Population

Dominic Nahr/Magnum Photos
Two healthy born twins in Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, Somalia

Our growing population

In 1950, five years after the founding of the United Nations, world population was estimated at around 2.6 billion people. It reached 5 billion in 1987and 6 billion in 1999.  In October 2011, the global population was estimated to be 7 billion. A global movement "7 Billion Actions" was launched to mark this milestone. And as of  mid-2015 the world population reached 7.3 billion, meaning that the world has added approximately one billion people in the span of twelve years.  

This dramatic growth has been driven largely by increasing numbers of people surviving to reproductive age, and has been accompanied by major changes in fertility rates, increasing urbanization and accelerating migration. These trends will have far-reaching implications for generations to come.

China and India: most populated countries

Sixty per cent of the global population lives in Asia (4.4 billion), 16 per cent in Africa (1.2 billion), 10 per cent in Europe (738 million), 9 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean (634 million), and the remaining 5 per cent in Northern America (358 million) and Oceania (39 million). China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) remain the two largest countries of the world, both with more than 1 billion people, representing 19 and 18 per cent of the world’s population, respectively. (Source: UN Population Division)

The world in 2100

The world population is projected to increase by more than one billion people within the next 15 years, reaching 8.5 billion in 2030, and to increase further to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. As with any type of projection, there is a degree of uncertainty surrounding these latest population projections. The results presented above are based on the medium projection variant, which assumes a decline of fertility for countries where large families are still prevalent, as well as a slight increase of fertility in several countries with fewer than two children per woman on average. Survival prospects are also projected to improve in all countries.

Africa: fastest growing continent

More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. Africa has the highest rate of population growth among major areas, growing at a pace of 2.55 per cent annually in 2010-2015. A rapid population increase in Africa is anticipated even if there is a substantial reduction of fertility levels in the near future.  Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding future trends in fertility in Africa, the large number of young people currently on the continent, who will reach adulthood in the coming years and have children of their own, ensures that the region will play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of the world’s population over the coming decades.

Asia is projected to be the second largest contributor to future global population growth, adding 0.9 billion people between 2015 and 2050,

Shrinking population in Europe

In sharp contrast, the populations of 48 countries or areas in the world are expected to decrease between 2015 and 2050. Several countries are expected to see their populations decline by more than 15 per cent by 2050, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. Fertility in all European countries is now below the level required for full replacement of the population in the long run (around 2.1 children per woman), and in the majority of cases, fertility has been below the replacement level for several decades. 

Factors influencing the population growth

  • Fertility rates

Future population growth is highly dependent on the path that future fertility will take. According to the World Population Prospects (2015 Revision), global fertility is projected to fall from 2.5 children per woman in 2010-2015 to 2.4 in 2025-2030 and 2.0 in 2095-2100. However, for countries with high fertility there is significant uncertainty in the projection of fertility. In these countries the average woman has 5 or more children over her lifetime. Of the 21 high-fertility countries, 19 are in Africa and 2 are in Asia. The largest are Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Afghanistan. Low-fertility countries now include all of those Europe and Northern America, plus 20 countries in Asia, 17 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 3 in Oceania and 1 in Africa.

  • Increasing longevity 

Overall, significant gains in life expectancy have been achieved in recent years. Globally, life expectancy at birth rose by 3 years, that is from 67 to 70 years.  The greatest increases were in Africa, where life expectancy rose by 6 years in the 2000s after rising by only 2 years in the previous decade. Life expectancy in Africa in 2010-2015 stood at 60 years, compared to 72 years in Asia, 75 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, 77 years in Europe and in Oceania and 79 years in Northern America.

  • International migration

International migration is a much smaller component of population change than births or deaths. However, in some countries and areas the impact of migration on population size is significant, including in countries that send or receive proportionately large numbers of economic migrants or those affected by refugee flows. Overall, between 1950 and 2015, the major areas of Europe, Northern America and Oceania have been net receivers of international migrants, while Africa, Asia and Latin and the Caribbean have been net senders, with the volume of net migration generally increasing over time. From 2000 to 2015, average annual net migration to Europe, Northern America and Oceania averaged 2.8 million persons per year. 

United Nations role in population issues

UN Population Division

The United Nations system has long been involved in addressing these complex and interrelated issues – notably, through the work of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Population Division

The Population Division pulls together information on such issues as international migration and development, urbanization, world population prospects and policies, and marriage and fertility statistics. It supports UN bodies such as the Commission on Population and Development, and supports implementation of the Programme of Action adopted by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (IPCD).

The Population Division prepares the official United Nations demographic estimates and projections for all countries and areas of the world, helps States build capacity to formulate population policies, and enhances coordination of related UN system activities through its participation in the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities.

UN Population Fund 

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) started operations in 1969 to assume a leading role within the UN system in promoting population programmes, based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the size of their families. At the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), its mandate was fleshed out in greater detail, to give more emphasis to the gender and human rights dimensions of population issues, and UNFPA was given the lead role in helping countries carry out the Conference’s Programme of Action. The three key areas of the UNFPA mandate are reproductive healthgender equality, and population and development.

World Population Day is observed annually on 11 July. It marks the date, in 1987, when the world’s population hit the 5 billion mark.

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