The world’s population is on the decline. For decades we’ve read frightening headlines about the consequences of overpopulation, from food shortages to resource wars. But it turns out that the world’s population growth rate is now half of what it used to be.
The fertility of half of the world’s population is already below the replacement ratio. There has been a global decline in the number of children women are having. The fertility rate drop meant nearly half of countries were now facing a "baby bust" - meaning there are insufficient children to maintain their population size. There would be profound consequences for societies with more grandparents than grandchildren. As fertility falls, countries initially benefit from having a bulk of working-aged adults and relatively fewer dependent children and old people — known as a “demographic dividend.” Eventually that benefit reverses: By 2050 developed countries will have twice as many old people as young ones.
All this does not mean the number of people living in these countries is falling, at least not yet as the size of a population is a mix of the fertility rate, death rate and migration. It can also take a generation for changes in fertility rate to take hold. Fertility rates continue to fall, yet the predictions are that the world population will continue to rise 10 billion inhabitants by the end of the century. That’s because the fall in fertility rates takes a long time to show up as a subsequent fall in birth rates. “Demographic momentum” wears on because there’s still a generation of people born in the previous echo baby boom (Twho are just entering their reproductive years. This also means it is imperative that to cope, we must change the nature of society which already is incapable of providing for almost a billion of its citizens.
Prof Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told the BBC: "We've reached this watershed where half of countries have fertility rates below the replacement level, so if nothing happens the populations will decline in those countries…We will soon be transitioning to a point where societies are grappling with a declining population."
OurWorldInData.org researcher Max Roser reports “The richer the people, the lower the fertility.”
When more infants survive fertility goes down and the temporary population growth comes to an end. If we want to ensure that the world’s population increase comes to an end soon we must work to increase child survival. It's not numbers. It's how we treat the quality of life for individuals.
According to Wolfgang Lutz, of the Vienna University of Economics and Business, the reason for the fertility decline, in a word, is education. “The brain is the most important reproductive organ,” he asserts. Once a woman receives enough information and autonomy to make an informed and self-directed choice about when to have children and how many to have, she immediately has fewer of them and has them later. “Once a woman is socialized to have an education and a career, she is socialized to have a smaller family,” he explains. “There’s no going back.” Lutz and his fellow demographers at Vienna’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) believe that advancing education in developing countries, brought about by increasing urbanization, should be factored into future population projections. Lutz believes the human population will be shrinking as early as 2060.
His is hardly a lone voice. Jørgen Randers is a Norwegian academic who co-authored The Limits to Growth, which predicted that global population would reach unsustainable levels by 2100. But since publishing the book, he has changed his mind.
“The world population will never reach 9 billion people,” he now believes. “It will peak at 8 billion in 2040 and then decline.” He attributes the unexpected drop to women in developing countries moving into urban slums. “And in an urban slum, it does not make sense to have a large family.”
Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker re-examined the UN forecasting models ‘In Empty Planet,’ to conclude that global population will start dropping in about 30 years, and warn ‘once that decline begins, it will never end.’