Will the world’s population really reach 11.2 billion in 2100? This week The Guardian provides a good summary of alternate world population projections which challenge this United Nations figure, and casts doubt on whether the world’s population will really continue to grow until the end of this century.
The United Nations bases its population projections on a range of uncertain assumptions about fertility and mortality. Its most likely current estimate is that world population will reach 11.2 billion by 2100, and then stabilise and slightly decline.
The UN is not the only international body to project world population, and the various demographers are certainly not in agreement. A key question is whether Africa’s fertility will remain at current rates, or will drop to follow Western low fertility trends. The Guardian discusses some of the alternate projections:
Jørgen Randers, a Norwegian academic who decades ago warned of a potential global catastrophe caused by overpopulation, has changed his mind. “The world population will never reach nine billion people,” he now believes. “It will peak at 8 billion in 2040, and then decline.”
Similarly, Prof Wolfgang Lutz and his fellow demographers at Vienna’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis predict the human population will stabilise by mid-century and then start to go down. [Marcus discussed these predictions here, back in 2014.]
A Deutsche Bank report has the planetary population peaking at 8.7 billion in 2055 and then declining to 8 billion by century’s end.
Since 1970, a sharp global decline in fertility has occurred. In the United States, all of Europe, and much of the rest of the West, fertility is now actually below the replacement level of 2.1 children and will eventually lead to population decline, unless those countries can attract enough immigrants to sustain current population levels. In fact, many European countries may almost cease to exist by 2300 if low fertility persists and migration does not intervene, according to the most recent United Nations long-term population projections.
According to The Guardian:
Already, almost two dozen countries are getting smaller every year, from Poland to Cuba to Japan, which lost almost 450,000 people in 2018. In these countries, women have fewer than the 2.1 babies that they must produce, on average, for a population to remain stable. The population decline would be even steeper were it not for steadily increasing life expectancy.
The fertility rate in the UK is 1.7. Most population growth in the UK today is the result of international immigration, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without immigrants, Great Britain would eventually enter an era of population decline.
More old people and fewer young people place an increased strain on society’s ability to generate the wealth and taxes needed to fund, among other things, healthcare for the old.
The really big news, however, is found in the large countries of the developing world, where the great majority of people live. There, declines in birth rates have been simply astonishing. China, the world’s largest country, has a fertility rate of 1.5, lower than Britain’s. India, soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation, is at the replacement rate of 2.1 and falling. Brazil, the fifth most populous country, has a fertility rate of 1.8.
One cause of the accelerating decline in fertility is urbanisation. In 2007, for the first time in human history, the majority of people in the world lived in cities. Today it is 55% and, in three decades, it is expected to reach 66%.
Currently, Africa has the highest fertility rates in the world and the majority of the world’s population growth is coming from that continent. Yet, sub-Saharan Africa is also the fastest urbanising part of the world, with annual urban population increases of 4%, twice the global average. This is a factor in the expectation by many demographers that African fertility rates will continue to decline.
According to The Guardian, “Population decline is not a good thing or a bad thing. But it is a big thing. It’s time to look it in the eye.”
Over the past few decades world leaders have compelled people to have fewer children, often in the euphemistic name of reproductive and sexual health. The United Nations itself gave its first population award to both the Chinese minister for population and the Prime Minister of India for their work initiating family planning and sterilisation programmes, forced abortions and sterilisations and all. Vincenzina Santoro points out that the Guttmacher Institute jointly accepted the most recent annual Population Prize of the United Nations last June.
As more people seemingly begin to realise that the world does not have a population spiralling out of control, but instead a soon to be declining one, let’s look the forced taking of life, the abuse of women, and the thousands of dollars of aid and public “health” money spent in the name of population control in the eye too.