Falling fertility rates mean that nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century. 23 nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see their populations halve by 2100. Countries will also age dramatically, with as many people turning 80 as there are being born.
The fertility rate – the average number of children a woman gives birth to – is falling. If the number falls below approximately 2.1, then the size of the population starts to fall. While in 1950, women were having an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime, the global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017. A study in The Lancet projects that it will fall below 1.7 by 2100. As a result, the researchers expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.
Why is this happening? It has nothing to do with sperm counts or the usual things that come to mind when discussing fertility. Instead it is being driven by more women in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception, leading to women choosing to have fewer children.
Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe. These are two of 23 countries – including Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.
China, currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in four years time before nearly halving to 732 million by 2100! The UK is predicted to peak at 75 million in 2063, and fall to 71 million.
This is a global issue, with 183 out of 195 countries having a fertility rate below the replacement level. It is great for the environment, with lower carbon emissions and less deforestation. The problem is that there will be more old people than young people, a shift from young to old. The number of under-fives will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100, but over 80-year-olds will soar from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100.
Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work? (By James Gallagher, Health and science correspondent, BBC; researcher Prof Christopher Murray, and The Lancet, 15 July 2020)
My comment: There are too many people in the world, and too many semi-educated and poorly brought-up people at that. However, the comment about taxation and who is going to look after the oldies is a killer, I agree. Life is going to get increasingly tough. But maybe a greatly reduced population is the price we have to pay for the survival of the human race at all. We can’t go on grossly abusing the planet indefinitely.