Our Future World Series, Part 1: Demographics is Destiny
A look at the world’s population 1950-2100
In this post, you’ll see the United Nations 2015 report (1 part from 2012 report) on the world population’s development from 1950-2015 actual and the core projection for 2016-2100.
To begin with below is the recent history of our world. You can see the world go from about 2.5 billion in 1950 to about 7.35 billion in 2015, an increase of about 4.85 billion. This is something that many people are broadly familiar with, that the world’s population has greatly increased in recent generations, an almost 3 fold increase over 65 years to be a bit more precise.
Going past this however and looking to the future, shows a bit of a different outlook. The world goes from its 2015 figure of about 7.35 billion to about 11.2 billion by century’s end. That’s an increase of about 3.85 billion over 85 years, or about 50% as opposed to the almost 300% increase in the 65 years from 1950-2015.
To clarify what’s happening, look at the chart below. The rate of growth has rapidly slowed down from its peak in the mid-sixties of about 2.1% per annum to about 1% per annum in 2015 and that is forecast to go down to about 0.1% by century’s end.
The main take from this is simply that population growth has slowed to less than half its peak rate of recent history and will continue slowing into the future. However, all of this takes the world as a whole, this is a somewhat superficial look at the world and masks great changes within the world. To start to get an idea of these changes within the world, you need to look at populations by continental regions.
Starting with Asia below, we can see that much of the world’s growth of 4.85 billion from 1950 to 2015 originated here. With the population growing from about 1.4 billion to 4.4 billion, +3 billion or about 68% of population growth in the period, more than tripling the population of Asia in about 65 years.
Going forwards however, we can see this population peaking in about the late 2050’s and then reducing by about 8% by century’s end. So, if the world’s population growth hub of the late 20th century isn’t growing that much in the 21st century, where is the growth forecasted for the world coming from?
We can see that right here in Africa, the chart below is truly amazing in its way. To begin with you see that Africa had quite a small population in 1950, only about 0.23 billion people. By 2015 this had gone up to about 1.2 billion, a more than 5-fold increase in 65 years compared to Asia’s more than 3-fold increase. So, while in absolute number terms, Asia’s population grew far more because there were far more to begin with, the rate of growth in Africa was far greater. This increase of about 1 billion from 1950-2015 is about 21% of the population growth seen in this period. Together with Asia’s 68% of growth, these two regions accounted for 89% of world population growth from 1950-2015.
Going forward Africa’s growth continues, whilst Asia’s population peaks and contracts as the century rolls on. Africa goes from about 1.2 billion in 2015 to 4.4 billion by century’s end, an almost 4-fold increase over 85 years. This does however mean that the rate of growth is slowing down, with less than a 4-fold increase over 85 years versus a more than 5-fold increase over 65 years previously.
Going onto the less significant parts of the world, from a global population perspective, we come to Europe. We see that Europe’s population has almost peaked at about 0.74 billion and is set to contract to about 0.64 billion by century’s end, shrinking by about 14% from its peak.
Moving onto Latin America and Caribbean, we see a pattern similar to Asia’s, peaking a little later by the early 2060’s and then contracting by century’s end. Though of course the numbers involved are far fewer, peaking at about 0.8 billion, similar to Europe’s peak, then contracting to about 0.72 billion by century’s end, a reduction of about 10%.
Moving onto the last significant region of the world, we have North America. It along with Africa are the two significant regions not expected to see a peak in their populations during this century. Its population has grown from about 0.17 billion in 1950 to about 0.36 billion in 2015, more than doubling during this period. This is then forecast to rise to about 0.5 billion by century’s end, a further increase of about 40%.
Lastly, we come to Oceania, a region forecast to see continuous growth through-out the 21st century, but from a very low level. From about 0.01 billion in 1950 to 0.04 billion in 2015, a 4-fold increase, to about 0.07 billion by 2100, almost doubling again.
If we now set aside the absolute numbers and rates of change and look at the distribution of the world’s population over three time periods, we see clearly how the world has changed in recent history and how it is forecast to in future: –
The most noticeable changes are in Europe and in Africa, with a collapse in Europe’s proportion of the world’s population from almost ¼ in 1950 to about 1/10 in 2015 and 1/20 by century’s end. Africa in contrast was about 1/10 in 1950, 1/6 in 2015 and 2/5 by century’s end. In addition to these big changes, Asia can be seen to contract from housing most people in the world to a bit less than half by century’s end. Worth noting though, that Africa and Asia together are forecast to house 83% of the world’s population by century end, up from 76% in 2015 and 64% in 1950.
Also worth noting in these UN estimates, is that they do include estimates of population migration, however these are based on more historical rates of observed migration. With the population of Europe collapsing and Africa’s exploding. One can’t help but wonder if the migratory pressures from Africa to Europe in particular are not likely to accelerate beyond anything observed in the 1950-2015 time period.