How and why the world’s population will stabilise at nine to 10 billion, and the concepts of ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’
Up until 1800, the world population grew very slowly. Then something happened and the number of people on the planet ‘took off’. With the onset of industrial development, population began to swell, reaching three billion in 1960. We have over seven billion today.
Will population growth continue to increase unchecked? "I can tell you it won’t be like this," Hans Rosling tells us. "I know that fast population growth will soon be over. And we will land somewhere around nine to 10 billion." It is predicted that the world population will reach nine billion by 2050, after which point it will level out.
In unindustrialized areas (such as Europe pre-1800 or parts of the Amazon basin today), the average couple had around six children. However, in such societies, the population does not grow. This is because four of the children often died before they became parents themselves. This is the ‘natural balance’ that kept control on population.
"This is the old balance. It was death that kept control on the population," Rosling explains. Population only grew when the quality of life improved and fewer children died before child-bearing age. This increased survival of children caused a demographic imbalance in which the population rapidly grew.
"We don’t need child death to have a balanced population, we just need to have the same amount of children as parents," Rosling says. In the old population balance, six children were born – of which four would die. But in the ‘new balance’ that we are heading towards, two children are born – none of which will die.
Many countries now have a birth rate of less than two children per woman. For example, Sweden has 1.9 children per women. Brazil has 1.8, Iran 1.7, China 1.6 and Japan 1.3. In Sweden, fertility rates beginning to rise because of paid paternity leave. Cultural change means that fathers can stay at home to care for their children. Gender relations can therefore have an influence, alongside political interventions.
"The effect of the one-child policy in China has been overestimated because even more is happening the rest of Pacific Asia," Rosling claims. He argues that some Asian women’s adverse attitudes towards marriage and children are responsible for lower birth rates.
The amount of children in the world has now stopped growing. We are now at a historical state of ‘peak child.’ So how can the population continue to grow? It is not because we are not going to live longer - that will add only half a billion to the current total of seven billion. Instead, there is a ‘filling up’ effect that takes a lifetime for a population to stop growing once the increase in children levels out.
The groups in which there are one billion will drop off, being replaced by group in which there are two billion people. When all of the age groups with one billion people in have dropped off and been replaced by groups with two billion in, then the ‘fill up’ is complete. "It is just like filling a cup of coffee!" It takes a lifetime to stop growing.
One billion people in North and South America, another one billion live in Europe, and another one billion in Africa. That leaves an astonishing four billion in Asia (which, in this case, includes Oceania). "We have learnt that the centre of the world is not the Atlantic," Rosling explains, "it is the Pacific."
The world is expected to grow by another two billion – one of which will be added to Africa and the other billion being attributed to Asia. "The future lies in the Indian ocean," Rosling predicts. The place that we refer to as the ‘Western’ or ‘developed’ world (Europe and North America) will account for just 10 per cent of the world population.
Africa, Asia and South America are still moving towards a "new balance" and are thus waiting to "fill-up". This means that, even though their birth rates may be stabilizing, their populations continue to grow. Africa is the most dynamic population with gap to fill above the 0-15 year old age group. "There is no way you will not get 2 billion in Africa," Rosling makes clear.
In 1960 there was a clear division between the developed (high life expectancy, few children per woman) and developing world (low life expectancy, many children per woman). However, many developing countries move rapidly into the domain of the ‘developed’ world as they made the transition to smaller families and longer lives.
There is now no clear division between developed and developing countries in terms of the amount of children that people have.
But there a still some that lag behind – such as the Congo and Afghanistan. These places have some of the fastest growing populations in the world as people are having many children, whilst also experiencing a higher level of life expectancy than that of the United Kingdom in its age of early industrialization.
Identify the indicators Hans Rosling uses to calculate global populate change. If you were to calculate population change on a national (rather than global) level, what other factors would you have to take into account? Is it more useful to think about population on a global or national level?
Hans Rosling discusses the concept of ‘fill up’ to describe the time-lag in which a population still grows despite a stable birth rate, a point he calls ‘peak child’ (see 34 minutes). Explain how population would change if the global birth rate declined to just one child per woman. You may use a diagram to illustrate this explanation.
Explore the relationship between children per woman and life expectancy here. From the ‘select" bar on the right hand side, chose three countries (one NIC, one OPEC and one LEDC). Compare and contrast how each one changes over time. Do they behave in the same way as other countries of their type (i.e. NICs or LEDCs)? Can you think of a better way to categorise countries?
Research either Sweden or Singapore’s pro-natalist policies. Create a revision case study to explain the reasons for low birth rate in your chosen country and outline the policies trying to increase it.
The state at which the global population with neither grow nor decrease. Birth rates of around two children per woman will be balanced out by relatively low death rates of those under child-bearing age.
The state at which the global population neither grew nor decreased. Relatively high birth rates were balanced with relatively high death rates of those under child-bearing age.
The maximum total number of children alive in the world at any one point in history. It is argued that the amount of children in the world has now stopped growing, and the world is thus at a historical state of ‘peak child’.
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