3 May 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Launch ‘World Population Prospects:  The 2010 Revision’


At current fertility levels, the world’s population of nearly 7 billion was projected to reach 10.1 billion in the next 90 years, with most of that increase generated by high-fertility countries, Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said at Headquarters today.

At a press conference to launch the report World Population Prospects:  The 2010 Revision, Ms. Zlotnik said it presented official United Nations population estimates and projections, and unlike past reports, it included projections for all countries and regions of the world up to 2100.  She said the new and more complex method used to calculate fertility took countries’ past experiences into account in order to project future fertility paths.  For each country, 100,000 future fertility paths had been calculated, from which a central value had been taken and used to make “medium variant” projections.

The high variant, whose fertility was half a child above that in the medium variant, would produce a world population of 10.6 billion in 2050 and 15.8 billion in 2100, she explained.  The low variant, whose fertility remained half a child below that of the medium, would produce a population that would reach 8.1 billion in 2050 and decline towards the second half of the century to reach 6.2 billion in 2100.  However, there was a more than 20 per cent probability that the projections would not happen — “not a small probability”.

At current fertility rates, high-fertility countries were expected to triple their medium-variant populations to 4.2 billion by 2100, the Director said.  The population of intermediate-fertility countries, accounting for 40 per cent of the world’s people, would increase by 26 per cent to 3.5 billion, while that of low-fertility countries — like China, Brazil, Indonesia, and most countries in Europe — would decline by about 20 per cent to 2.4 billion.

Another aspect of the report dealt with population ageing, she continued, noting that the phenomenon was occurring fastest in low-fertility countries.  Today, 11 per cent of their populations was aged 65 years or above, while just 34 per cent was under age 25.  By 2050, according to the medium variant, 26 per cent of their populations would be aged 65 or above and just 24 per cent would be below age 25.  Because fertility was projected to increase, the proportion of those aged 65 or over would rise to 28 per cent by 2100, she said, adding that population ageing was slower among intermediate-fertility countries and slowest among high-fertility countries.

Taking questions, Ms. Zlotnik said the world population was projected to increase to 7 billion “towards the end of the year”, and that the exact date would be announced by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  It was “astounding” that the last two population increases had been reached in record time, every 12 years over the last 25 years, she noted.

While the world had not collapsed under the billions of new people, she explained, most of the additions had taken place in the poorest countries.  High-fertility countries tended to be small, poor and racked by conflict, and the concern was that if they did not achieve their projected fertility reductions, they would have serious problems, including over food availability and affordability.

Asked whether Japan and the Russian Federation, where the populations were forecast to decline, would be joined by other countries, she said her office was paying attention to China’s population, which would start declining in the 2020s, to be surpassed by that of India.  Such trends, however, depended on how many migrants were imported into those countries, she said, adding that the way in which societies adapted depended on whether they realized that they needed more children.

In response to a request for a population breakdown for the Middle East, Ms. Zlotnik emphasized that Arab countries and the Middle East were a microcosm of the wider world.  Each country had very different trends and one could not generalize about the region as a whole.  Just as Yemen was a high-fertility country where women had more than five children on average, Tunisia had been below its replacement levels for two decades, she noted.  There was no sense that the region was homogenous in terms of population trends, she added, pointing out that sub-Saharan African countries, on the other hand, tended to show more similarity.

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For information media • not an official record