Is the world population actually declining?

The world population - so it is about humanity

Who actually counts the people on earth?

Every population grows, shrinks or stagnates differently over time, because people are born every day, but at the same time many die. The population development of a region is not only determined by the number of births and deaths, but also by the migration balance - i.e. the difference between immigration and emigration to or from the region.
However, the exact figures for the height of a population cannot always be precisely determined. The figures from developing countries in particular are therefore often based on estimates. Estimating the population of a specific region or the whole world is the task of demography. It deals with the population development and provides forecasts for the future.

In addition to the actual number of residents in a region, their age structure is also very interesting. The age pyramid shows whether more young or older people live in a country or region. It provides the demographers with the basis for forecasts for further population development.

All these numbers and statistics are in turn the basis for society and politics that deal with the problems of population development. Alongside the UN, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) is one of the most important organizations that keep an eye on population growth. In Germany, the World Population Foundation with its country database provides information on the development of the world population and data for individual regions and countries. In addition, the foundation analyzes problems and shows solution strategies.

Before we talk about these problems and possible solution strategies, let's take a look at the past and show how the world's population has developed up to the present day.

The population development then and now

The number of people living on earth has fluctuated throughout history. Environmental disasters, diseases and epidemics repeatedly ensured that the size of the world population, which spread from Africa to all continents, varied.
According to estimates by the UN, there were around 300 million people around the world around 2,000 years ago, while 1,000 years later, at around 310 million, there were hardly any more. In the Middle Ages, the world population began to grow again, but was later decimated by the plague, smallpox and other epidemics.

According to estimates by experts, there was permanent growth of over 0.5 percent per year in the 18th century. In the middle of the 20th century, this growth even rose to over 2 percent per year, so that the world population quadrupled. At least now, people were talking about a population explosion with serious consequences for our planet.

The annual growth of the world population has only been falling since the late 1980s. At that time there were 87 million more people a year, in 2009 only 79 million were added. Mind you - the world population continues to grow rapidly - only the rate of growth is declining - after all. According to estimates by the world population clock, however, the number of the world population increased again by around 87 million people in 2015.

World Population Brands - A Timeline:

Around 1800: one billion
1927: two billion
1960: three billion
1974: four billion
1987: five billion
1999: six billion
2011: seven billion

What's the future like? Are there differences in population growth?

In the last decades and centuries the regional population development has varied. Due to different growth rates, the distribution of the world population will also change significantly in the next few years. While the birth rates are falling in the so-called industrialized countries and the increase is mainly due to immigration, the birth rates in the less developed regions of the world are significantly higher and the population is increasing drastically here.

According to data from the World Population Foundation, the number of people living in industrialized countries will rise to 1,310 million by 2050. In mid-2015 there were only slightly fewer with 1,254 million people. The picture is quite different in developing and emerging countries. The population here is expected to increase from 6,082 million in 2015 to 8,495 million in 2050. The situation is particularly dramatic in the poorest regions of the world, which include the countries south of the Sahara, but also some countries in Asia. The population will probably almost double in the same period and around 1,887 million people will live in these regions in 2050.

So what does this mean for the development of the world's population? The UN assumes that the world population will peak at 10 billion people in 2050 and then decline.

The poorer and younger a country, the faster its population grows - why actually?

While the average number of children worldwide has halved since the 1960s from around 5 children to 2.5 children per woman today, in the African countries south of the Sahara the birth rate has only fallen from 6.6 children to 5 children today. The global population growth is mainly due to five factors:

- Desire for more than two children per couple
- Better medical care and hygiene
- unwanted pregnancies
- a young age structure
- religious motifs

In poorer countries in particular, there is a great desire to have many children. Numerous children are supposed to help the family with the various jobs in the house and in the field and to support the parents later. In countries without an adequate social system, children are therefore seen as a form of old-age provision.

Medical care and hygiene are improving worldwide - albeit from very different starting levels. Better medical care and hygiene lead to lower death rates - especially among infants - and higher life expectancy.

The high birth rates are partly due to unwanted pregnancies. A lack of education and counseling as well as a lack of access to suitable contraception means that in the least developed countries only about 37 percent of women of childbearing potential, married or living in a marriage-like situation use contraception.

An important point is the young age structure - especially in Africa. Many young people in a society mean that many births are to be expected because they have yet to reach the age to have children.

Above all in the Catholic Church, but also in some other religions, people are opposed to contraception. People who live religiously are forbidden to use contraceptives. However, this is not followed by all supporters and is sometimes heavily discussed.

What is politics doing against population growth?

Various concepts have been developed to stop or slow down population growth. Since 1974 the problems and results of population development have been discussed at the UN World Population Conference. In many countries, regional strategies have been developed to control reproductive behavior, and family planning has been promoted with information campaigns and the provision of contraceptives.
For some time now, the role of women has also been emphasized. It should be strengthened because it has been shown that women who can decide for themselves about sexuality and contraception tend to have fewer children.

Fewer Europeans and more Asians - an overview of the regions

Even today, 60 percent of the world's population live in Asia. By 2050, the number of people living here will increase from 4,397 million to 5,324 million. However, even greater growth rates are to be expected in Africa. By 2050, 2,473 million people are forecast here - more than double the figure today. In order to understand the distribution of the world population and the causes of growth, we want to take a closer look at the individual regions.

Population development in the industrialized countries

Since the 1960s, with the introduction of the pill, there has been a significant decline in the birth rate in many industrialized countries. Falling birth rates and longer life expectancy are leading to low growth rates or even a decline in population in most of the industrialized countries of Europe, North America and Australia. In some cases, however, this decline is well absorbed by the high number of immigrants. Here, too, economic crises lead to very different developments in certain regions.

Population development in Asia

The Asian continent makes up just under 30 percent of the earth's surface. But even today, 60 percent of the world's population live here. With 1.3 and 1.1 billion people respectively, China and India are among the most populous countries in the world. However, their enormous geographical dimensions must also be taken into account. Nevertheless, the distribution of the population is also very different here - which is due, among other things, to geographical conditions such as deserts and mountain regions.
In the last few decades, the population in Asia has increased enormously. In 1950 only 1.4 billion people lived on the continent, in 1975 it was 2.3 billion and in 2000 it was 3.6 billion. Today more than 4 billion people live here and further growth is expected in the future. The main reason for this is an increased life expectancy. In contrast, the birth rates have fallen significantly and are now around 2.4 children per woman.

Population development in Africa

In the countries south of the Sahara we can now record the youngest population structure of all time: 43 percent of Africans here are under 15 years of age, which is the age at which they will have children. So far, only about 36 percent of 15 to 24-year-old men and 26 percent of women of the same age have been adequately informed about contraceptive methods. The education has a decisive influence on how the population in these countries will develop. In addition, there are hardly any contraceptives available. Only 35 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 use family planning options, and only 29 percent use modern methods.

So far, the total fertility rate in Africa is 4.7 children per woman, in the countries south of the Sahara this figure is even 5.0 children per woman. This is a slight decrease compared to 6.6 children in 1960, but it is still very high.

Population development in Latin America

In Latin America, there are some differences between South and Central America. The population development in South America is quite stable. Therefore, only a slight increase in population from 414 million today to 496 million people in 2050 is expected. The situation in Central America is somewhat different. Here the birth rate is significantly higher at 2.4 children per woman. Therefore, in 2050, with 231 million people, almost a third more people will live there than today (173 million).
Due to its "discovery" and conquest by the Europeans, the American continent has experienced strong population fluctuations in the last few centuries. While it is estimated that around 50 million indigenous people lived in Latin America in pre-Columbian times, the figure was only four million in 1650. Due to the slave trade and immigration, the population grew quickly again later.

After a digression into the world of numbers, let us now dare to make assessments. But first a few definitions.

Will the world one day be "overpopulated"? Or is it already today?

In general, one speaks of overpopulation or overpopulation when the number of living beings is no longer sustainable for their habitat. With regard to humanity, however, there are different definitions for the term overpopulation:
On the one hand, there is the view of overpopulation when the population can no longer pursue their desired lifestyle due to the size of the population in the respective living space. A narrower definition speaks of overpopulation only when food, water or energy shortages occur and the survival of the population concerned is threatened.

Due to the different geographical situations around the world, the overpopulation can also be spatially limited and speak of regional or local overpopulation. The definition remains controversial here and is influenced, among other things, by the ecological footprint of the people living there.

Now is that a cause for concern?

Constant demographic changes present politics and society with new challenges. While the populations in the industrialized countries tend to shrink and age, developing countries are recording growth rates and a young population structure. In addition, more and more people are moving from rural areas to cities or migrating to other countries. This harbors various political and social challenges to which states have to react differently. People must always have access to food, health care, educational opportunities and jobs and the appropriate infrastructure must be set up.

While some scientists, such as Phillip Longman, warn of "underpopulation" in the industrialized countries and thus a possible loss of prosperity, others continue to emphasize the consequences of global "overpopulation". Simple solutions and forecasts are as controversial as they are difficult. Every country is therefore asked to develop suitable strategies for the respective population development and to adapt its own infrastructure to the forecasts of the demographers.

Is there any overpopulation?

According to the definition above, a region is “overpopulated” if more people live here than it could support. When exactly this carrying capacity is limited, however, depends very much on the lifestyle of the residents, but also on geographical conditions.
Critics of overpopulation theories therefore emphasize that there is not too little space to live and to grow more food, but rather that it is used by relatively few “owners”. Supply bottlenecks are therefore not due to a lack of necessary supplies, but to distribution problems and capitalist logics.

Critics such as George Monbiot also reject the view that population growth is the main cause of numerous environmental problems, declaring consumption and emissions in industrialized countries to be a far greater problem - the facts speak in favor of this view. The ecological footprint of people - a measure of the way of life - is significantly higher in industrialized countries than in developing countries. While the inhabitants of the United Arab Emirates had the largest ecological footprint with 10.68 ha / person in 2010, the Americans achieved an average of 8.00 ha / person and the Germans 5.08 ha / person. In contrast, residents of the poorest countries such as Bangladesh, East Timor and Puerto Rico only had an ecological footprint of 0.62, 0.44 and 0.04 ha / person.
Whether a region is “overpopulated” depends not only on the actual number of inhabitants, but also, above all, on their way of life. According to this definition, many regions in the industrialized countries would already be “overpopulated” today.

However, the problem of global population growth cannot be denied. According to the latest “theories on overpopulation” there is a limit to the number of people living on earth, but this is not fixed. B. positive or z. B. be negatively shifted by resource consumption. The limits of load-bearing capacity therefore remain hotly debated. You can roughly set up this formula:

Carrying capacity = usable earth surface / ecological footprint * number of people

Conclusion

One thing is certain: the world population is increasing. However, the demographic development is very different around the world. In addition to the increasing population in the developing countries, there is the rural exodus, while in the industrialized countries the population is declining. Rising populations, poverty, conflicts and the effects of climate change will continue to lead to major challenges in the future - challenges for which there are no simple solutions.Rather, we need regionally adapted solution strategies and intelligent ideas for a more sustainable way of life.

It is important to act in order to preserve humanity in the long term without major upheavals and crises. Reducing the birth rate in developing countries is an important lever. But a more sustainable way of life in the industrialized nations is also essential.