The latest UN population estimates have been released and the global body is predicting that the world’s population will continue to grow over the next few decades, but that the pace of growth will decline. By the middle of this century, the world’s population is predicted to be 9.7 billion people (an increase of two billion people from today’s population). Over half of that increase in population is expected to come from only nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the USA. India’s strong population growth will see it soon overtake China to be the most populous nation on Earth (the first time that China will cease to be the most populous nation, perhaps ever?) The continuing population strength of the USA, something I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, is seen in the fact that it makes list of the top nine growing countries, a developed world anomaly in the list. Aside from the USA and the subcontinent, most of the growth is expected to come from sub-Saharan Africa: its population is expected to nearly double by 2050.
While the population is growing, the global fertility rate will continue to fall from its current 2.5 children per woman to 2.2. More and more countries will start shrinking in population: 55 countries are expected to see a decline of at least one per cent by 2050 and almost half of those 55 countries will see a drop of at least 10 per cent. Further, this growing population will be much older. Currently, one in eleven people in the world are over the age of 65. By 2050 this proportion will have increased to one-in-six. In North America and Europe, a quarter of the population will be over the age of 65. Life expectancy will increase to 77.1 years in 2050.
In short, fertility will continue to decline, the world will continue to age and continue to grow, but at a slowing rate. These estimated figures are based upon demographic data provided by 235 countries or areas for the last few decades. This data is then analysed and extrapolated forward into the future. Thus, these figures are only as good as the data underlying them and the assumptions that are made about population growth in the future. As we have mentioned before on thins blog, some countries’ official population data is to be taken with a grain of salt (we’ve discussed the politicised censuses in Nigeria, but New Zealand’s recent efforts at launching an online census have also been disastrous). Furthermore, the UN’s predictions as to fertility rate decreases are challenged by other demographers, some of whom predict that the world will start shrinking by 2050. Time will tell.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.