For the first time in modern history, the global population is expected to decline within the next century, ushering in a “revolution in the story of our human civilization” and profound changes in how people live.
The current global population is approximately 7.8 billion people. According to a new study published in The Lancet, that number is expected to grow over the next few decades, peaking at around 9.7 billion people in 2064 before falling to 8.8 billion by 2100.
“The last time that global population declined
was in the mid 14th century, due to the Black Plague. If our forecast is correct, it will be the first time population decline is driven by fertility decline, as opposed to events such as a pandemic or famine,” Stein Emil Vollset, lead study author and Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Japan, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Korea, and other countries with low birth rates and aging populations could see their populations shrink by more than half. Even China, a country often associated with unbridled population growth, is expected to reduce its population from 1.4 billion in 2017 to 732 million in 2100.
While the global population is declining
, some parts of the world are expected to see an increase in population numbers. This includes North Africa, the Middle East, and, most notably, Sub-Saharan Africa, which is expected to triple from 1.03 billion in 2017 to 3.07 billion in 2100.
Using data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, researchers from the IHME at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine examined how mortality, fertility, and migration will affect the global population over the next 80 years. It also takes into account how war, natural disasters, and climate change may affect the number of deaths in different parts of the world.
The causes of global population decline are complex and complicated, but they are supported by a general trend toward lower birth rates, driven by female empowerment and access to contraception.
“There are two key factors:
improvements in access to modern contraception and the education of girls and women,” explained Vollset. “These factors drive the fertility rate – the average number of children a woman delivers over her lifetime which is the largest determinant of population. . The global total fertility rate is predicted to steadily decline, from 2.37 in 2017 to 1.66 in 2100, well below the minimum rate (2.1 live births per woman) considered necessary to maintain population numbers.“
Along with these shifting tides, we will witness many radical shifts in geopolitical power and the way billions of people around the world live their lives. One of the most significant changes will be the dramatic decline in the number of working-age adults in certain countries, which will put a strain on their economies and sway the global geopolitical balance of power.
Who will rule the roost in this world
of multiple superpowers remains to be seen, but China is expected to overtake the United States as the largest economy by 2035, based on total GDP (GDP). However, if their projections are correct, the United States will reclaim first place by 2098.
“The 21st century will see a revolution in the story of our human civilization,” Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, said in a statement.
“Africa and the Arab World will shape our future, while Europe and Asia will recede in their influence. By the end of the century, the world will be multipolar, with India, Nigeria, China, and the US the dominant powers,” he added.
“This will truly be a new world, one we should be preparing for today.”
According to the new research
, the world must change its perspective on migration. Despite a resurgence of nationalist rulers and growing hostility toward migrants in past few decades, the report suggests that many countries will need to accept more liberal immigration policies simply to maintain population size and support economic growth.
“Ultimately, if [the new] predictions are even half accurate, migration will become a necessity for all nations and not an option,” Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, University College London (UCL), who was not involved in the study, wrote in an accompanying comment article.
“The positive impacts of migration on health and economies are known globally. The choice that we face is whether we improve health and wealth by allowing planned population movement or if we end up with an underclass of imported labour and unstable societies,” they added.
“The distribution of working-age populations will be crucial to whether humanity prospers or withers.”