what the UN report had to say:
Between 2022 and 2050, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to almost double, surpassing 2 billion inhabitants by the late 2040s. With average fertility levels remaining close to 3 births per woman in 2050, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to account for more than half of the growth of the world’s population between 2022 and 2050. In 2022, the size of the population in this region was growing at an annual rate of 2.5 percent… more than three times the global average of 0.8 percent per year.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of world population will increase significantly. Cash-flush China is winning the battle for influence in the Dark Continent. Will Africa at last realize the economic development that has for so long eluded it? The West is an enticing destination for developing world up-and-comers. Will a flood of sub-Saharan migrants Africanise a depleted West? Will secular Europe come to resemble a quasi-caliphate?
One thing is beyond debate: Humanity is experiencing profound and unprecedented changes from differential fertility, migration and economic collapse. Ensuing generations will deal with it. Best of luck.