The latest UN projections suggest that the world’s population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050, before reaching a peak of around 10.4 billion people during the 2080s. The population is expected to remain at that level until 2100.
Slowest growth rate since 1950s
However, the annual study, released on Monday to coincide with World Population Day, also notes that the global population is growing at its slowest rate since 1950, having fallen to less that one per cent in 2020.
Fertility, the report declares, has fallen markedly in recent decades for many countries: today, two-thirds of the global population lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman, roughly the level required for zero growth in the long run, for a population with low mortality.
In 61 countries or areas, the population is expected to decrease by at least one per cent over the next three decades, as a result of sustained low levels of fertility and, in some cases, elevated rates of emigration.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on population change: global life expectancy at birth fell to 71 years in 2021 (down from 72.9 in 2019) and, in some countries, successive waves of the pandemic may have produced short-term reductions in numbers of pregnancies and births.
“Further actions by Governments aimed at reducing fertility would have little impact on the pace of population growth between now and mid-century, because of the youthful age structure of today’s global population,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of lower fertility, if maintained over several decades, could be a more substantial deceleration of global population growth in the second half of the century”.
Growth concentrated in eight countries
More than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Countries of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to contribute more than half of the increase anticipated through 2050.
Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, warned that rapid population growth makes eradicating poverty, combatting hunger and malnutrition, and increasing the coverage of health and education systems more difficult.
The ‘demographic dividend’
In most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, recent reductions in fertility have led to a “demographic dividend”, with a rise in the share of the working age population (25 to 64 years), providing an opportunity for accelerated economic growth per capita.
The report argues that, to make the most of this opportunity, countries should invest in the further development of their human capital, by ensuring access to health care and quality education at all ages, and by promoting opportunities for productive employment and decent work.
Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to health, education and gender equality, will contribute to reducing fertility levels and slowing global population growth.
More older people, living longer
The world should expect to see far more grey hairs by 2050: by then, it is expected that the number of persons aged 65 years or over worldwide will be more than twice the number of children under the age of five, and about the same as the number under age 12.
Further reductions in mortality are projected to result in an average global longevity of around 77.2 years in 2050. Yet in 2021, life expectancy for the least developed countries lagged seven years behind the global average.
The report recommends that countries with ageing populations should take steps to adapt public programmes to the growing numbers of older persons, establishing universal health care and long-term care systems, and by improving the sustainability of social security and pension systems.
“This year’s World Population Day falls during a milestone year, when we anticipate the birth of the Earth’s eight billionth inhabitant”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, reacting to the report’s findings.
This is an occasion to celebrate our diversity, recognize our common humanity, and marvel at advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates,” he added. “At the same time, it is a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for our planet and a moment to reflect on where we still fall short of our commitments to one another”