ANALYSIS: Latest Population Forecasts

The Need for Integral Development

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The United Nations has recently released its forecast for the growth in world population for the period 2015-2100.

Published by the Population Division of the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs the 2015 revision of World Population Prospects contains different variants according to what the future fertility rates may be.

In presenting the report on July 29 the director of the Population Division, John Wilmoth, explained that currently there are around 7.3 billion inhabitants on the planet. By 2030 this is expected to increase to 8.5bn and by 2050 it should be 9.7bn.

Wilmoth admitted that projections beyond 2050 become increasingly uncertain, but the medium-variant projection for 2100 puts the world’s population at 11.2bn.

Nevertheless, the world’s population is growing more slowly than in the recent past.  Ten years ago, world population was growing by 1.24% per year. Currently it is growing by 1.18% per year, or approximately an additional 83 million people annually.

Population growth will be unevenly distributed around the world, with Africa experiencing rapid growth. Africa is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. Worldwide the average number of children per woman is at 2.5. In Africa, however, the number is at 4.7.

Up until 2050 the population of 28 African countries are projected to more than double and by 2100, ten African countries are projected to have increased by at least a factor of five: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

As a result, Africa’s share of global population is projected to grow to 25% in 2050 and 39% by 2100, while the share living in Asia will fall to 54% in 2050 and 44% in 2100.

However, population growth is not limited to Africa. During the period 2015-50 growth is projected to be concentrated in nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Indonesia and Uganda.

China and India will continue to be the two most populous countries in the world, with each counting with more than 1 billion people. But by 2022, the population of India is expected to surpass that of China.

Population aging

By contrast in Europe will experience a decline in the number of inhabitants. In fact, 46% of the global population lives in countries where the number is below 2.1, which is the level needed to ensure the replacement of the current population.

Low levels of fertility have been present in Europe and North America for several decades. More recently they are also occurring in twenty Asian countries, 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, three in Oceania, and one in Africa.

A consequence of the decline in fertility is the aging of the world’s population. Globally the number of persons aged 60 or above is expected to more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100.

Worldwide, the population group aged 60 and over is growing faster than any other group. This change in population distribution is a significant challenge for pension and health care schemes, the report observed.

In fact, for many countries the major demographic concern is not about growth but aging.

In Europe, 34 % of the population is projected to be over 60 years old by 2050. In Latin America and the Caribbean and in Asia, the population will go from having 11% to 12% of people over 60 years old today to more than 25% by 2050.

While Africa will have the youngest population of any major area, it also is projected to age rapidly, with the population aged 60 years or over rising from 5% today to 9% by 2050.

One point made by Wilmuth is worth noting, namely that the report and its population projections assumes governments will adopt policies to change fertility rates that are relatively high or low.

Consumerism and distribution

The role of policy regarding demographic change was a point touched upon by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si.

Regarding the debate about population growth and economic development he warned against a mentality that sees a reduction in the birth rate as the only solution.

He also noted that at times developing countries face pressure because economic aid is made contingent upon the adoption of certain policies in the area of “reproductive health.”

Demographic growth “is fully compatible with an integral and shared development,” commented Pope Francis, citing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Instead of blaming population growth for development problems we should instead be looking at consumerism and the current models of distribution, Pope Francis recommended. As an example he referred to the fact that a third of all food produced is discarded.

The Pope’s comments point to the need for a much broader discussion regarding economic development rather than just limiting it to population growth.


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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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