Global population, now 6.4 billion, is still
growing rapidly—currently by 76 million
persons per year. By 2050, the United
Nations projects the world will add some
2.5 billion people, an amount equal to the
world’s total population in 1950.
Growth has slowed since it peaked in the mid-1990s at around 82 million annually. The average family size has declined
from six children per woman in 1960 to around three today, as family planning has
become more accessible and widely used. Projections suggest total population will
start to level off by the middle of this century, as fertility drops to replacement level
But some countries will reach that point
much later than others. Those with young populations (due to high fertility in the
recent past) will continue to grow for decades even with small families as the
norm. The number of adolescents, aged 10-19, is at an all-time high of 1.2 billion.
And in the poorest countries, where fertility
and mortality remain high and access to family planning is limited, the transition
to smaller families is only just beginning. The 50 least-developed countries are
expected to grow by 228 per cent, to 1.7 billion by 2050.
Countries where fertility has fallen
sharply will see a dramatic ageing of their populations in the decades ahead, a trend
already well under way in developed countries and a major policy concern.
Ninety-six per cent of the projected
growth will be in developing countries. The populations of Europe and Japan are now
declining and the pace of decline is projected to double by 2010-2015; North
America continues to grow at about 1 per cent annually, mostly because of immigration.
Today’s population estimates and growth projections are lower than those
made a decade ago, largely because the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa has been
worse than previously projected and growth in the developed countries has
The 38 African countries most affected
by HIV/AIDS are projected to have 823 million people in 2015, 91 million fewer
than if no AIDS deaths had occurred but over 50 per cent more than today (without
HIV/AIDS they would have grown by 70 per cent).
The United Nations’ projections of slower population growth assume that
more couples will be able to choose to have smaller families; this will require
greater investments to ensure wider access to reproductive health information
and services, including family planning. See Sources