World's Population Will Just About Stop Growing for First Time in Modern History, Report Shows

The number of people on Earth is set to virtually stop growing by the end of this century in a development that would be unprecedented in modern history, a new study has shown.

The report, released Monday by the Pew Research Center and based on figures compiled by the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs, showed that the world's population—currently at nearly 7.8 billion people—would rise to 10.9 billion by the year 2100, but then would essentially stop "with annual growth of less than 0.1 [percent]." The phenomenon would be "due in large part to falling global fertility rates" around the globe.

"The rate is projected to fall below the replacement fertility rate (2.1 births per woman) by 2070. The replacement fertility rate is the number of births per woman needed to maintain a population's size," the report explained.

This, along with an increase in life expectancy, would also mean larger older populations as the median age will rise from its current 31 years old to 42 in 2100 and the number of people who are 80 or older increases from 146 million to 881 million that same year.

The study also looked at how shifting trends in population would affect different areas of the world. Whereas Europe and Latin American were expected to actually undergo a decline in population by 2100 and Asia would increase from "4.6 billion in 2020 to 5.3 billion in 2055" before beginning to reverse that year, "Africa is the only world region projected to have strong population growth for the rest of this century."

In fact, half of the top ten most populous countries will be African in 2100, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Egypt joining Nigeria on this list. The continent is expected to account for half of the babies born worldwide by 2100 and another third would be born in Asia as other regions went into decline.

"Two-thirds of all countries and territories in Europe (32 of 48) are expected to lose population by 2100. In Latin America and the Caribbean, half of the region's 50 countries' populations are expected to shrink," report found. "Between 1950 and 2020, by contrast, only six countries in the world lost population, due to much higher fertility rates and a relatively younger population in past decades."

The U.S. and Canada would likely be spared from a population decline as "migration from the rest of the world is expected to be the primary driver of continued population growth" in North America. Still, "Nigeria will surpass the U.S. as the third-largest country in the world in 2047" and India will overtake China as the world's largest in the next eight years and by 2059 will hit 1.7 billion people. The Chinese population is expected to decline from 2031 onward.

india population traffic asia
Traffic jams in Delhi, the capital of India, December 2, 2018. A recent report published by the Pew Research Center based on United Nations figures found that India was set to surpass China as the world's most populous country in 2059. Frédéric Soltan/Corbis/Getty Images

The U.N.'s own report, entitled World Population Prospects 2019, noted that that there "is inherent uncertainty in population projections," but argued that "the size of the world's population is virtually certain to rise over the next few decades."

It added: "Later in the century, although a continued increase of the global population is considered the most likely outcome, there is roughly a 27 percent chance that the world's population could stabilize or even begin to decrease sometime before 2100."

The U.N. report also highlighted the "unprecedented" aging phenomenon, finding "for the first time in human history, persons aged 65 years or over outnumbered children under five years of age worldwide." By 2050, "there will be more than twice as many older persons as children under five" and "the 1.5 billion people aged 65 years or over worldwide will outnumber adolescents and youth aged 15 to 24 years (1.3 billion)."

In addition, the study confirmed "the narrowing gap between rich and poor countries, while also pointing to significant disparities in survival that persist across countries and regions." The biggest single-country decline since 2010 was Syria, whose population has shrunk by 20 percent since then. It wasn't just war that drove people away from home, however, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico lost 18 percent of its own population in the same period, a trend exacerbated by the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.