A new report by the United Nations (UN) has predicted that the world’s population will rise from the current 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050.
Released on Monday (June 17), the World Population Prospects 2019 report – which provides an overview of global demographic patterns and prospects – also revealed that the UN’s Population Division is expecting the number to reach a peak of nearly 11 billion by 2100.
However, in spite of the growing global headcount, the UN wrote in its report that the population is ageing as a result of increasing life expectancy and drops in fertility rates, along with a rising number of countries experiencing a reduction in their own population sizes.
The UN noted that the resulting changes in the size, composition and distribution of the world’s population would have “important consequences” for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – globally agreed targets for improving economic prosperity and social well-being while protecting the environment.
Growth rates vary “greatly” across regions
Based on the report, nine countries will contain over half of the projected growth of the global population during the course of the next 30 years, which in descending order of expected increase, include:
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- The United Republic of Tanzania
- The United States of America
India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country, it added.
While the sub-Saharan African region’s population is projected to double (99 per cent) by 2050, other regions may see lower rates of population growth over the same period, namely:
- Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand (56 per cent)
- North Africa and Western Asia (46 per cent)
- Australia and New Zealand (28 per cent)
- Central and Southern Asia (25 per cent)
- Latin America and the Caribbean (18 per cent)
- Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (3 per cent)
- Europe and North America (2 per cent)
The global fertility rate is also expected to decline further to 2.2 births per woman in 2050. The previous period of decline saw a drop from 3.2 in 1990 to 2.5 in 2019.
According to the UN, a fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman is needed “to ensure replacement of generations and avoid population decline over the long run in the absence of immigration”.
In 2019, the only regions where fertility remains above the required number include sub-Saharan Africa (4.6), Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand (3.4), Northern Africa and Western Asia (2.9), and Central and Southern Asia (2.4).
UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, said a large proportion of the fastest growing populations are found in the poorest countries where population growth would pose challenges to efforts to alleviate poverty, inequality, hunger and malnutrition.
He also noted the need to strengthen the coverage and quality of health and education systems “to ensure that no one is left behind”.
Growth of working-age population may spur economic growth
The UN said that recent reductions in fertility have caused populations at working ages – those aged 25 to 64 – to grow faster than other ages, particularly in most of sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
This would create opportunities for “accelerated” economic growth due to a more “favourable” population age distribution, the organisation said.
It added that governments should invest in education and health for young people to create conducive conditions to sustain economic growth and benefit from the “demographic dividend”.
People in the poorest countries still live seven years less than the global average
Life expectancy at birth across the world, which increased from 64.2 years in 1990 to 72.6 years in 2019, is projected to increase further to 77.1 years in 2050, said the UN.
Nonetheless, in 2019, life expectancy at birth in the least developed countries lagged 7.4 years behind the global average. According to the organisation, this may be largely attributed to persistently high levels of child and maternal mortality, violence, conflict as well as the continuing impact of the HIV epidemic.
Age group of 65 and over is growing the fastest in the world
The UN said by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over the age of 65 (16 per cent), compared to one in 11 in 2019 (9 per cent).
Regions where this particular age group is expected to increase two-fold over the next 30 years include North Africa and Western Asia, Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia as well as Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Europe and Northern America, the number of people in this age group may comprise a quarter of the population by 2050.
The number of people aged 80 and over is also likely to triple from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050, the UN said.
Declining working-age population putting pressure on social protection systems
Worryingly, the number of people of working age to those aged over 65 – otherwise known as the potential support ratio – has been falling around the world, the UN said, with Japan having a ratio of only 1.8, the lowest in the world.
Another 29 countries, mostly in Europe and the Caribbean, already have potential support ratios that fall below three. By 2050, 48 countries mainly in Europe, Northern America as well as Eastern and South-Eastern Asia are expected to have a ratio below two.
“These low values underscore the potential impact of population ageing on the labour market and economic performance, as well as the fiscal pressures that many countries will face in the coming decades as they seek to build and maintain public systems of healthcare, pensions and social protection for older persons,” the UN added.
More countries experiencing reduction in population size
Over the past nine years, 27 countries or areas experienced a one per cent or more reduction in their population sizes due to sustained low levels of fertility, the UN said.
Tthe impact of low fertility on population size is also “reinforced” in some locations by high rates of emigration, the organisation said.
Between 2019 and 2050, populations may decrease by at least one per cent in 55 countries or areas, which includes 26 that could experience a minimal drop of ten per cent.
Migration plays a major role in population change in some countries
The UN said that between 2010 and 2020, 14 countries or areas will have a net inflow of more than a million migrants, with 10 others that may see a net outflow of similar number.
It added that some of the largest migratory outflows are primarily driven by demand for migrant workers (Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines) and by violence, insecurity and armed conflict (Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela).
For other countries, it may be a different story.
According to the UN, net inflows of migrants will also be seen in other parts of the world such as Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine. These migration patterns will help to offset population losses resulting from an excess of deaths over births, it added.