A Chinese friend of mine took me to the most unusual hangout spot in town- the KCB roundabout. It is almost nine in the evening and as we sipped some version of tea from his small flask, he kept going on about how hard it was to live a decent life these days.
He seemed to be totally freaked out at the statistics back home and like many out there, he blames everything from mass unemployment, social immorality to climate change to the explosion of the world population. He fears the worst is yet to come.
True, the world’s population has grown by nearly one billion in the last ten years. That number is intimidating. However, we should not worry. The UN Statistical prediction says that growth will stop before it becomes uncomfortably crowded.
In 1960, there were roughly three billion humans on the planet. In a year and a half we’ll be 7 billion. A lot of people are worried about those numbers, and they are frequently brought to our attention.
What is mentioned more rarely, because it is less spectacular, is that the growth rate of world population has more than halved in the same period, from 2.53% to 1.17%. Coincidentally, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty was reduced by 70% in the same period.
Reports and lots of studies indicate that population growth rates are inextricably linked with economic growth rates. Economic growth discourages population growth, and slow or negative economic growth encourages it. When you are poor, you want/need more children.
When you have enough money, you want fewer kids. Luckily, the world’s proportion of extremely poor is rapidly diminishing.
Just look around our extended families. If you’re poor, there is this illusion that children are a life-insurance policy. So the more of them you get, the bigger your safety net will be when you’re old.
Conversely, if you’re economically above a level of sustenance, you’ve moved beyond the need for children, and you can embark on self-actualization and postpone having children to when it suits you best, or not have any at all.
So, in the developing world, population growth rates are much lower than in the industrialized countries. Sweden has a population growth rate of 0.8% annually compared to Bangladesh’s 1.4%.
Bangladesh is actually an excellent example of how population growth slows down as economic growth speeds up: since 1991, Bangladesh’s economic growth rate has nearly doubled, from 3.3% to 6.3%. At the same time, population growth rates fell from 2.1% to 1.4%.
That may sound like a small change in Bangladesh’s growth rate to you, but over 20 years the difference between those two rates is 26 million babies. Just in Bangladesh.
The UN measures and predicts population growth. In their World Population Prospects report from 2008, they came to the conclusion that world population growth will plateau in 2050. So what will the earth’s population be, when it stabilizes, in 2050?
The UN statisticians have presented four possible scenarios: A high, a low, a medium and a constant fertility variant.
The worst case scenario, constant fertility, is if population growth rates continue at the current pace. In that case we’ll be 11 billion by 2050. Their best case scenario prediction is 8 billion.
However, the most likely scenario, the medium variant, is 9 billion earthlings by 2050. After that, the researchers believe it’ll take us another 150 years to reach the next billion.
Emmanuel Nyagapfizi is a Management Information Systems manager