|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Population Director on Revised World Population Prospects
The world’s population, now estimated at 7.2 billion, could reach 8.1 billion by 2025 and up to 9.6 billion by 2050, said a top United Nations population expert at a Headquarters press conference today.
John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), briefed correspondents at the launch of the new United Nations report, World Population Prospects: the 2012 Revision. The report is released every two years using updated data, he explained, adding that the latest edition had used information collected from 233 countries and areas of the world.
Joining Mr. Wilmoth was François Pelletier, Chief of DESA’s Population Estimates and Projections Section. Describing the report’s key findings, Mr. Wilmoth said that, compared to the figures launched two years ago, the new projections of future population had been revised upwards. For example, the “medium-variant” projection of the world’s population in 2050 had increased from 9.3 billion to 9.6 billion.
Future population trends would be affected by the trajectories of its three major components ‑ fertility, mortality and migration ‑ but especially by the course of future fertility, he said. As a whole, fertility had fallen rapidly in recent decades, with several large developing countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa, experiencing a rapid decline in the average number of children born per woman. That had led to a reduction in the population growth rate in much of the developing world.
At the same time, he said, many countries of Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere now had very low levels of fertility, well below their “replacement level” of around 2.1 children per woman.
There remained, however, a group of countries with relatively high levels of fertility, defined as more than 5 children per woman on average. Most of those States were least developed countries, and many ‑ including Nigeria, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ‑ were located in sub-Saharan Africa. Recently available data had also led to an upward revision of estimates of current fertility levels for several high-fertility countries, he added.
In addition, India was now expected to become the world’s most populous country, surpassing China by 2028 or so, while Nigeria’s population could surpass that of the United States by 2050.
With regard to fertility policies, Mr. Wilmoth said that Governments had consistently emphasized the need to enable individuals and couples to choose freely the number and timing of their children. In low-fertility countries, Governments had tried to find ways of supporting women and men, both at home and at work, so they might satisfy their desired number of children by combining child-rearing with work outside the home.
Meanwhile, in high-fertility countries, Governments had focused on improving opportunities for education and employment, especially for youth, and on providing access to family planning, among a broad range of sexual and reproductive health services.
Mr. Wilmoth, responding to a series of questions, including on the accuracy of the report’s predictions, said that the medium-variant scenario projected by the report was indeed a “middle scenario” based on the assumption that the future would resemble the past. A range of estimates were available, but that was based on people alive today, whereas there was “enormous uncertainty” beyond a few decades.
Asked what the “worst-case scenario” would be in terms of population changes, Mr. Wilmoth described the risk of population decline for many countries, which he said would be challenging in terms of support arrangements to care for the growing elderly population. Conversely, there were also risks associated with high population growth rates, including possible lack of food security. The goal was really to avoid extremes, he stressed.
Responding to a question about high fertility as it related to child brides, he agreed that early marriage was a concern in many parts of the world, not only from a population growth standpoint, but also in terms of opportunities for young people. “Encouraging young people to marry later and stay in school allows them to develop skills […] and improve their lives across the board,” he said.
Asked how populous countries such as India and Indonesia had been able to reduce their fertility rates, he said that those Governments had been working to provide family planning services, and individuals, when given the choice about their own fertility, tended to respond in ways that reduced population growth.
Asked for clarification about the projected global increase in population, and what had caused it, he said that the decline in fertility rates seen during the 1990s seemed to have stalled in the last few years in several high-fertility countries. The decline had been attributed to education efforts, cultural changes and the availability of contraception methods.
The present trend towards a population increase, some believed, could be attributed to the diversion of funds for family planning, he said. However, a London summit held last year had tackled the goal of providing family planning to 120 million more women by 2020, under the “Family Planning 2020” initiative.
In response to a question about the link between population projections and United Nations sustainable development efforts, Mr. Wilmoth said that neither the population question nor concerns about sustainability were new to the Organization. Governments had emphasized the right of individuals to choose how many children to have, which limited policy options in the area of population. Indeed, the solution to sustainability challenges had to come by “changing the way that we live”, and not through population policies, he stressed.
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