10 January 2013

The world's population could decline

Not a decrease in the rate of increase (which has already happened), but an actual decline in numbers:
[t]he rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.

And then it will fall.

This is a counterintuitive notion in the United States, where we’ve heard often and loudly that world population growth is a perilous and perhaps unavoidable threat to our future as a species. But population decline is a very familiar concept in the rest of the developed world, where fertility has long since fallen far below the 2.1 live births per woman required to maintain population equilibrium...

American media have largely ignored the issue of population decline for the simple reason that it hasn’t happened here yet. Unlike Europe, the United States has long been the beneficiary of robust immigration. This has helped us not only by directly bolstering the number of people calling the United States home but also by propping up the birthrate, since immigrant women tend to produce far more children than the native-born do...

Moreover, the poor, highly fertile countries that once churned out immigrants by the boatload are now experiencing birthrate declines of their own. From 1960 to 2009, Mexico’s fertility rate tumbled from 7.3 live births per woman to 2.4, India’s dropped from six to 2.5, and Brazil’s fell from 6.15 to 1.9. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average birthrate remains a relatively blistering 4.66, fertility is projected to fall below replacement level by the 2070s. This change in developing countries will affect not only the U.S. population, of course, but eventually the world’s...

According to a 2008 IIASA report, if the world stabilizes at a total fertility rate of 1.5—where Europe is today—then by 2200 the global population will fall to half of what it is today. By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion.  [it's currently 7 billion]
The reasons for the decline are discussed in the Slate article.

See also this previous post, and this one.


  1. Good news for humanity, too. Birth rates going down means that they have access to effective birth control and reasonable certainty that their kids will grow to adulthood. It's a big tipping point.

    If the human population ever gets small enough that extinction from apathy is a problem, I trust our descendents will be fully equipped to handle the matter. :-D

  2. Either that, or the world will be full of Muslims and Mormons.

  3. Too bad so many of our nations tax policies, social policies, and economics depend on a large number of younger people. Maybe the lower population earthlings of the year 2200 will be better educated so it will not matter so much.

  4. Not sure if this was accounted for, but if the population drops then inherently the death rate will drop also. So the live births needed to replace the population will drop.

  5. The inimitable Hans Rosling's take on the subject:

    www dot gapminder dot org/videos/religions-and-babies/


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