The future of the world’s population in 4 charts


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Last week, the UN released updated population figures and projections. I just had a chance to go through them and the great key findings document (PDF, 1MB) that accompanies them.

But before I dive in, how accurate are these projections? What kind of track record do UN demographers have? The most comprehensive answer I could find was Nico Keilman’s 2001 paper which Hans Rosling refers to in this video. He notes that in 1958, when the UN projected the population in 2000 to be ~6 Billion (it was then 42 years into the future) they ended up being out by less than 5%. The short answer is: these projections are pretty good.

OK, back to the new data released in 2015: here are some of the trends that stand out for me. Note that I’m using the UN’s regional groupings rather than the World Bank’s

1) The world’s population is projected to reach 11.2 billion in 2100 


There are 7.3 billion people alive today and while the world’s population continues to grow, it’s growing more slowly than in the past. We can expect to see an additional billion people added over the next 15 years, and about a billion more 10 years later, reaching a total population of 9.7 billion in 2050.

According to the UN’s “medium variant” projection which assumes a decline in fertility rates and an increase in life expectancy, there’s a 95% chance that the world’s population will be between 9.5 and 13.3 Billion in 2100.   According to this model, the world’s population is “virtually certain” to rise in the short term, but later in the century, there is a roughly 23 percent chance that it could stabilize or begin to fall before 2100.

2) By 2100, over 80% of the world will live in Africa or Asia 


Today, about 2/3 of the world’s population lives in Asia, a figure dominated by India and China. Looking at the regional breakdown of the forecasts, we see that by 2100, Africa and Asia will be home to 4.4 and 4.9 billion individuals respectively, and will together account for 83% of the world’s population.  To look at it from a different perspective, the proportion of the world’s population that’s not African or Asian looks small and relatively constant:


3) Africa will be the fastest growing region between 2015 and 2050 


More than half of the global population growth between now and 2050 will occur in Africa, which will add 1.3 billion people to its ranks over the period. This 109 percent increase is by far the largest proportional change of any region.

In absolute terms, Asia will be the second largest contributor to the increase in the world’s population and notably, Europe is expected to experience a shrinking population, falling 4.3 percent over the next 35 years.

4) Half of the world’s population growth will occur in just 9 countries 


This was the most interesting set of findings for me. Within seven years (by 2022), the population of India will overtake that of China, and will reach 1.7 billion by 2050. That change alone will account for 17 percent of the world’s total population increase between now and 2050. Interestingly, the United States is the only high-income country in this list, and by 2050 will be the fourth most populous country after India, China and Nigeria. In fact (bonus chart!), Nigeria’s population is expected to overtake that of the United States some time between 2045 and 2050 to reach almost 400 million:


Assumptions, variations and implications

As I wrote last month, I find demography fascinating - the insights it can provide underpin the decisions that individuals and societies as a whole make.

I’d highly recommend reading the key findings document (PDF, 1MB) that accompanied this new data (and investigating the data yourself). In addition to details about changing survival patterns, age distribution and international migration, the document notes that the future of the world’s population is highly dependant on the future of fertility rates.

In the “medium variant” projections used above, they’ve assumed that the worldwide average fertility rate will fall from today’s 2.5 children per woman, to 2.4 by around 2030, and 2.0 by around 2100. But there’s substantial uncertainty in these projections, especially in countries with higher fertility rates. They point out that if the average fertility rate was just 0.5 children higher, the projected population for 2100 would be 16.6 Billion - more than 5 billion greater than the medium variant projection above.  

I hope you get a chance to look at these new data - let us know what you find most interesting!


Haruna Kashiwase

Consultant, Development Data Group, World Bank

Patricia A Chacon
January 07, 2016

Will be interesting to see the programs to develop in order the food, the wealth and the home of that population!

Ahmed Ndyeshobola
August 26, 2015

Very useful and strategic projections that an be used for forecasts in many fields

August 30, 2015

Even if I don't totally agree, interesting insight. I don't agree because if we look at the EU region and what was the expansion from 80 -> 90 ... you would see that today was expected to be double of what we are. The growth it's after some harsh period, and not constant. I expect to see a slow down on all the countries, and by 2100 to see less than expected. If you live better, you are living longer, and have less child's/family, and you make them later in life (also the media will take care of that). Also to take in considerations all the possible plaques, the population control by governments, the limit of resources we could use which become more obvious by day...

james mawson
January 05, 2016

Can i check - half the population growth will be in 9 countries but the table has just eight? Which is the ninth, or did I miss it?
Cheers, Jim

Peter Fiekowsky
September 24, 2015

Note well that we do have a say in birth rates. We can't control them (at least not very morally and not very well), but we can influence them, if we want to.
South Korea, which is a constrained mountainous peninsula, decided in the '60s to influence their birthrate, with improved health, education, and then public campaigns. "Two is enough!" in the '70s and then "Two is too many" in the '80s. Their birthrate fell from 6 to 1.05 by 2005. That's a much faster decrease than China accomplished by decree.
They decided, and then influenced it.
When countries in Africa see a beautiful green future for themselves, they could decide and do the same. The World Bank's work on eliminating extreme poverty is what makes this possible. However that's not sufficient--we need to want a healthy population (level) which supports a healthy planet too.
I call this campaign, "Norm of one"--to create a norm of one child families (which would yield probably an average of 1.4) for a few decades until the climate migrations we see now stop. We might even continue with small families until the mass extinctions we're causing stop--assuming we collectively choose to value nature over raw growth.
What global population would you guess that will be?

nirbhay kumar
August 05, 2015

good projected chart ,but we want continental rural population aspect in different chart

Jom Jacob
August 07, 2015

An enlightening report enabling the reader to visualize from a distance the future of the global population. The report reflects enormous amount of research.

Perino Pama
August 11, 2015

The most important debate right now is population control

Tim D
August 11, 2015

Really tremendous statistics and very interesting about the fertility rate not growing in tandem with the population growth. Interesting to think about what this is telling us. Increased population density has a direct impact on fertility rates, or are we realising a natural selection % of fertile humans. A saturation point per say.

August 17, 2015

Very interesting indeed.

August 21, 2015

It should be interesting to see when the world achieves below replacement fertility levels and how soon/ when the total world population begins to decline and stabilises at what level, if it does. Will that level be sustainable? Will we have , then, already degraded the environment / overused our resources beyond repair or renewal? Or is there some hope that population will stabilise at levels of high incomes, high education and awareness about sustainable living and general good quality of life? Higher happiness quotients?

Milind Desai
August 21, 2015

Thanks for sharing your predictions.
I feel there are very likely changes in the social fabric of India that can negate the growth.
Many states in India have currently reached the magical TFR of 2.1 that will stabilize population grown in the next couple of decades.
The two states that contribute to over 40% the Indian population growth, namely UP & Bihar can slow down their pace drastically in the next years. Bringing up a child is not a easy task any more and the mentality of would be parents is fast changing. Mathematical models can be completely incorrect with this change in thinking...

Michael Wilkinson
August 21, 2015

First to say thank you for bringing forward such data.
My first insight into demography, totally agree with you, fascinating.
I found Human population breakdown into male female, adult children most interesting.
But what I would find interesting is population to surface area per person at ground level. We will all have to live up on stilts if we wish to retain a certain surface area.
This kind of data would be great to search and pull out of a mysql database using a web gui front. Although someone has probably already done this.

June 12, 2017

thanks for this interesting programs and bringing up the data of demographic for the fact this is very useful and strategic projection.

Kerry Gautsch
October 25, 2017

Thought these graphs were interesting to use in class.