The World Fertility Race

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Each year, the United Nations Population Division publishes a “Projection of World Population.” The 2015 projections is a chance for a quick check on the numbers and fertility of the human race in the world.

The projection indicates that the world’s population reached 7.2 billion at end of 2015 and is expected to increase by more than two billion by 2050. According to the projection, most of the future population growth will occur in the less developed regions. There is considerable diversity in the expected future trajectory of population change across various major areas and countries, driven primarily by differences in levels and trends of fertility. The following fascinating numbers are analysed from the UN 2015 Population Projection Data.
In a global context, India today sits higher on the high-fertility list than it has been in the past. In the mid-1950s, fertility levels were about the same in China and India, at six children per woman. In the second half of the 20th century, fertility rates declined much faster in China than in India. This disparity is due in part to China’s recently revoked one-child policy. Today, China’s fertility rate is actually below replacement level, at 1.6 children per woman. This compares to 2.5 children per woman for India.
The fertility rate slowdown in India that has occurred since the mid-1950s is largely due to an urban/rural divide in the number of children throughout India. In a global context, India today is actually higher on the high-fertility list than it has been in the past. In 2013, India had the 100th highest fertility level in the world, while in 1960 it ranked much lower, in 126th place. Consequently, in the coming decades, the growth of India’s population will be much larger than that of the Chinese population.
India will retain positive population growth until the late 2060s under current projections. Currently, India’s annual population growth is more than two times greater than China’s. Over the next decade, India will add an average of 15 million people per year. This compares to less than four million per year for China. Between 2015 and 2025, India will account for 21 percent of the whole world’s average annual population increase of 72 million. India’s current population of 1.3 billion is nearly as large as the combined population of the world’s high-income countries as classified by the World Bank. Remarkably, these 80 “rich” countries will add only about 4.9 million annually to their combined population over the next ten years or just one-third of India’s annual population increase.
Over the next ten years, the combined population of the United States and Canada is expected to grow by 2.6 million people per year. In Europe, annual population growth has already flattened to nearly zero and is expected to be slightly negative within about six years. China’s population as a whole is projected to begin shrinking in the late 2020s, just over a decade from now. China’s labor force is already beginning to shrink. Due to the increase in life expectancy in China, the effect of fewer births on the overall population level is somewhat delayed. India will retain positive population growth until the late 2060s under current projections. China’s population is expected to shrink by 372 million by 2100 or four times the number Europe will lose.
Among all world regions, Europe’s total population is currently exceeded only by Asia (4.4 billion) and Africa (1.2 billion). While the populations of Asia and Africa will grow larger over the remainder of the century, Europe’s population will actually drop. Europe is the only major region expected to lose population over the course of this century. By 2100, Europe’s population is expected to fall to 645 million which is about 93 million fewer people than today. While Asia’s population is growing, the region’s most-populous nation today, China, is also shedding population. Over the next eight and a half decades, China’s population is expected to shrink by 372 million, or four times the number that Europe will lose.
Today, Africa’s population is one-quarter the size of Asia’s. By 2100, it will be just 10 percent smaller. Africa’s population as a whole is projected to grow very rapidly in the coming 85 years, from 1.2 billion today to 4.4 billion people in 2100 which is an increase of 266 percent. At the end of the current century, Africa’s population will be equal to the total world population back in 1980. By 2100, Africa will, if UN projections bear out, account for almost 40 percent of the world’s 11.2 billion population.
Despite a falling population in China, Asia’s overall population is projected to rise from 4.4 billion today to 4.9 billion in 2100, an increase of 11 percent. While Asia will retain its status as the most populous region, Africa is catching up. Today, Africa’s population is one-quarter the size of Asia’s. By 2100, Africa will have a population that is just 10 percent  smaller than Asia’s. Nigeria will move from being the world’s seventh most-populous country today to its third most-populous country in 2100 (behind only India and China). And while Nigeria is the only African nation among the top 10 today, it will be one of five in 2100.
By 2100, Africa’s most populous country alone will have about 107 million more people than all of Europe with its 48 countries. Nigeria’s current population of 182 million is only one-quarter the size of Europe’s 738 million people. By 2100, Nigeria’s population of 752 million by itself will exceed that of Europe’s 48 countries by about 107 million. The growth in Nigeria’s population over the rest of this century alone which is at 570 million, exceeds the combined populations of Europe’s thirteen largest countries – Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and the Czech Republic.
The United Nations has recently trimmed its forecast for Nigeria’s future population growth. In 2012, the UN projected that Nigeria’s population would reach 914 million by the end of the 21st century. The UN’s 2015 forecast of 752 million is 162 million people lower, or about 20 percent. This lowered projection is based on the country’s fertility rate having fallen more rapidly than expected. In the earlier population projection, the UN had expected Nigeria’s fertility to remain above six children per woman during the early decades of the 21st century. The fertility rate has actually fallen to 5.74 in recent years. The fertility rate has actually fallen to 5.74 in recent years.
This quicker initial drop in the fertility rate, small as it seems, will have massive repercussions for Nigeria’s population total, if it is sustained over the next 85 years. Nigeria’s decline by 162 million people is equal to the population of Bangladesh, currently the world’s eighth most populous country. However, for the African continent as a whole, fertility rates are expected to fall less quickly than previously estimated. This means that Africa’s 2100 population is now forecast to reach nearly 4.4 billion. That total number is about 200 million more than the UN’s 2012 forecast, despite the simultaneous decline in Nigeria’s projected population by 162 million.