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World Population Expected to Reach 9.7 Billion by 2050

The United Nations released projections of global population growth over the coming century. In the year 2100, the world’s demographics will look very different from today’s.

SOURCE: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
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People of the future will need to learn to love their neighbors. The latest predictions for population growth from the United Nations indicate the Earth will be more crowded than previously thought.

The global population is currently about 7.3 billion. The UN estimates that by 2050, that number will grow to 9.7 billion. By 2100, 11.2 billion people will have to cram together on the Earth’s surface.

These estimates outstrip last year’s projections by around 150 million people.

Growth of population by areas
Areas as defined by the United Nations
Asia
Africa
Northern America
Latin Amer. and the Caribbean
Europe
Oceania
1950
2000
2050
2100
SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS

The biggest increase in population will happen in Africa, with Asia following in second.

There’s some wiggle room, though. The UN says there’s an 80 percent chance that the population could be as low as 9.4 or as high as 10 billion in 2050. The agency is basing this on a formula called the ‘medium projection variant,’ which basically assumes that the fertility patterns of the future will resemble those of the past.  

It’s not an increase in fertility that’s driving the growth. It’s longer lifespans. Globally, people born today are expected to live to age 70, but people born in 2050 will live to age 77. Their grandkids born in 2100 will live even longer: 83 years.

World population estimate up 2.38 billion by 2050
Just nine countries projected to account for more than half the growth.
SOURCE: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

In fact, fertility rates are going down in most places, except for Europe, which experienced a small bump in the last 5 years. The UN expects global fertility to drop from the current average of 2.5 children per woman to 2 children per woman by the end of the century. This will be especially noticeable for the least-developed countries, where the average will drop from 4.3 children per woman to 2.1 by 2100.

But these reductions aren’t going to just happen. The report calls for global investments in family planning and reproductive health. If fertility rates are only half a child per woman over the rates expected, the population will reach 16.6 billion by 2100.

The increase in life spans and decrease in fertility means that collectively, people are getting older. Today, about 12 percent of the population is over age 60, and that’s growing every year. By 2050, the number of children under 15 and the number of adults over 60 will be roughly equal, with potentially negative economic consequences for the work force.

Regardless of whether the population winds up exceeding, hitting, or dropping below the numbers predicted, one thing is for certain: we will all need to learn to share.

Follow Rachel A. Becker on Twitter.