There are 35 million more people on the planet in 2017, according to the latest UN population data, than there were projected to be just two years ago. That’s like an extra Morocco, that in 2015 demographers didn’t expect to exist today.
Every two years, the United Nations Population Division revises its data estimates and projections, based on new census information and specialized sample surveys. The latest data, released last Wednesday, puts the current population at 7.55 billion. It’s projected to increase by a billion people over the next 13 years, reaching 8.55 billion in 2030 (according to the medium-fertility projection). The new projections put the 2050 population at 9.77 billion (47 million higher than the 2015 projection) and the 2100 population at 11.18 billion (29 million lower than the 2015 projection).
“To achieve the substantial reductions in fertility projected in the medium variant, it will be essential to support continued improvements in access to reproductive health care services, including family planning, especially in the least developed countries, with a focus on enabling women and couples to achieve their desired family size.”
It seems clear that fertility rates around the world aren’t falling as quickly as demographers projected because of a lack of commitment to funding family planning programs in the poorest places on Earth. With 214 million women in the developing world still experiencing an unmet need for family planning, of course fertility rates aren’t declining the way demographers expected.
Africa is the fastest-growing continent, and more than half of the growth between now and 2050 is projected to occur there, even though the medium-fertility variant assumes Africa’s TFR will decline from 4.7 in 2010-2015 to 3.1 in 2045-2050. Such a decline will require the commitment of Africa’s country governments, the international donor community, and the desire of women and couples to have smaller families. Without these three elements, Africa’s fertility rates and population growth will be higher. And even considering fertility decline, the populations of Angola, Burundi, Niger, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zambia are projected to increase by five times their current size by 2100.
Africa’s aspirations for fertility decline are especially fraught because 41% of the continent’s population is under age 15 and 19% is between the ages of 15 and 24. That means that fully 60% of the population still has most of its childbearing ahead, so that even with successful fertility decline, population momentum will ensure that the population continues to grow just by virtue of the age structure of the continent’s people.
Population growth, especially in extremely poor settings, presents unique challenges to economic development. “The concentration of population growth in the poorest countries will make it harder for those governments to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, combat hunger and malnutrition, expand and update education and health systems, improve the provision of basic services, and ensure that no-one is left behind.”
There are some bright spots, however. Although the global population is still growing by 83 million people a year (net), the rate of growth has slowed, from 1.24% ten years ago, to 1.10% today. And there are currently 96 countries with fertility rates below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. These countries include all of Europe and Northern America, plus 19 countries in Asia, 15 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 3 in Oceania, and 2 in Africa. This is an accomplishment that 50 years ago the world surely couldn’t have imagined. With the right investments, we can impress ourselves again in 50 years with even greater progress.