Chapter 1
World Population: Major Trends

World: Total Population & TFR
Figure C1_1

Major Regions: Total Population by Variant, 1950, 1995, 2025, 2050
Table C1_1

World population will grow significantly - despite falling fertility.

There is a most striking paradox in global population trends: on one hand we have had a rapid decline in fertility for over two decades in many developing countries - not to mention the already very low fertility in most of the highly developed nations; on the other hand we will almost certainly experience a further massive increase of the world population. In their most recent projection ("World Population Assessment and Projection. The 1996 edition") the United Nations Population Division projects a global population of 8.04 billion for the year 2025 and 9.37 billion for 2050 (see Figure C1_1 and Table C1_1). According to this medium variant, an increase of some 2.35 billion people can be expected worldwide between 1995 and 2025; and an additional 1.3 billion between 2025 and 2050.

These numbers are a little smaller than previous UN estimates, leading some mass media to jump to the conclusion that world population growth will be over soon. This rash judgment might be premature. This UN medium variant projection is based on the assumption that almost all countries worldwide will have a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of only 2.1 in 2050 at the latest (only for 10, mostly European countries, the UN assumes a TFR in 2050 that is a little less - between 1.84 and 2.1). This assumption would require a further steep fertility decline in many developing nations - especially in Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran or India, where the Total Fertility Rates are still far above the reproductive level of 2.1 children per woman. According to the most recent UN estimates, Pakistan for instance, currently has a TFR of about 5 children per woman - the medium variant projection assumes that it will drop to 2.1 during the next 25 years. In other words, we will only have a world population of about 9.4 billion by 2050, if the Total Fertility Rate, measured as a global average, declines from about 3.0 in 1990-95 to the reproductive level of 2.1 children per woman in 2035-40.

Obviously, there is no guarantee that this will happen. There could be a much higher increase in world population, as indicated by the "high" variant UN projection: If worldwide fertility would drop to only about 2.6 children per woman (instead of 2.1 as assumed in the medium variant), we would have a global population of some 8.6 billion by 2025 and 11.2 billion by 2050. This would be equivalent to a 2.89 billion increase between 1995 and 2025 and a 2.58 billion increase between 2025 and 2050. In other words, we cannot exclude another doubling of the world population between now and the middle of the next century as being projected by the UN high variant projection.

Is it possible to completely stop world population growth during the next few decades? Yes, it is - if fertility, worldwide, would decline to 1.57 children per woman, the global population could stabilize at about 7.5 billion by 2025. This is the result of the 1996 UN low variant projections. Please note that this variant assumes a drastic drop of average fertility to a level of some 24% below replacement - in all countries worldwide. While such a steep decline, in fact, already happened in many European countries, it is rather unlikely that populous developing nations such as Pakistan, India, Indonesia or Nigeria - which greatly determine world population growth - would quickly follow this trend.

World: Annual Population Increase & TFR by Variant
Figure C1_2
The current annual population increase of about 80 million will remain constant until 2015.

Currently world population is growing by about 80 million people per year (see Figure C1_2). This is a little less than in the early 1990s when the growth was more than 85 million per year. According to the most recent UN medium variant projection this will change very little during the next decades. Only after 2015 will we observe a gradual decline of the annual population increase - reaching about 50 million by 2050. Thus, by the middle of the next century, world population growth (in absolute numbers) will have declined to the level of the early 1950s. However, this is only possible, if fertility - in all developing countries - falls to the "reproductive level" of 2.1 children per woman by 2050. For countries like India, Pakistan or Nigeria this is a long way to go.
Major Regions: Total Population & Population Change, 1950, 1995, 2025, 2050
Table C1_2
Between now and 2050 world population growth will be generated exclusively in developing Countries.

Between now and the middle of the next century world population will most likely increase by some 3.68 billion people - all of these increase will be contributed by the developing countries (see Table C1_2). In fact, the population of the developed nations as a group will most likely decline by almost 10 million people between now and the year 2050 - according to the UN medium variant projections. Most of this population growth in the developing world will occur during the next 30 years: between 1995 and 2025 the population in developing countries will increase by 2.3 billion; between 2025 and 2050 it will "only" grow by 1.39 billion.

Comparing the centennial growth of developed and developing countries reveals a dramatic divergence: The population of the developed countries as a group will have increased by less than 350 million between 1950 and 2050. The developing countries, on the other hand, will have an estimated 6.8 billion people more - thus almost quintupling their 1950 population.
This modern "population explosion" in the Third World is not comparable to the demographic transition of Europe in the 18th and 19th century. It is a historically unique phenomenon. Both the absolute numbers of population increase and the growth rates are without historical precedence. No country in Europe has experienced annual population growth rates of more than 0.5 to 1 percent during its "high growth" period.

Total Population by Region, 1950, 1995, 2025, 2050
Figure C1_3
World population increase is concentrated in Asia.

From the 3.68 billion people that will be added to the world population between 1995 and 2050, Asia will contribute some 2 billion (see Figure C1_3 and Table C1_2). This enormous increase is due to the already massive size of the population. Most of this growth will occur in the next three decades. Between 1995 and 2025 Asia's population will grow by 1.35 billion - between 2025 and 2050 the increase is projected to be just 658 million (see Table C1_2).
Despite a projected increase in mortality due to AIDS, we cannot expect a significant slowing down of population growth in Africa. This continent will contribute 1.3 billion people to the world population between 1995 and the middle of the next century - almost twice as much as its current total population. Fertility is still so high in Sub-Saharan Africa that it can offset the effect of rising mortality. With an increase of 734 million over the next 30 years Africa's population will more than double.
Latin America and the Caribbean, on the other hand, will have only a very moderate population increase of some 334 million between 1995 and 2050 - almost two-thirds (213 million) during the next three decades. This is due to both the smaller initial size of the population and the already relatively low level of fertility.
Europe's population will almost certainly decline - by 27 million over the next 30 years and by another 64 million between 2025 and 2050. Hence, the UN medium variant projection assumes a shrinking of Europe's population by some 91 million between 1995 and the middle of the next century.

10 Countries with Highest Population Increase
Table C1_3
The ten countries which will contribute most to world population growth over the next 30 years are India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, United States of America, Bangladesh, Zaire, and Iran - in that order!

According to the most recent (medium variant) UN population projection India's population will increase by an additional 401 million between 1995 and 2025 - China will grow by "only" 260 million (see Table C1_3). The next largest contributor to world population growth - surprisingly - is not Indonesia which has the third largest population among developing countries, but Pakistan. This country's population will grow by about 133 million between 1995 and 2025. An almost equal contribution to world population growth will probably come from Nigeria - 127 million. Perhaps unexpected, the next largest contributor to world population growth will be Ethiopia, which will have an additional 80 million people over the next three decades. Indonesia, on the other hand, will grow by "only" 78 million people - which is just sixth place in the "hit list" of contributors to world population growth. The United States of America will probably grow by 65 and Bangladesh by 62 million. Few development experts would have put Zaire on a watch list for population growth. But this Central African country is projected to have an increase in population of almost 61 million between 1995 and 2025. The tenth largest contributor to world population growth will be Iran - with a population increase of almost 60 million during the next three decades (see Table C1_3).

Which countries, worldwide, will have the highest increase in population during the 100-year period between 1950 and 2050? If the 1996 UN medium variant population assessments and projections are accurate (and there is no reason to believe otherwise) India will lead the group with an increase of 1.18 billion people - significantly larger than that of China, which will have a population increase of "only" 962 million (see Table C1_3). The third largest contributor to world population growth between 1950 and 2050 will be Pakistan with an increase of 318 million people. The ranking of the other 7 countries is as follows: Nigeria (+306 million); Indonesia (+ 239 million); Ethiopia (+ 194 million); United States of America (+ 190 million); Brazil (+ 189 million); Bangladesh (+ 176 million) and Iran (+ 153 million).

Please note again that these data are all based on the most recent medium variant UN population projection, which assumes that all countries, worldwide, will reduce their average TFR to 2.1 children per woman by 2050. It is certainly possible, if not likely, that some of these countries, such as Pakistan or Iran, will not be able (or willing) to reduce average fertility to that level. In that case these countries would have an even higher increase in population than reported above.

10 Countries with Highest Annual Growth Rates
Table C1_4
By far the highest rates of population growth can be found in Western Asia and Africa South of the Sahara.

On a country-by-country basis it was mainly the oil exporting nations of Western Asia that had the highest population growth rates over the past 45 years. According to the most recent UN assessment, the United Arab Emirates, for instance, had a mean annual growth rate of 7.7% between 1950 and 1995. This exceptionally rapid population growth was fueled by both very high rates of fertility and immigration. Extremely high growth rates were also estimated for Qatar, Western Sahara, Kuwait, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia (see Table C1_4).
Between 1995 and 2025 more and more countries in Sub-Saharan Africa will be among those with the most rapidly growing population. Between 1995 and 2025 the fastest growing populations will that of the Gaza Strip, Liberia, Oman and Yemen. However, there will be also extremely high rates of population growth in Rwanda, Somalia, Niger, Ethiopia, and Angola.

Which country will have the highest rate of population growth considering the whole century from 1950 to 2050? According to the UN medium variant population projection it will be the United Arab Emirates, with a spectacular mean annual population growth of 4%. Most of the other "top ten" countries with high rates of centennial population growth are also oil-exporting nations of Western Asia.

China & India: Total Population by Variant
Figure C1_4

China & India: Age Structure of the Population
Figure C1_5

India will out-grow China.

India has one of the oldest family planning programs. It started way back in the 1950s. The country's average fertility, however, declined only slowly. In the early 1950s both China and India had a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of about 6 children per woman. But while China's TFR sharply fell to about 2.4 in 1990, it declined only slowly in India and was still above 4 children per woman in 1990. This relatively slow decline of fertility has built up a huge population momentum in India. The country's population structure is much "younger" than that of China (see Figure C1_5). These "broad base" of children and young adults - born during the high growth period in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s - will enter reproductive age in the near future. Even if fertility continues to decline to reproductive level by 2020 (as being assumed by the UN projections) the Indian population will probably increase to almost 1.6 billion by 2050 - slightly more than that of China (UN medium variant) (see Figure C1_4).

However, India's population might become even much larger. If the average Total Fertility Rate would only decline to 2.6 (instead of 2.1) children per woman in 2020, the population would increase to about 1.9 billion by 2050 (see high UN variant in Figure C1_4).

According to the UN low variant projection India's population would increase to 1.2 billion by 2050. This would require an average TFR decline to 1.6 children per woman by 2010-15 (from currently around 2.9). For those who know India this does not seems a very likely scenario.

Nigeria & Pakistan: Total Population & TFR by Variant
Figure C1_6
Nigeria and Pakistan: emerging population giants

There are not many countries in the world where population projections are more difficult to believe than in Nigeria. If the latest UN projections are correct then our children (and the younger among us) will watch the emergence of an African population giant, well comparable to the most populous Asian nations. In 1950 the West-African country had a population of about 33 million; since then the population has more than tripled. The UN Population Division estimates that Nigeria's population in 1995 was about 112 million (please note that the UN does not revise their estimate according to the most recent Nigerian census, which was significantly lower. Obviously, the UN Population and Statistical Divisions do not consider this census accurate enough). Between 1995 and the year 2050 the country's population will probably triple again and reach almost 339 million (see Figure C1_6). If this does occur, we will have a tenfold increase of a 33 million population within one century. This would have no historical precedence. And this is just the medium variant UN projection. Based on the demographic parameters it would be not impossible that Nigeria's population will grow even faster.

There are several overwhelmingly Muslim populations with very high population growth rates, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates. But none of them is projected to have such a massive absolute increase of the population as Pakistan. In 1950 Pakistan had a population of about 40 million people. Since then it has more than tripled and stood at 136 million in 1995. But the real population explosion in Pakistan will only come over the next few decades, because the country not only has a very young population, but also still an extremely high fertility - much higher, for instance, than in Bangladesh or Thailand. These large numbers of children and young adults will soon come into reproductive age and will produce a large number of offspring even if we assume, as in the UN medium variant, a rapid decline in average fertility to reproductive level (of 2.1 children per woman) by 2020. Pakistan's population will be about 357 million by 2050 (according to the UN medium variant projection) (see Figure C1_6).

High fertility in the early 1950s was not the only reason for the exceptional population growth in Nigeria and Pakistan. There were other countries which initially had a similar or even higher level of fertility. Consider the case of Bangladesh and Thailand. The Total Fertility Rate of Bangladesh during the early 1970s was as high as in Nigeria or Pakistan and the initial population size was quite comparable. Yet Bangladesh is projected to have a population of "only" 220 million by 2050 (as compared to 339 in Nigeria). Even more impressive are the demographic trends in Thailand, which reflect one of Asia's success stories in population control. The country's average TFR was comparable to that in Nigeria, but declined sharply in the early 1970s. This "saved" Thailand from building up this massive population momentum which characterizes the situation in Nigeria or Pakistan. Consequently Thailand will have only a very moderate population increase of 14.7 million between 1995 and 2050 (see Figure C1_6).

Proportion of Global Population by Major Regions
Table C1_5
The global balance of population has shifted significantly between 1950 and 1995. It will change even more dramatically between now and 2050.

Europe's share of the world population has sharply declined from 21.7 to 12.8 percent - Africa's share, on the other hand, has increased from 8.9 to 12.7 %. Today, both Europe and Africa are each home of about one eighth of the world population. This will change significantly in the future. Europe's share of the global population will shrink to about 6.8 percent in 2050. Africa's share will grow to 21.8 percent. Hence, one century of population growth will completely reverse Europe's and Africa's position: Europe's share of the global population in 2050 will be the same as that of Africa in 1950 - and vice versa. If the UN medium variant projections turn out to be correct (and there is no sign that they may be wrong) we have to expect a dramatic change in the global balance of population: A much bigger share of the world population will live in Africa South of the Sahara. In only some 50 years Western Africa, for instance, will have the same population as all of Europe. Eastern Africa will have many more people than all the countries of South America, the Caribbean and Oceania combined.-

World: Total Number of Children and Elderly
Figure C1_7
Worldwide, the population will age.

Over the next decades the world population will inevitably age. This is an unavoidable consequence of large birth cohorts during the 1950s and 1960s and the rapid fertility decline since the 1970s. In 2025 the "baby boomers" of the 1950s and 60s will be between 65 and 75 years of age. These large aging cohorts are followed by the relatively small "baby bust" generations of the worldwide fertility decline.

In 1950 there were only 131 million people of age 65 and older; in 1995 their number had almost tripled and was estimated at 371 million. Between now and 2025 the number will more than double again; and by 2050 we will probably have more than 1.4 billion elderly worldwide (see Figure C1_7). The percentage of elderly increased from 5.2 in 1950 to 6.2 in 1995. By 2050 one out of ten people worldwide will be 65 years of age or more.

While currently population aging is most serious in Europe and Japan, China will experience a dramatic increase in the proportion of elder people by the middle of the next century. This is largely due to the country's success in family planning, which rapidly reduced the relative size of birth cohorts since the 1970s.

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