A world of 8 billion: population growth will continue, but it is slowing


Kathleen Mogelgaard
  • Opinion by Kathleen Mogelgaard (Washington DC)
  • Inter Press Service

With hashtags like #8billionstrong, the discourse about adding another billion people to the world’s population since 2011 seems heavily on a positive spin. Some economists and experts argue that population growth (or “abundance” as a new book describes it) is good for the economy and innovation.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called it “an opportunity to celebrate diversity and progress”. dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said: “People are the solution, not the problem… A resilient world of 8 billion… offers infinite possibilities.” But it’s more complicated than that.

While reaching 8 billion doesn’t mean we’re destined to add a billion people to the population every decade — UN projections indicate population growth will level off later in this century — continued population growth isn’t without its challenges.

Optimistic media reaching the 8 billion milestone tends to obscure how continued growth could negatively impact people and the planet, including the climate and environment, food security, water, health, civil conflict, refugees, displacement and rising global inequality.

3. The growth will not be uniform; some places will experience much more than others

Demographically, the world is becoming increasingly polarized. In some countries, especially in the wealthier ones, population growth is already low and will fall quickly. For example, according to UN projections, more than 30 countries in Europe and parts of Asia will reach a median age of 46 years or older by 2040. This would lead to a further decline in the birth rate. Future population growth will increasingly be concentrated in other countries with higher fertility rates and more youthful age structures. The UN projects in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia will maintain their young demographics by 2040, with more than half of their population under 25.

That will lead to higher population growth in certain areas, for example in the Sahel region of Africa, the Philippines and among marginalized communities around the world. This is a deep equality issue. Younger age structures, higher fertility rates and higher population growth are profoundly impacting societies, economies and governments, limiting their ability to meet people’s needs.

4. Premature Delivery Increases Fertility Rates

Average family size is declining worldwide, but in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, fertility rates have stalled or are declining very slowly throughout life, suggesting larger families. In many places, this is a function of early childhood. For example, in Niger, where the average lifetime fertility rate is about seven births per woman, more than three quarters of girls marry before the age of 18. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 10% of female adolescents have a child each year.

5. Youthful age structures will boost growth in the first half of this century

A “youth bump” or large proportion of young people in a national population today creates momentum that pretty much guarantees that the number of people of childbearing age will grow through 2050. UN demographers predict this will fuel about two-thirds of global population growth over the next two decades.

6. Projections are not predictions

None of this is set in stone. UN projections fail to take into account many variables that can affect the population growth curve, from wealth to warfare. What governments and the international donor community invest in can change variables that can profoundly influence the results. Suppose they target countries and regions with high population growth, and invest in programs that help girls stay in school, ensure better access to family planning services, and help women exercise their rights and reproductive autonomy.

These goals are not only important goals in their own right, but we also know from experience that they encourage delayed births, smaller families and lower fertility rates, which would reduce population growth.

In itself, population growth does not determine whether we can achieve a sustainable future. But it will be an important factor, and it is a factor that we can positively influence. In that sense, the population of 8 billion is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to complete the work of upholding rights and reproductive autonomy for women and girls and reduce the pressures that higher growth would put on our climate, environment, health, food, water and security.

It illustrates the need to shift the disproportionate effects of high growth on poor countries towards greater equality, which helps stabilize some of the world’s most precarious places, which in turn strengthens global stability.

If we decide to do these things now, the Day of 8 Billion could be cause for celebration.

Kathleen Mogelgaard is the president and CEO of the Population Institute. On November 15, she will participate in “Toward Peak Population”, a free online dialogue on population growth with experts and officials from around the world, hosted by Foreign Policy Magazine.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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