World population 7 billion: where did that last billion come from?

According to the latest World Population Prospects tomorrow the world’s 7 billionth human inhabitant will be born. That means if you were born in 1968 you placed your first steps on a planet with half as many people as there are now.

No matter your own day of birth, you’ll probably remember the world having 6 billion inhabitants. After all, we reached that population milestone only in 1999. If somehow you lost track of global demographic developments from there – you may be wondering where yet another billion people came from in just 12 years time. Well, the image below says it all…

world population 7 billion Asia Africa
World population from 6 billion to 7 billion people. Full-scale infographic.
[For comparison here is the 8 billion people infographic forecast for 2024.]

As you can see just two continents drive the global population growth – and especially Europe lags far behind, almost playing even. That is because large immigration in Western Europe* is compensated by birth rates below replacement level, especially in Eastern Europe.

[*) To give an indication, judging by Eurostat 2010 figures within the EU the total number of first-generation non-European immigrants is now larger (an estimated 30+ million) than the total population growth for the entire continent between 1999 and 2012 (13 million). These immigrant communities in turn an average have substantially higher birth rates, which further help to mask population declines in other European communities.]

It seems to be Asia, but is it?

Between 1999 and now [or actually the start of 2012 – we’re dividing a little over one billion people over the continents: 1,007,204,000 to be ‘precise’] the Asian population grew by an estimated 579 million people. That is about a 57 percent chunk of the 7th billion – so by far the largest contributor. But don’t immediately say the Asians* create global population growth, because they’re actually slightly below the world average – as about 60 percent of the current world population already lives in Asia.

[*) The two real population giants of Asia, India and China (together 2.6 billion people), have different developments. One should not believe the one child myth, as during 30 years of implementation of the policy the Chinese population grew from 1 to 1.3 billion. One the other hand one should also not exaggerate India. Although there is substantial population growth there and despite the fact that currently 1 out of every 5 children worldwide are born in India, there are 92 countries with higher rates of population growth. Important drivers for Asian population growth include Pakistan and Indonesia.]

Africa’s share is bigger than it looks

The African population meanwhile grows from 792 million in 1999 to 1,070 million (in two months from now) – thereby contributing 28 percent to the 7th billion. This relative share will only increase for the world’s future billions – according to medium UN projections the African population alone will grow by 2.5 billion people within this century.

The Americas and Australia

Latin America is now at a total estimated population of 603 million people and contributed about 9 percent to the world’s latest one billion extra people. In North America there are now 388 million people, with a 4 percent contribution to world population growth since 1999. [US population growth is still close to 10 percent per decade – immigration is roughly 50 percent of growth.]

Australia, New Zeeland and Oceania contributed less than 1 percent to the world’s latest one billion – although the population did grow substantially between 1999 and now, from 31 to 38 million people.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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