Here’s some good news for the planet: the human population is set to peak and stabilise, not rising much above 9.7 billion, the total that it will reach around the year 2050, according to the latest UN figures. Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at Oxford University, explains how this works, and why it is something to celebrate.

On Monday 17 June 2019 the United Nations revealed momentous news. The world did not notice, but soon it will. The headline of their own report read “9.7 billion on Earth by 2050, but growth rate slowing”.

A day earlier the UN projection for the year 2050 had been nearer 9.8 billion, and the projection for 2100 had been 11.2 billion people. Something very significant had occurred.

 

Some parts still growing, but…

The United Nation’s report concentrated on where there will still be the most growth. To quote: “India is expected to show the highest population increase between now and 2050, overtaking China as the world’s most populous country, by around 2027. India, along with eight other countries, will make up over half of the estimated population growth between now and 2050. The nine countries expected to show the biggest increase are India, Nigeria and Pakistan, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the United States of America.

But their report continued: “The population size of more and more countries is actually falling. Since 2010, 27 countries or areas have seen a drop of at least one per cent, because of persistently low fertility rates. Between now and 2050, that is expected to expand to 55 countries which will see a population decrease of one per cent or more, and almost half of these will experience a drop of at least 10 per cent.

 

Bellwether 18-year-olds

The UN did not mention their new 2100 prediction in this particular press release. The first graph below shows the number of people the UN estimate have been (and will be) aged 18 each year from 1950 until 2100. The future they predict is remarkably smooth.

The number of 18 year olds in the world – UN world population prospects estimates, 2019 (millions of people aged 18, 1950 to 2100)

However, some reporters noticed that something was very new: “The world’s population is slowing down and could stop growing – or even begin decreasing – by 2100” one noticed, before adding that “…[UN population] division director John Wilmoth said this outcome ‘is not certain and in the end the peak could come earlier or later, at a lower or higher level of total population.’

However, John’s central projection for the year 2100 is now 10.9 billion people, 300 million fewer than the UN said they expected, the day before.

 

Even fewer babies – but longer lives

Human population growth is slowing dramatically and it is slowing because people are having fewer and fewer babies as compared to their parents – everywhere – without exception.
More importantly, they are having fewer than we thought they would have a few years ago when the fertility rates were already reducing dramatically and unprecedentedly. Our species has never – ever – had so few children.

The reason why the total human population of the planet will keep on growing for 50, or 60 or 70 years (but almost certainly not for 80 years) is because people are living longer. It is now no longer because we are having more children.

If people in a particular place live for 80 years rather than 40 (on average), they double the number of people found in that place at any one time without a single additional baby needing to be born.

The human species is ageing – rapidly. More rapidly than we thought it was by Monday 17 June 2019! And this is wonderful news because it is caused by fewer people dying when young and healthcare for the elderly improving.

 

Tell-tale peaks for 18-year-olds

The next graph below shows the annual change in the number of 18-year-olds now predicted to occur each year and the number that did occur each year in the last 68 years. The peaks in the graph below occurred in 1955, 1970, 1985 and 2005, with the next predicted to be in 2025. The length of time between these peaks in years is 15, 15, 20 and 20.

The number of 18 year olds in the world – UN world population prospects estimates, 2019 (annual change in millions of people aged 18, 1950 to 2100)

It is the trend in the corrections to the UN revisions that matters most. In the 2011 estimates the UN demographers suggested that 10 billion was most likely by 2100. The subsequent 2013, 2015 and 2017 revisions updated that estimate to just over 11 billion. But now the 2019 revision is reducing that estimate again.

Six years ago, on 11 June 2013, I published a book titled Population 10 billion in which I made a guess that the UN were getting it wrong. It was just a guess, but it turned out to be right. The reason they were making this mistake, I said, is that they had failed to notice an echo of a baby boom. They were using very current fertility estimates to project forwards, unaware that fertility at the start of this current century was slightly and unusually elevated – due to so many people turning 18 around the year 2005.

 

(Non-robotic) implications for smaller generations

The slowdown in the growth and then the fall to come in young adults worldwide raises all kinds of issues. In general, smaller generations have been more powerful generations in the past. Their bargaining position is better. Each child becomes more precious.

But in strange times like these, people begin to try to imagine all kinds of new scenarios. However, “artificial intelligent” robots are not going to replace the young. The reason why is simple. We are an animal, evolved to be acutely aware of just how much attention we are or are not getting from others of our species. That is how for millennia those of us that survived, survived. We were cared for, and cared for our young. Most of us are acutely aware of even the smallest slight we receive, the mildest of ignoring. Most of us warm with happiness when we are praised by those we love. Emulating humans to fool other humans with machines is a fools’ game because it is trying to compete with what drove our evolution. Instead, robots are best used to undertake repetitive tasks that our inquisitive nature hates.

 

Predictions in a precarious world

What is likely to happen next? Look again at the graph above of the future change in the number of 18-year-olds predicted to carry through to the year 2100. Note how the UN prophesies a rapid move towards stability. To achieve that, every 18-year-old has to have slightly more than two children each (because a few babies will still die even in the most utopian of futures).

But then look at what has happened most recently. Look at the falls between 2007 and 2013 in the graph above and note how that plummeting below the line almost exactly fits the gap that can be seen in the time series between 1991 and 1996, around 17 years earlier.

Young adults in future are unlikely to conform to what the UN demographers currently predict. If we manage to avoid world war, famine, pandemic and severe prolonged global economic crisis, then young people will continue to have fewer and fewer children each – for some time to come. It is what women want. And more and more women now get what they want.

 

Change in change

Finally, if you find it hard to believe that the finest demographic minds the world can muster might still be making a mistake, even though they now are at least moving their predictions down toward what reality is telling them, look at the last graph in this series of three, below. The graph shows the “change in change” each year in 18-year-olds.

This is just one change figure subtracted from another. To give an example in 2006, 2007 and 2008 the number of 18-year-olds thought to be alive worldwide on 1 July each year was 125.850, 125.386, and 123.692 million respectively. The change between those three numbers was -0.46 and -1.69 million: the population was falling, and the change in change between those two numbers, the rate of deceleration or acceleration, was -1.23 million – a rapid deceleration (or acceleration in the rate of fall if you want to see it that way).

The final graph below shows all of those “change in change” figures derived from the very latest UN population estimates for the world. Each great deceleration – the troughs in 1955, 1972 and 2007 – has been greater in magnitude than the last.

Now look at what the UN think will happen in future and then start planning for even fewer 18-year-olds than they are now suggesting there will be. Because they are still ignoring this clear downwards trend.

The number of 18 year olds in the world – UN world population prospects estimates, 2019 (annual change in change,,millions of people aged 18, 1950 to 2100)

Web links:

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1040621
https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/06/18/world-population-could-peak-2100-united-nations-report-finds/1490136001/
https://population.un.org/wpp/
http://www.dannydorling.org/books/10billion/
http://www.dannydorling.org/books/demography/

Why Demography Matters
Danny Dorling & Stuart Gietel-Basten

Why Demography Matters?

Why Demography Matters?

http://www.dannydorling.org/books/demography/

For a PDF for this article and an on-line link to the original posting click here.

A talk to school children in London the day after the UN released its latest biannual global population estimates: demography and what else we worry about in the very near future…

Danny Dorling speaking at Channing Senior School and to pupils from neighbouring schools, London, Archway, June 20th 2019

World population – United Nations 2019 revision – people aged 18, estimated and projected

18 year olds thousands millions Change Change in Change
1950   47 028 47
1951   47 351 47 0.32
1952   47 963 48 0.61 0.29
1953   48 802 49 0.84 0.23
1954   49 725 50 0.92 0.09
1955   50 863 51 1.14 0.21
1956   51 332 51 0.47 -0.67
1957   51 165 51 -0.17 -0.64
1958   50 673 51 -0.49 -0.33
1959   50 403 50 -0.27 0.22
1960   50 164 50 -0.24 0.03
1961   50 547 51 0.38 0.62
1962   51 848 52 1.30 0.92
1963   53 831 54 1.98 0.68
1964   55 839 56 2.01 0.03
1965   57 915 58 2.08 0.07
1966   60 142 60 2.23 0.15
1967   62 879 63 2.74 0.51
1968   65 933 66 3.05 0.32
1969   69 085 69 3.15 0.10
1970   72 444 72 3.36 0.21
1971   74 906 75 2.46 -0.90
1972   76 187 76 1.28 -1.18
1973   76 758 77 0.57 -0.71
1974   77 489 77 0.73 0.16
1975   78 158 78 0.67 -0.06
1976   79 190 79 1.03 0.36
1977   81 000 81 1.81 0.78
1978   83 330 83 2.33 0.52
1979   85 544 86 2.21 -0.12
1980   87 711 88 2.17 -0.05
1981   89 811 90 2.10 -0.07
1982   91 823 92 2.01 -0.09
1983   93 781 94 1.96 -0.05
1984   95 762 96 1.98 0.02
1985   97 778 98 2.02 0.04
1986   99 315 99 1.54 -0.48
1987   100 490 100 1.18 -0.36
1988   101 409 101 0.92 -0.26
1989   102 382 102 0.97 0.05
1990   103 441 103 1.06 0.09
1991   103 842 104 0.40 -0.66
1992   103 835 104 -0.01 -0.41
1993   103 648 104 -0.19 -0.18
1994   103 563 104 -0.09 0.10
1995   103 438 103 -0.12 -0.04
1996   103 921 104 0.48 0.61
1997   105 212 105 1.29 0.81
1998   107 131 107 1.92 0.63
1999   108 995 109 1.86 -0.06
2000   110 814 111 1.82 -0.04
2001   112 832 113 2.02 0.20
2002   115 431 115 2.60 0.58
2003   118 338 118 2.91 0.31
2004   121 214 121 2.88 -0.03
2005   124 273 124 3.06 0.18
2006   125 850 126 1.58 -1.48
2007   125 386 125 -0.46 -2.04
2008   123 692 124 -1.69 -1.23
2009   122 202 122 -1.49 0.20
2010   120 638 121 -1.56 -0.08
2011   119 525 120 -1.11 0.45
2012   119 270 119 -0.25 0.86
2013   119 589 120 0.32 0.57
2014   119 765 120 0.18 -0.14
2015   119 939 120 0.17 0.00
2016   120 140 120 0.20 0.03
2017   120 344 120 0.20 0.00
2018   120 611 121 0.27 0.06
2019   120 972 121 0.36 0.09
2020   121 379 121 0.41 0.05
2021   122 050 122 0.67 0.26
2022   123 013 123 0.96 0.29
2023   124 176 124 1.16 0.20
2024   125 341 125 1.16 0.00
2025   126 532 127 1.19 0.03
2026   127 685 128 1.15 -0.04
2027   128 655 129 0.97 -0.18
2028   129 494 129 0.84 -0.13
2029   130 327 130 0.83 -0.01
2030   131 133 131 0.81 -0.03
2031   131 849 132 0.72 -0.09
2032   132 382 132 0.53 -0.18
2033   132 775 133 0.39 -0.14
2034   133 116 133 0.34 -0.05
2035   133 406 133 0.29 -0.05
2036   133 617 134 0.21 -0.08
2037   133 665 134 0.05 -0.16
2038   133 605 134 -0.06 -0.11
2039   133 510 134 -0.09 -0.04
2040   133 366 133 -0.14 -0.05
2041   133 308 133 -0.06 0.09
2042   133 319 133 0.01 0.07
2043   133 384 133 0.06 0.05
2044   133 424 133 0.04 -0.02
2045   133 447 133 0.02 -0.02
2046   133 554 134 0.11 0.08
2047   133 706 134 0.15 0.04
2048   133 893 134 0.19 0.04
2049   134 080 134 0.19 0.00
2050   134 267 134 0.19 0.00
2051   134 503 135 0.24 0.05
2052   134 713 135 0.21 -0.03
2053   134 907 135 0.19 -0.02
2054   135 095 135 0.19 -0.01
2055   135 269 135 0.17 -0.01
2056   135 497 135 0.23 0.05
2057   135 714 136 0.22 -0.01
2058   135 920 136 0.21 -0.01
2059   136 105 136 0.18 -0.02
2060   136 264 136 0.16 -0.02
2061   136 441 136 0.18 0.02
2062   136 547 137 0.11 -0.07
2063   136 603 137 0.06 -0.05
2064   136 632 137 0.03 -0.03
2065   136 627 137 -0.01 -0.03
2066   136 655 137 0.03 0.03
2067   136 644 137 -0.01 -0.04
2068   136 599 137 -0.04 -0.03
2069   136 522 137 -0.08 -0.03
2070   136 410 136 -0.11 -0.03
2071   136 338 136 -0.07 0.04
2072   136 213 136 -0.12 -0.05
2073   136 050 136 -0.16 -0.04
2074   135 861 136 -0.19 -0.03
2075   135 638 136 -0.22 -0.03
2076   135 490 135 -0.15 0.07
2077   135 343 135 -0.15 0.00
2078   135 193 135 -0.15 0.00
2079   135 019 135 -0.17 -0.02
2080   134 820 135 -0.20 -0.02
2081   134 674 135 -0.15 0.05
2082   134 498 134 -0.18 -0.03
2083   134 303 134 -0.20 -0.02
2084   134 091 134 -0.21 -0.02
2085   133 850 134 -0.24 -0.03
2086   133 684 134 -0.17 0.07
2087   133 509 134 -0.18 -0.01
2088   133 319 133 -0.19 -0.01
2089   133 101 133 -0.22 -0.03
2090   132 850 133 -0.25 -0.03
2091   132 678 133 -0.17 0.08
2092   132 483 132 -0.19 -0.02
2093   132 267 132 -0.22 -0.02
2094   132 023 132 -0.24 -0.03
2095   131 747 132 -0.28 -0.03
2096   131 533 132 -0.21 0.06
2097   131 266 131 -0.27 -0.05
2098   130 957 131 -0.31 -0.04
2099   130 617 131 -0.34 -0.03
2100   130 240 130 -0.38 -0.04