The official population of humans reached 8 billion a little over a year ago, but as of 2020, the growth rate has dropped to less than 1%, the lowest since 1950. Some have even speculated that this could indicate an approaching global population decline. Globally, there’s no guarantee of this, but according to United Nations (UN) projections, by 2050, the populations of 61 countries are expected to decline by 1 percent or more. However, why would there be such a drop, and what might the repercussions be?
Declining rates of conception
Numerous factors, such as migration, advancements in medicine, and diseases that impact mortality, can cause populations to increase or decrease; however, the worldwide fertility rate is undoubtedly one of the most significant.
The World Population Prospects 2022 edition, an annual report of UN population estimates and projections, states that, on average, fewer people are getting married and having children. Two-thirds of all humans live in a country or region where lifetime fertility is less than 2.1 births per woman. This is less than replacement fertility, which is defined as having two children for every two adults to maintain population stability.
Even though it’s anticipated that between now and 2050, this decline will have little impact on the world population, these things can add up over time.
“If sustained over multiple decades, the combined impact of reduced fertility could result in a more significant slowdown of global population growth in the latter half of the century,” clarified John Wilmoth, the director of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division, in a statement.
Are the repercussions favorable or unfavorable?
In addition to a declining population, an aging population may result from declining fertility rates and rising life expectancy. For the first time in history, the number of people 65 and older exceeded that of children in the world in 2018, and this difference is predicted to keep growing.
Even though some older people can be just as healthy as those decades younger than them, it’s still important to consider some of the potential negative consequences. Fewer people around and a greater proportion of them being elderly could present many problems. Depending on retirement age, this could mean fewer people working, which would put more strain on the healthcare and welfare systems and their respective economic effects.
As per UN recommendations, “nations with aging populations ought to undertake measures to adjust public initiatives to the increasing proportion of elderly individuals, such as instituting universal healthcare and long-term care frameworks and bolstering the viability of social security and pension schemes.”
Others have concentrated less on aging and more on the idea that as the population declines, there may be a decrease “in the flow of new ideas,” leading to a stagnation of knowledge and standards of living. That doesn’t sound very enjoyable, in addition to affecting the economy.
Conversely, some have contended that a decline in the world’s population might be a sign of positive developments. In the New York Times, Wang Feng, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine, stated that nations experiencing population declines have also seen increases in employment and education, as well as greater opportunities for women to pursue careers and have more freedom in reproduction.
Although he acknowledges the possible difficulties associated with a declining global population, Feng contends that rather than attempting to halt or reverse it, this presents an opportunity to “embrace it and adapt.”
Time will tell which of the aforementioned theories and forecasts turns out to be accurate, if any.