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Demographics & Statistics Sexual-Reproductive

Global Population Predicted To Drop For First Time Since Black Death

1 month, 2 weeks ago

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Posted on Apr 02, 2024, 9 p.m.

The global population is expected to fall for the first time since the Black Death due to plummeting birth rates according to a study published in the Lancet. Overall, the decline in the number of women around the world having children is starting to slow the growth of the global population which stands at around just over eight billion people, and the decline in births could mean that the population will start to drop.

The global growth rate in absolute numbers reached an accelerated peak of 92.8 million in 1990, however, since then it has slowed to 64.7 million in 2021. Long-term projections indicate that the human population growth rate will continue to slow and that before the end of the 21st century, it could reach zero. 

The last time the number of people on Earth decreased was during the Black Death bubonic plague pandemic in the mid-1300s which killed as many as 50 million people, which includes a third of the population in Europe. Historians estimate that this is the only time the number of humans on the planet has dropped with the global population falling from approximately 400 million to 350 million. 

To maintain population growth around the world women need to have 2.1 children to keep the total fertility rate, unfortunately, as of 2021 the total fertility rate stood at 2.23 around the world. Experts have been warning that the rate has been on a persistently downward trend, falling from 4.84 in the 1950s and it is predicted to plummet to 1.83 by 2050 to reach 1.59 by 2100 or earlier. 

What this means is that by 2050, 155 of 204 countries will have birth rates that are lower than what is required to sustain population size. By 2100 it will be 198 of 204 countries or 97% of the world population having birth rates lower than what is required to sustain population size, and if this happens, countries in sub-Saharan Africa will account for more than 1 in every 2 babies born. Countries such as South Korea, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Bhutan will have less than one child each on average. 

In 2021, according to the World Bank, high-income countries had lower-than-average fertility rates, the UK had a rate of just 1.49, America had a rate of 1.66, Canada had a rate of 1.43, France had a rate of 1.83, Norway's rate was 1.55, Sweden’s rate was 1.67, Ireland’s rate was 1.72, Switzerland’s rate was 1.52, Singapore’s rate was 1.12, Australia had a rate of 1.70, and Germany’s rate was 1.58 births per woman. 

“These future trends in fertility rates and livebirths will completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power and will necessitate reorganising societies.”

In the UK, the fertility rate has dropped from 2.19 in the 1950s and it is predicted to keep falling to decrease to 1.38 in the next 25 years and to continue to plummet to 1.30 in the next 75 years. This means that the current population of 67 million people will become overwhelmingly unbalanced towards older generations before falling as the oldest people die. 

You can see signs of this already beginning to play out with recent data showing that schools are having fewer pupils applying for school spaces that were once overflowing and coveted. Additionally, women are opting to turn to egg-freezing in increasing numbers, hoping to have a leg up on successfully having children at an older age. This trend has health officials calling on fertility clinics to be clearer to women on the real chances of success at older ages or the chances of the eggs even being viable after freezing. 

The implications of a falling global population will become immense as the elderly outnumber the young and increase pressure on healthcare services and the workforce. Only 26 countries will have birth rates that will outpace the number of people dying by 2100, with the rest of the world transitioning into population decline. The declining fertility rates will reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power as well as require the reorganization of societies. 

“Global recognition of the challenges around migration and global aid networks are going to be all the more critical when there is fierce competition for migrants to sustain economic growth and as sub-Saharan Africa’s baby boom continues apace,” said Dr. Natalia Bhattacharjee, co-author of the study and lead research scientist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

Professor Stein Emil Vollset, senior author from IHME, said “We are facing staggering social change through the 21st century”. “The world will be simultaneously tackling a ‘baby boom’ in some countries and a ‘baby bust’ in the others. As most of the world contends with the serious challenges to the economic growth of a shrinking workforce and how to care for and pay for aging populations, many of the most resource-limited countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be grappling with how to support the youngest, fastest-growing population on the planet in some of the most politically and economically unstable, heat-stressed, and health system-strained places on earth.”

“Shrinking and ageing populations demand preparedness and reorganisation of societies,” said Professor Melinda Mills, director at the University of Oxford’s demographic science unit. “From impacted food security and migration patterns to the very infrastructures of countries,” she said. “Population composition affects infrastructure such as schools, housing, transport, housing and health care and pensions but also cultural and voting changes.”

“While achieving both universal targets in all locations by 2030 is likely beyond reach, it’s clear that tackling the population explosion in higher-fertility countries depends greatly on accelerating progress in education for girls and reproductive rights,”  said co-lead author and Acting Assistant Professor from IHME Dr. Austin E. Schumacher.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said co-lead author and Lead Research Scientist from IHME Dr. Natalia V. Bhattacharjee. “Social policies to improve birth rates such as enhanced parental leave, free childcare, financial incentives, and extra employment rights, may provide a small boost to fertility rates, but most countries will remain below replacement levels. And once nearly every country’s population is shrinking, reliance on open immigration will become necessary to sustain economic growth. Sub-Saharan African countries have a vital resource that aging societies are losing—a youthful population.”

She continues, “There is very real concern that, in the face of declining populations and no clear solutions, some countries might justify more Draconian measures that limit reproductive rights. It is well established that nations with strong women’s rights are more likely to have better health outcomes and faster economic growth. It is imperative women’s rights are promoted and protected and that women are supported in having the number of children they wish and pursuing their careers.”

It was noted that the Lancet study was conducted by the IHME and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Keep in mind that this is just a prediction, other predictions estimate that the global population will be well over 9 billion by the middle of this century and continue to grow. There really is no way to predict how much sex without protection or birth control the global population will be having now or in the future, especially going by the skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted diseases in current days. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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