Empires Diaries Desk
July 16, 2020, New Delhi: The global population will reach a peak exactly 44 years from now, after which it will stop growing and start shrinking dramatically. The world population currently stands at 7.64 billion. It is expected to expand to 9.73 billion in the year 2064, and eventually fall to 8.79 billion by the end of the century.
These thought-provoking estimates were arrived at after careful study and population trend analyses by a team of researchers from the IHME (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) from Seattle, US. The projections are based on data from 195 countries. The findings were published in The Lancet journal. The work is titled: Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100:
A forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study.
Due to consistently falling fertility rates among women, more than 180 countries – almost the entire world – will see their populations shrink by the year 2100.
Even more remarkable is the projection that there are 23 nations whose populations will come down by 50% by the end of the century or in another eight decades. Those 23 countries include China, Thailand, Portugal, South Korea and Spain.
China, which is currently the most populated country on the planet with 1.4 billion people, will see its population growth come to a standstill in 2024. After that year, its population will begin to shrink dramatically, and will eventually fall by 50% to 732 million by the end of the century.
INDIA’S POPULATION TO STOP GROWING IN 2048
By 2100, India is projected to become the world’s most populated country, even though its own population will fall below current figures. According to the latest findings, “The reference projections for the five largest countries in 2100 are India (1.09 billion people), Nigeria (791 million), China (732 million), the US (336 million) and Pakistan (248 million).”
Our Indian readers will be intrigued to know that the country’s population will stop expanding in the year 2048, which is less than three decades from now. After 2048, India’s population will steadily start to fall, although not drastically. India’s population presently stands at 1.38 billion. By the end of the century, the country’s population will drop to 1.09 billion.
In India’s neighbourhood, Bangladesh will be the first country whose population will stop expanding – it will happen as early as 2039. Nepal’s population will start contracting from 2043, followed by India (2048), Bhutan (2051) and Pakistan (2062).
Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and West Asia are the only regions that are projected to have higher populations in 2100 than in 2017. “All super-regions except sub-Saharan Africa were forecast to have substantial population declines in the coming eight decades,” the researchers concluded. “The declines were forecast to be most severe in South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Oceania, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”
TURNING POINT: WOMEN’S EDUCATION
This overall projected drop in worldwide population has been attributed to two game-changing factors: (1) rising trend of women’s education, resulting in increase in women joining the workforce, and (2) better and higher access to contraception.
“Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth,” the IHME research team said. “A sustained TFR (total fertility rate) lower than the replacement level in many countries, including China and India, would have economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences. Policy options to adapt to continued low fertility, while sustaining and enhancing female reproductive health, will be crucial in the years to come.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT FERTILITY RATES
When it comes to understanding how and why populations expand or contract, the concept of fertility rate makes for an interesting study. Generally, it is accepted that 2.1 is the neutral fertility rate (fertility rate is the total number of kids born to a woman during her lifetime). At a fertility rate of 2.1, the population stays exactly the same – it neither expands nor contracts. If the fertility rate goes above 2.1, the population will start going up. If it falls below 2.1, the population will start shrinking.
A BBC report on the published findings says that the fertility rate was high up at 4.7 in 1950 – it means women on average were giving birth to 4.7 kids per head. That fertility rate fell to 2.4 in 2017, and it will settle at 1.66 by the end of the century.
TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
A global fall in population numbers is like a coin with two sides. On one hand, it’s a heartening sign. A shrinking population indicates a rise in the trend of women’s education. The more the women are educated, the more they are inclined to work as professionals. In turn, their professionalised lifestyles will make it a disincentive for them to have a high number of kids. This, in turn, means controlled population and hence, a lesser strain on resources.
On the other side of the coin, a contracting population makes way for a rapidly rising number of elderly people, especially 80-year-olds and above. The research tells us that there were 141 million 80-year-olds on the planet three years ago. Going by projections, this figure will shoot up to 866 million by the end of the century.
This top-heavy demographic mismatch of rising number of elderly and falling number of youngsters could trigger a societal problem we’ve never seen before – who will be around to physically take care of so many elderly people all over the world? Who will be around to cover their medication and other health-related expenses if the young population around them shrinks?
These are pertinent questions that we are unable to confidently answer now. Hopefully, by the turn of the century, the issues will be taken care of.
As the good ol’ saying goes – we will cross the bridge when it comes.