7 Things You Need to Know About the UN’s 2015 Population Projections

On July 29, 2015, the United Nations released its twenty-fourth revision of the World Population Prospects, an updated collection of demographic data that outlines trends in our current and projected population growth. The 2015 Revision could not be timelier; in four short months, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire, clearing room for the new and improved Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) (you can learn more about the SDGs differ from the MDGs here). The 2015 Revision will serve as a roadmap for the global development community as it designs and implements a calculated and quantifiable path toward a sustainable planet.

Interested in learning more about the latest UN Revision, but aren’t sure where to start? You don’t have to be a demographic data wiz to understand the future path of population growth. The staff at PopEd have summarized the 2015 Revision down to 7 key points – give them a skim to learn more!

1. Our population is still growing

This one may seem like a no-brainer, we’ve known for a long time that our global population will continue to grow at least until the year 2100. However, it is important to note that the projected figures for global population have increased since the 2012 Revision of the World Population Prospects. According to the 2015 medium variant, our population, now at 7.3 billion, is expected to grow to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.6 billion by the year 2050, and 11.2 billon by the year 2100. The previous 2012 Revision had projected population at 9.6 by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. According to the UN, we are now adding 1 billion people to the planet every 12 years – a figure that is not expected to change anytime soon.

2. Our rate of growth varies between the developed and developing world

Current population data suggests a “Tale of Two Cities” model for understanding demographic trends among world regions. When we categorize the data between developed and developing nations, two very different story lines begin to emerge.

More Developed Regions

As a general rule, developed nations will experience a slower rate of natural increase (population growth) due to declining fertility rates. Some nations, European nations to be exact, are expected to experience negative population growth, meaning their population will actually shrink in size. Developed nations are projected to have higher percentages adults aged 60+, as a result, their governments must plan for additional expenditures on services for the elderly.

Less Developed Regions and Least Developed Countries

Conversely, developing nations stand to experience higher rates of population growth. These nations have high rates of fertility above replacement ratio (about 2.0 children per woman). High rates of fertility lead to population growth. A growing youth population may exacerbate economic and social issues for many developing nations. Populations in much of the world are still young and create an opportunity for the demographic dividend to emerge. In Africa, children under 14 account for 40 percent of the total population. In, Latin America and Asia, where fertility rates are declining, children under the age of 15 make up 26 and 24 percent of the population, respectively. A large youth population can produce a plethora of social, political, and environmental consequences, many of which make eradicating poverty and achieving higher levels of economic development more intractable. Governments with fast growing populations must worry about how they are going to provide healthcare, education, and employment for their young members of society, which can be a great challenge for nations already struggling to meet the needs of their current populations.

3. India will overtake China as the world’s largest nation

The sun is setting on China’s reign as the most populous country in the world and India is primed to take its place. Currently, the population of China is 1.38 billion. India has a population of 1.31 billion. Both countries are expected to have an approximate population of 1.4 billion by 2020, but soon after that, India is expected to surpass China in population size, growing to 1.7 billion by 2050.

4. But population will grow fastest in Africa

The UN projects that over half of global population growth between now and 2050 will occur in Africa. Of the 2.4 billion people expected to be added to the planet by 2050, 1.3 billion of them will reside in Africa, the only major world region expected to experience substantial population growth after 2050. Even if many African countries achieve substantial reductions in fertility, the large number of young people expected to reach their reproductive years ensures that the region will play a prominent role in shaping the size and distribution of the world’s population. For example, Nigeria’s population expected surpass that of the United States by 2050, while the populations of Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Zambia are projected to increase by at least five fold by 2100.

5. How our population grows is strongly correlated to the path fertility will take

The UN’s population projection (for the medium variant) is contingent upon achieving a substantial decline in fertility. The medium variant assumes that global fertility will fall from 2.5 children per woman to 2.4 by 2030 and then to 2.0 by 2100. The model assumes even more aggressive reductions in fertility for the least developed nations, projecting a decline from 4.3 children per woman to 3.5 by 2030, and then to 2.1 by 2100. But predicting fertility for countries experiencing high rates of growth is challenging. Even the best projections have a high degree of uncertainty after the 15-year horizon mark. If slower than projected fertility rates are realized, global population will surpass the 2015 medium variant. For example, in a scenario where every country’s fertility rate is just half a child larger than the UN projection, global population would reach 16.6 billion by 2100. That’s more than 5 billion more people than the 2015 medium variant projection!

6. We have made progress, especially in terms of life expectancy and under-5 mortality

The 2015 Revision reveals significant gains in improved life expectancy, which rose by 3 years. Every major area experienced gains in life expectancy, but trends in Africa proved to be the most notable, where life expectancy rose by 6 years in the 2000s. Under-5 mortality has also been in substantial decline. Deaths among children under the age of 5 fell from 71 per 1,000 live births to 50. Gains were even greater in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the least developed countries.

7. There is still much work to be done

Our global family is growing. And it is our role as members of the global family to ensure the billions of lives being brought into world all have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential. Developing a comprehensive post-2015 agenda that addresses the many facets that play into quality of life is paramount to shaping a community in which everyone is given a fair chance. Currently, the outlook for many falls short of this expectation. The Sustainable Development Goals seek to correct global inequities by eradicating global poverty and achieving sustainable development. However, our sheer numbers can sometimes play an inhibitive role in these initiatives. Substantial reductions in fertility must occur if we are to realize the medium variant of the 2015 Revision. The UN suggests taking proactive measures to invest in reproductive health and voluntary family planning, so that women and couples can achieve their desired family size, thus reducing fertility and increasing quality of life.