World population continues to grow robustly. While that population numbers 7.621 billion in the middle of 2018, it is projected to grow to 9.9 billion by 2050. While it is true that the rate of world population growth is modest, 1.2 percent annually at this time, that number when applied to a growing world population, now 7.6 billion, accounts for increases in population that become bigger annually. Various regions of the world are contributing to that growth. For example, Africa was a population of 1.284 billion as of 2018, and that population is slated to grow to 1.714 billion by mid-2030 and to 2.586 billion by mid-2050. While those increases in population are big, it is what you expect if you know the rapid annual population growth rate that Africa has, which is 2.6 percent. While Africa has rapid population growth, Europe has very slow population growth, with some countries recording negative rates of growth. For example, Spain has a natural rate of increase, births vs. deaths, of minus 0.1 percent. Accordingly, its population is projected to fall from 46.7 million in 2018 to 45.9 million by mid-2030. Several other European countries, such as Lithuania, Germany, and Romania reflect similar rates of decrease. When a country’s population age structure changes, it presents opportunities for those nations to develop new policies. For example, nations with high fertility and high population growth rates will eventually emerge with high child dependency burdens. Those nations will have to take steps to increase the productivity of those workers. For one, increasing educational opportunities for young workers can result in making them more productive and increasing that society’s economic growth rates. Similarly, particular problems are starting to emerge from the aging of the world population; simply put, that population is getting older. As that happens, the labor force made up of adults starts to contract as more people retire. Here again, programs to keep older adults in the work force can be employed. China and India continue to be the countries with the highest populations in the world. China, as of the middle of 2018, has a population of 1.394 billion while India has a population of 1.371 billion. Both nations have employed population policies to sustain population growth. India has achieved some success in modifying its population growth, reducing that growth to 1.4 percent. China utilized a one-child policy until 2013 and maintains various economic policies to encourage couples to have only one child. Right now, the rate of natural increase is 0.5 percent. India has a higher rate of natural increase and will have the highest number of people in the world by the end of this year. Because its rate of increase is roughly three times that of China its population will grow significantly higher than China’s in the next 30 years. Both of these countries will need to employ policies to deal with the problems caused by their increasing populations. This continued world population growth can only add to the devastation caused by natural catastrophes. The cost of hurricanes and floods and other natural disasters will only increase. Severe weather is no stranger to many of these areas experiencing drastic growth, and that weather will take a toll of increasing amounts of people – fed by population growth generally throughout the world, and particularly in the areas subject to economic development, such as more homes to house an increasing number of people, inevitably raises the costs of natural disasters. Wildfires striking these areas will find more homes to burn and people to kill. That is an argument to be made in support of more strictly limiting population growth in these areas - easier said than done. As population changes, so do the problems carried by those changes. A good example of that is the continuing declines in the U.S. total fertility rate – an estimate of the number of births a woman would have over her lifetime has been below replacement level (2.1) since 1971. This has implications for the labor force in the future; as the world’s population declines, a workforce is created that is too small to support an increased number of retired persons. (All numbers and facts relating to world population are taken from those provided by the Population Reference Bureau, an organization that studies world population changes.)
Author and educator Dave Kaplan writes from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.