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World Population Hits Eight Billion, but Growth Rate Slows

Crowded Population at Knebworth House in England
the global population is growing at its slowest rate since 1950. Credit: Sérgio Valle Duarte CC BY 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The world population is expected to hit eight billion on November 15th, according to the UN’s World Population Prospects 2022 report. A considerable reduction in growth rate was also noted.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “This year’s World Population Day falls during a milestone year when we anticipate the birth of the Earth’s eight billionth inhabitant. 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.”

The UN’s findings prove the global population is growing at its slowest rate since 1950 after falling under 1% in 2020. However, the latest United Nations projection indicates as well that the world’s population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050.

According to Mr. Guterres, “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.”

In his message marking World Population Day, the UN chief advised,  “Let us protect human rights and the ability of all individuals to make informed choices about whether and when to have children,” which coincided with the report.

Population growth anticipated in eight countries

According to the report, more than half of the projected increase in the global population by 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.

The countries of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to contribute more than half of the increase anticipated through 2050, it was stated in the report.

Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs said, “The relationship between population growth and sustainable development is complex and multidimensional.”

He also remarked that such rapid growth makes eradicating poverty, combatting hunger and malnutrition, and increasing the coverage of health and education systems more difficult.

Zhenmin added, “Conversely, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to health, education and gender equality, will contribute to reducing fertility levels and slowing global population growth.”

The report also projected India to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023 as well as projecting the world population to reach a peak of around 10.4 billion people during the 2080s and to remain at that level until 2100.

Slow growth rate attributed to reductions in fertility

Although the world population is anticipated to hit a record 8 billion, the slow growth reported is attributed to the fertility rate that has fallen remarkably in recent decades in many countries.

The report remarked that today, two-thirds of the global population lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman or roughly the level required for zero growth in the long run for a population with low mortality.

The populations of 61 countries or areas are thus projected to decrease by 1 percent or more between 2022 and 2050 owing to sustained low levels of fertility and, in some cases, elevated rates of emigration.

In most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, the share of the population at working age (between 25 and 64 years) has been increasing thanks to recent reductions in fertility. This shift in the age distribution provides a time-bound opportunity for accelerated economic growth per capita, known as the “demographic dividend”.

To maximize the potential benefits of a favourable age distribution, 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.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted in population change

The reports also identified that 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”, he added.

Spotlighting gender inequality, the Secretary-General said, “We still live in a world of vast gender inequality – and we are witnessing renewed assaults on women’s rights, including on essential health services,” while underscoring the fact that “eight billion people means eight billion opportunities to live dignified and fulfilled lives”.

Mr. Guterres urged everyone to contribute to a common future with greater equality and solidarity for the planet and future generations.

Global population share to rise from 10 to 16% by 2050

The report projected the share of the global population at ages 65 and above to rise from 10 percent in 2022 to 16 percent in 2050 and, at that point, suggests that the number of persons aged 65 years or over worldwide will be more than twice the number of children under age 5 and about the same as the number under age 12.

Countries with aging populations are however urged to take steps to adapt public programmes to the growing numbers of older persons, including establishing universal health care and long-term care systems and by improving the sustainability of social security and pension systems.

Global life expectancy at birth reached 72.8 years in 2019, an improvement of almost 9 years since 1990 with further reductions in mortality projected to result in an average global longevity of around 77.2 years by 2050. Yet in 2021, life expectancy for the least developed countries lagged 7 years behind that of the global average.

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