World Population Day 2019

July 11, 2019, marks 30 years of observing World Population Day.

Since the first World Population Day, in 1989, a lot has changed. Global population had just reached the 5 billion milestone two years earlier. China’s draconian one-child policy was in full force. The HIV/AIDS crisis was in its early years, and treatments were in the very early stages of discovery, meaning that life expectancies of those infected were tragically low. The Berlin Wall wouldn’t fall for another four months. George H. W. Bush became the president of the United States earlier that year, and when he did, he maintained the block on funding to UNFPA that Ronald Reagan imposed during his administration, and similarly kept the Global Gag Rule in place (okay, so that part isn’t very different from today, under Donald Trump).

Let’s take a look at what’s changed at the global level, demographically speaking, since the first World Population Day:[i]

  • Population has grown by 2.5 billion people—95% of that growth has occurred in less developed countries[ii].
  • The total fertility rate (TFR) has declined by one entire birth (from 3.44 to 2.47 live births per woman).
  • The teen birth rate has declined by 38%.
  • The population growth rate has declined by 40%.
  • The annual number of births has increased by 665,538.
  • The annual number of deaths has increased by nearly 9 million. (This is due to an increase in the number of people at older ages, among whom mortality rates are highest.)
  • The median age has increased from 24 to 31.
  • The infant mortality rate has declined by 56%.
  • The under-five mortality rate has declined by 59%.
  • Life expectancy at birth has risen by 8.5 years.
  • The total dependency ratio[iii] has declined from 95 to 74.

The theme of World Population Day 2019 is fulfilling the commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. In the 25 years since ICPD, there has been enormous progress in expanding access to reproductive health, including modern contraception. But the ICPD Programme of Action, agreed upon by 179 country signatories, has still not been realized in its entirety, neither by national governments nor by the international donor community.

The Programme of Action called on international donors to contribute 0.7% of their gross national incomes (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), with an increased share going to population and development programming. The United States has never even come close to that target level, fluctuating between 0.09% and 0.23% over the past 25 years, and coming in at 0.17% in 2018.

In other words, based on the U.S. 2018 GNI of $20.7 trillion, we should be contributing $145 billion to ODA. Instead, we’re contributing less than a quarter of that amount: $34 billion. And of that total $34 billion in ODA, we provided only 1.77% to family planning and reproductive health programs ($607.5 million).

Meanwhile, 214 million women in less developed countries have an unmet need for family planning, and approximately 300,000 women in the developing world[iv] die each year due to pregnancy-related causes. At the global level, 44% of pregnancies and 23% of births are unintended—that’s more than 32 million unintended births each year[v].

If the international community can help convince China to end its coercive one-child policy; develop effective prevention and treatment drugs for HIV/AIDS within a generation; and negotiate itself out of the Cold War, it can certainly meet the family planning needs of 214 million women. Of course, all these achievements occurred before Trump took office.

This World Population Day, let’s vow to fulfill the commitments made in Cairo in 1994, beginning with a serious investment in international family planning assistance, and let’s work to prevent — through voluntary, rights-based fertility decline — the addition of another 2 billion people over the next 30 years


[i] All data: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition.

[ii] According to the UN, less developed countries are those in Africa, Asia (except Japan), Latin America and the Caribbean, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

[iii] The total dependency ratio is the number of people ages 0-19 and 65+ per 100 people ages 20-64. It’s a simple measure of an economy’s ability to support dependent age groups (the young and the retired).

[iv] Almost all (99%) of the 303,000 maternal deaths each year occur in developing countries.

[v] According to the 2019 World Population Prospects, there are an estimated 140,256 births each year for the period 2015–2020.

6 thoughts on “World Population Day 2019

  1. Thanks for all you do. I read your publication as soon as it arrives. My main concern is the lack of birth control for those who want it.

  2. Thank you for an excellent review. My only quibble is with the “214 million women in less developed countries have an unmet need for family planning” — a figure that comes from the Guttmacher Institute which explains that they are not using “modern contraception”. The Guttmacher Institute also uses the words, “developing regions”

    First I realize the above says “in less developed countries” (or “developing regions”), but I make remarks about the U.S. experience in the below because that’s the information I have on the efficacy of various contraceptives; and if anything, the U.S. failure rates of contraceptives would likely be less than in developing countries on average where many live near the limits of survival and chaotic conditions.

    The Guttmacher Institute’s 214 million in developing regions is a vast underestimate, when one considers that “modern contraception” includes crappy contraceptives like “the pill”, which, in actual “usage” in the U.S. has about a 1 chance in 11 per year of failure (9%/year). It’s failure rate is much much lower (0.3%/year) when it is meticulously taken as instructed, which is apparently rare.

    From the December 2017 issue of Population Connection magazine, which has all the contraceptives and methods

    Gosh, I hope they don’t include the condom as a “modern” contraception, but I bet they do.

    In the U.S., about half of all pregnancies are unintended. This tells me that in the U.S. there is a huge huge under-usage (and under-availablity) of RELIABLE contraception, such as the implant (0.05% failure rate). I’m sure the ratio of usage of RELIABLE contraception to crappy “modern” contraception is even lower in the developing world than the U.S.

    I hope Population Connection in the future would quit quoting the 214 million figure without some explanation of what it means, in particular, that not all “modern” contraception is acceptably reliable, and that the most commonly used “modern” contraceptives aren’t particularly reliable in actual usage.

    • Thanks for the thorough comments. We will keep using the 214 million figure as long as the researchers who collect the data continue using it.

      Indeed, some methods are far more effective than others, but “modern contraception” is an umbrella term for condoms and surgical and hormonal methods, and is meant to differentiate these methods from “traditional methods” such as withdrawal and fertility awareness (the calendar method, or periodic abstinence).

  3. “We will keep using the 214 million figure as long as the researchers who collect the data continue using it.”

    I didn’t say you shouldn’t. Again, I said,

    “I hope Population Connection in the future would quit quoting the 214 million figure without some explanation of what it means, in particular, that not all “modern” contraception is acceptably reliable, and that the most commonly used “modern” contraceptives aren’t particularly reliable in actual usage.”

    In other words, provide some context. Why can’t you do that? Why can’t you additionally educate your readers into the unmet need for RELIABLE contraceptives, since they exist and work?

    Would you say there is no problem with “modern” air travel if each plane had a 1 in 11 chance per year of fatally crashing? (Meaning for example that the poor pilot or flight attendants would have only a 39% chance of living more than 10 years). Would you say that a country is adequately served by a transportation system that has such a high failure rate, even if the planes and vehicles are classified as “modern”?

    And like I say, the 1 in 11 per year failure rate of “the pill”, which comes from usage statistics in the U.S., is almost certainly an underestimate of the failure rate in the developing world, for reasons given before, and for which I would add that there is probably a higher prevalence of non-supportive male partners (making condoms uselessly unused, and making it difficult to take the pill every day at about the same time each day — as one must for it to work).

    As for male condoms with an 18% failure rate/year in actual usage in the U.S. — if that was an airplane, the poor pilot and flight attendants would only have a 14% of being alive after 10 years.

    Preventing unintended pregnancies is a much bigger task than providing rubbers and pills to 214 million developing world women, something that Population Connection should make clear.

    Please consider what the main goal of your mission is — educating people about population issues. It is more than just ingenuously grabbing numbers from other organizations and reporting them without explanation or context, when fully knowing they vastly mislead about the scope of unmet family planning needs.

    Do you not think at least half your readers, probably far more than half (who are probably more educated than the average, certainly on population issues), think “this is bull” — when they read that only 214 million reproductive age women in the developing world have unmet family planning needs? In a world of 7,700 million people, of which at least 2/3 is developing? How does this affect your organization’s credibility?

    And as a bonus they also think, “well what about the “developed” world, like even in the U.S., nearly half of pregnancies are unintended?

    Please think of your mission and your readers. Thank you.

  4. A World Population Day comment….. 2019
    Homo sapiens is a creature of the earth. Understand that food is the tap root of life for the human species. There may be other factors that help sustain human life, but food is the root cause for the growth of absolute human population numbers, just as is the case with other species of earth.
    Our problem is a biological one. A positive feedback loop has been established in the food-population relationship because natural limiting factors to the unbridled growth of absolute human population numbers have been eliminated by human ingenuity. Human beings are unique creatures of earth. We are exceptional in many wondrous ways, but not in terms of population dynamics. Hence the recent ‘bloom’ of absolute global human population numbers that are primarily caused by spectacular increases in the food supply which is derived from greatly enhanced production and distribution capabilities.
    The conundrum: increasing food production annually to meet the needs of growing population is fueling a human population explosion. With every passing year more people are being fed and more people are going hungry.
    Perhaps we can agree to a desperate need for an adequate-enough explanation for ‘why’ we have ended up where are, in this global predicament. A growing body of unfalsified research has been ubiquitously denied and consequently not widely shared much less consensually validated by population experts of science as well as those professionals with appropriate expertise in the fields of demography and economics. Uncontested science makes it possible for us to answer the question posed now, here.
    A new biological understanding is emerging from ongoing scientific research. It is simply this: as is the case with other species, human population numbers appear or not as a function of food availability; food is the independent, not the dependent, variable in the relationship between food and population numbers; and human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species.
    Sound scientific research provides straightforward empirical data of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of economic, political, ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This means human population dynamics is like the population dynamics of other species. It also means that global human population growth is a viciously cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth provides an attractive memetic framework for the false perception, the mistaken impression, the fatally flawed misconception that food production needs to be increased to meet the needs of a growing population.
    With every passing year, as food production is increased leading to a population increase, millions go hungry. Why are those hungry millions not getting fed year after year after year… and future generations of poor people may not ever be fed? Every year the human population grows. All segments of it grow. More people with blue eyes and more with brown ones. More tall people and more short ones. All segments of the population grows. Every year there are also more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like all the other segments of the population. We are unexpectedly increasing the number of hungry people in the course of feeding more people. We are not bringing hunger to an end by increasing food production.
    The skyrocketing increase of the human population in our time on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth has caused a growing number of apparently unforeseen and exceedingly deleterious ecological occurrences. Among these potentially catastrophic, human-driven consequences is climate destabilization. What is fortunately becoming clearer to naked eyes, as we observe what is happening, is the manifold ways overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species are occurring synergistically and simultaneously threatening life as we know it, environmental health, and future human well being. The spectacular increase of these distinctly human, overgrowth activities is causing the mass extirpation of earth’s biodiversity, the relentless dissipation of its limited natural resources, the unbridled degradation of its environs and the reckless threat to a good enough future for children everywhere.
    For a moment let us carefully consider the remote possibility that the human community writ large pulls itself together on a war footing to fight climate change and wins that battle by reducing carbon emissions of all kinds to net zero in 2020, while the root cause of anthropogenic climate change continues to be denied. We may win a major Pyrrhic victory. That is certainly a good thing. And yet, if we do not accurately enough locate the foremost cause of the biological problem that is ailing humankind, the problem that is precipitating climate change, we could lose the prospects of a good enough future for life as we know it.
    We have run out of time for population experts to remain reticent. They have to assume their responsibilities by examining data and reporting findings regarding the question, “Why are human population numbers exploding?” The time has come to disclose all of what we know — the whole truth — with regard to human creatureliness and human population growth, according to the best available science and ‘lights’ we possess.

    • Humankind has many wondrous, unique attributes that clearly make our species distinctly different from other organisms. That said, for all the spectacular ways in which we are truly exceptional, Homo sapiens is similar to other species of Earth in terms of its population dynamics. Human population dynamics is not essentially different from the population dynamics of other species. In this was way, among so very many other ways, human beings are exquisite creatures of Earth where we have evolved alongside other species in the general biological evolutionary process. Humans were not catapulted here from some other place in the Universe. We have neither descended from the heavens nor somehow become excepted from the web of life of Earth, our only known home, the one place in the solar system that has been shown so far to be capable of sustaining life as we know it.

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