New UN estimates predict 2.5 billion increase in world population by 2050

Hania Zlotnik

13 March 2007 – The world’s population is on track to surpass 9 billion persons by 2050, according to the newly released 2006 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections, which also predict that the number of elderly persons will hit 1 billion.

“One of the surprises is that population growth is most concentrated in the 60 plus age group,” Hania Zlotnik, the Director of the UN Population Division, told a press briefing in New York held to launch the report.

“The place where the action is is the older population,” she said. “The biggest change will occur in the developing world, and developing countries will have to cope with the situation” by investing in both education and care of the elderly.

According to the 2006 Revision, the world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion over the next 43 years, passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050.

In contrast, the population of the more developed regions is expected to remain largely unchanged at 1.2 billion, and would have declined were it not for the projected net migration from developing to developed countries, which is expected to average 2.3 million persons annually.

As a result of declining fertility and increasing longevity, the populations of more and more countries are ageing rapidly. Between 2005 and 2050, half of the increase in the world population will be accounted for by a rise in the population aged 60 years or over, whereas the number of children (persons under age 15) will decline slightly. Furthermore, in the more developed regions, the population aged 60 or over is expected nearly to double (from 245 million in 2005 to 406 million in 2050), whereas that of persons under age 60 will likely decline (from 971 million in 2005 to 839 million in 2050).

“The world population is ageing because of the great success in reducing population growth, the success of humanity in controlling its numbers,” Ms. Zlotnik observed.

The projected population trends also depend on achieving a major increase in the proportion of AIDS patients who get anti-retroviral therapy to treat the disease and on the success of efforts to control the further spread of HIV.

“We are expecting a relatively good coverage of anti-retroviral drugs in 31 of the most affected countries by 2015,” Ms. Zlotnik said. “According to our estimates, 70 per cent of the affected people are going to get treatment. Given that, we're postponing the deaths by several years.” On average, those receiving treatment are expected to live 7.5 years longer than those who are not.

According to the 2006 Revision, fertility in the less developed countries as a whole is expected to drop from 2.75 children per woman in 2005-2010 to 2.05 in 2045-2050. To achieve such reductions, it is essential that access to family planning expands in the poorest countries, the Population Division said, pointing out that without this, the world population could increase by twice as many people as those alive in 1950.

Reacting to the findings, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said they serve as a wake-up call to the urgency of giving couples the means to exercise their human right to freely determine the sizes of their families.

“Currently, about 200 million women in these countries lack access to safe and effective contraceptive services,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid in a news release. “Funding for family planning must be increased to meet the needs of these women, not only to determine the world’s future, but also to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce maternal and infant death.”

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