Study Forecasts World Population to Peak in 2064

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If you feel like the world is getting busier, it’s not just you- the planet’s population has been rising for as many years as we’ve been keeping track.

The United Nations projected that the world’s population could reach 11 billion people by 2100, a figure that was not called into question until a new report from the University of Washington was published this year.

The report detailed how access to education and contraceptives lowered reproductive rates in places where women were given access to both. On average, women with higher levels of education and access to contraceptives had less than 1.5 children.

If women’s rights continue to expand around the globe, the University of Washington report estimated that the global population would peak in 2064 at 9.7 billion before declining to 8.8 billion in 2100.

Global Population Metrics

The study estimated that about 20 countries could see their populations decline by half. These nations included Japan, Thailand, Spain, and Italy, among others.

However, sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to expand its population in the next 80 years, tripling it in the case of Nigeria.

As countries see their populations grow and expand, there will be increased pressure on lawmakers to stabilize unbalanced economies and meet the needs of a population that looks very different than it does today.

By 2100, the study predicts that India, Nigeria, China, USA, and Pakistan will be the top five most populated countries.  Source: Vollset et al., 2020.
By 2100, the study predicts that India, Nigeria, China, USA, and Pakistan will be the top five most populated countries. Source: Vollset et al., 2020.

This uneven growth and decrease in population has potential benefits and downfalls. As people have fewer children, the number of young people versus the number of people over the age of 65 becomes unbalanced. For instance, there could be 2.4 billion individuals over the age of 65 by the year 2100, while just 1.7 billion will be under the age of 20.

The report detailed a decline in the workforce, which will be in charge of paying taxes, providing money for social services, and propping up economies that need to find a way to take care of their aging populations. 

Looking Ahead

While a reduction in the global population is generally seen as good for things like greenhouse gas emission levels and food security, it could also mean a shift in policies as countries revise their stances on migration, education, and healthcare.

With a decline in population, some countries could adopt strict or stricter reproductive policies that limit women’s reproductive rights.

Additionally, a shrinking workforce could create an unhealthy migration system that exploits workers from countries like Nigeria who have a surplus of young, employable individuals. 

Climate change will also play a role in reproduction and migration. Projections of climate changes, sea level rise, and food shortages could cause mass migrations well before 2100.

Rising sea levels will disproportionately affect low-lying coastal areas. Waves wash over a road on Roi-Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, during a particularly high tidal event. Image: Peter Swarzenski, USGS, public domain.
Rising sea levels will disproportionately affect low-lying coastal areas. Waves wash over a road on Roi-Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, during a particularly high tidal event. Image: Peter Swarzenski, USGS, public domain.

The University of Washington report didn’t assess the projected impacts of climate change on potential global reproductive rates. 

While we can’t know for certain what the next 80 years will bring, climate scientists, migration experts, and economists will be keeping an eye on the shifting dynamics of our ever-changing world.

References

Vollset, S. E., Goren, E., Yuan, C. W., Cao, J., Smith, A. E., Hsiao, T., … & Dolgert, A. J. (2020). Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: a forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study. The Lancet. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30677-2

Al Jazeera. Population in more than 20 countries to halve by 2100: Study. 15 July 2020. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/population-20-countries-halve-2100-study-200715061706992.html

Harvey, Fiona. The Guardian. World population in 2100 could be 2 billion below UN forecasts, study suggests. 15 July 2020. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/15/world-population-in-2100-could-be-2-billion-below-un-forecasts-study-suggests

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