By 2064, the world’s population is estimated to consist of 9.7 billion people. However, by 2100 we will be ‘only’ 8.8 billion.

This is evident from an extensive analysis, published in the journal The Lancet . The findings are somewhat surprising. For example, a United Nations report last year suggested that in the year 2100 the world population would consist of 10.88 billion people. The new estimates are no less than 2 billion heads lower. According to the researchers, it can be traced back to the unprecedented rate at which fertility rates (the average number of children born per woman) in Sub-Saharan Africa are decreasing.

Maximum size
All in all, the researchers therefore expect that the world population will soon reach its maximum size. As early as 2064, a peak would be recorded with 9.7 billion people. In the decades that follow, the number of people on Earth decreases, to reach 8.8 billion people around 2100.

Global fertility rates are expected to decline sharply in the next century. Where on average every woman gave birth to 2.37 children in 2017, that number will decrease to 1.66 in 2100. That is much less than the minimum of 2.1 children required to keep the population figures stable.

Decrease If
we zoom in on individual countries, we see that fertility rates in some countries are considerably below the global average. For example, the researchers expect that by 2100 on average only 1.2 children will be born per woman in Italy and Spain. And Poland would even see the fertility rate drop to 1.17 by the end of this century.

Sub-Saharan Africa
The fertility rate is also expected to decline in Sub-Saharan Africa. And strong too. Where women in this part of the world still bore an average of 4.6 children in 2017, we are expected to see an average of 1.7 more children by the year 2100. And in a country like Niger – which recorded the world’s highest fertility rate in 2017, namely: an average of 7 children per woman – a significant decrease is expected. By 2100, researchers expect that only 1.8 children per woman will be born in the country.

First another period of growth
Although fertility rates in Africa are decreasing, partly due to the increasing availability of contraceptives and the training of more girls and women, the population will continue to grow strongly in the coming decades. For example, the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to triple in the coming decades, reaching 3.07 billion in 2100. This can partly be traced to the fact that more and more girls are reaching fertile age. In addition, mortality rates are decreasing. The population is also growing in North Africa and the Middle East. And together with Sub-Saharan Africa, these are the only regions expected to accommodate a larger number of people by 2100 than they did in 2017.

Shrinkage
While the populations in the areas mentioned above continue to grow, there are shrinkage in many other places. Populations are decreasing rapidly, particularly in Asia and the central and eastern part of Europe. And based on this analysis, 23 countries may even expect their population to be 50% smaller by 2100 than today. This applies, for example, to Japan (which is expected to go from 128 million people in 2017 to 60 million in 2100). But also for Thailand, Spain, Italy, Portugal and South Korea. Another 34 other countries are expected to see their populations decline by 25 to 50 percent. This applies, for example, to China, which had 1.4 billion inhabitants in 2017, but will fall to 732 million by 2100.

New rankings
The rankings in which countries are suitable according to the number of inhabitants will therefore change radically in the coming decades. China still tops this list. But will fall back to third position in 2100 and will then have to tolerate India (with just over 1 billion inhabitants) and Nigeria (with approximately 791 million inhabitants). The US (now third in the rankings) falls to fourth, while the Democratic Republic of Congo – now eighteenth – moves up to sixth. “The 21st century is revolutionizing the history of our human civilization,” said Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet. “Africa and the Arab world will shape our future, while the influence of Europe and Asia is diminishing. By the end of the century, the world will be multipolar, with India, Nigeria, China and the US as the dominant powers. This will really be a whole new world, one we need to prepare for right now. ”

On the left you see the countries that had the most inhabitants in 2017. On the right the countries that are expected to have the most inhabitants in 2100. There are quite a few shifts planned. Image: The Lancet.

Aging
Also, as fertility rates are declining and life expectancy is increasing globally, there will be major changes in the age structure of the world’s population. For example, the researchers expect the number of children under five to decrease by 41 percent: from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100. Meanwhile, the number of people older than 80 is expected to increase enormously: from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100. It poses great challenges, says Stein Emil Vollset, lead author of the paper that describes the expected developments. “While a population shrinkage may be good news for reducing CO2 emissions and reducing the pressure we put on our food system, economic challenges will arise with more older people and fewer younger people.

COVID-19

For their predictions, the researchers use the best available data and have followed various trends in that data. But of course something unexpected can always happen in the future, which affects the world population. For example, a global epidemic could have far-reaching consequences for the number of people on Earth. We are currently in the middle of such a pandemic because of SARS-CoV-2. But even though more than half a million people have died from the virus, the researchers say that this pandemic does not affect the long-term forecasts for the entire world population.

Economic changes
In their study, the researchers also map out what exactly this aging and decrease in the number of employed people means for the economies of the various countries. For example, they predict that by 2035 China will outperform the US economically and record the world’s largest gross national product. However, as the country will subsequently experience a significant population contraction from 2050 onwards, the economy will not grow as fast, which means that the US – if immigrants continue to increase the workforce here – can again surpass China. Meanwhile, due to the fact that it is the only one of the 10 most populous countries with a growing workforce in the coming decades, Nigeria can make huge leaps and record the eighth largest gross national product by 2100 (now it still has 22 countries with a higher gross national product for themselves). Countries such as Italy and Spain are likely to see a sharp decline in their gross domestic product, as their populations are also declining sharply.

Migration
Countries that see their fertility rate drop below 2.1 and still want to try to keep their working population and economy up to date can really only do one thing: attract migrants. “If the predictions (…) are even half true, migration will be necessary for all nations,” said Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, not involved in the study, but author of a commentary on the study, which was also published in The Lancetappeared. In his view, it requires international cooperation, which benefits both the countries that send migrants and the countries that receive them, while protecting the rights of the migrant itself. “Countries need to cooperate at a level unprecedented to date and strategically support and fund the development of surplus human capital in countries that are a source of migrants. A fair change in global migration policy requires that both rich and poor countries have a say. The expected changes in the size of national economies and the subsequent changes in military power may make these discussions necessary (…) The choice we face is: are we going to improve our health and increase wealth by enabling planned population movements or will we end up with an underclass of imported workers and unstable societies? (…) The spread of the workforce will ultimately be crucial and determine whether humanity flourishes or languishes. ”

Women’s rights
Researcher Christopher Murray sees another challenge as a whole. For example, in a world where fertility rates are declining and political shifts are looming, women’s rights are threatening to come under pressure (again). “It is important that governments put women’s freedom and rights at the top of the agenda.” Horton endorses that. According to him, “the study emphasizes the importance of protecting and enhancing the woman’s sexual and reproductive rights (the right that a woman has to decide, among other things, whether she wants to become and remain pregnant and use contraception, ed.). ”

The researchers continue to emphasize that their predictions are only estimates. And that there are some uncertain factors. Nevertheless, the researchers think it is important to give an idea of ​​what the world will look like in the coming decades, based on the best available data. The changes that have been sketched are so great that countries are better off carefully preparing for them. “Continued global population growth is no longer the most plausible course the world population is taking during this century,” said Murray. “This study provides an opportunity for governments of all countries to rethink their policies on migration, labor and economic development to address the challenges of demographic change.”

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