Until 2050 97% of population growth comes from less developed regions

This year we will hit 7 billion. But the big demography news is not just the net growth figure, but also the differentiation – where it takes places. A new Harvard study has sifted through the billions of unborn people of this year’s UN Population Prospects and concludes we may need to consider policy.

In 1950 there were 3 billion people around. We doubled that number in 1999. And adding yet another billion people took us just 12 years – as predictions indicate the 7 billionth person will be born this autumn. Demographic trends however do not simply breach when the leaves turn brown.

Developing nations

Considering the UN’s Population Division’s medium variant in 2050 there will be another 2.3 billion extra people by 2050. Of these 97 percent will come from less developed regions. By contrast, many European countries, led by Russia and Ukraine, will have declining populations.

Africa’s case

Nearly half (49 percent) of the expected global population growth over the next 4 decades will happen in Africa. Even after 2050 the African population will keep growing, while other continents see stabilisation.

The reason for this is simple, Harvard Economics & Demography Professor David Bloom today explains in his Science publication: “Dramatic reductions in mortality, with lagging reductions in fertility.” The average African woman gives birth to over 5 children.

Net population growth larger than total mortality

Population growth is not a marginal phenomenon, something derived from a slight positive anomaly within the noise zone of mortality and fertility. In fact there is something rather graceless to the actual figures. This year for instance the number of the net population growth will be larger than the total number of deaths:

An estimated 57 million people will die – in staggering contrast with the estimated 135 million births. It results in 78 million extra people in one year time. Demography really can be that simple and straightforward.

Need for contraception

In the accompanying Harvard School of Public Health press release Bloom argues we should not simply stick our heads in the sand*. He names the ‘unmet need for contraception among hundreds of millions of women’ as an example of a ‘mountable challenge.’

“It’s just plain irresponsible to sit idly by while humankind experiences full force the perils of demographic change.”

[*) “If -ever again- you hear anyone say demography is merely economic development, point to -for instance- this graph.” It's culture.]

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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