UN Population Projections See Global Fertility Decline

By | August 11, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 12 (C-Fam) Global population will peak sooner and at lower levels than previously thought, according to the latest UN population projections.

The UN population division now estimates that global population will peak in the year 2086 at 10.4 billion. The world’s leading demographers previously estimates the population would peak in the year 2100 at 10.8 billion.

The UN population division said its revised estimates followed the steadily declining fertility of the entire world and a sudden slow-down in birth rates attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most population growth is concentrated in a small number of countries, mostly in a couple Asian countries with large populations and sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility remains high, although it is steadily declining even there.

The new report with revised population projections was released on July 11, which is World Population Day.

In a speech marking the occasion, UN Secretary-General António Guterres denounced “renewed assaults on women’s rights, including on essential health services,” likely in reference to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that abortion is not a national right.

While Guterres stated that “our world is in peril” due to conflict, pandemics, and climate issues, he was careful not to frame a global population of eight billion as a crisis in itself.

However, previous and current population control policies are having a profound effect.  Despite having dipped below replacement fertility, India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country because China’s fertility rate—long suppressed by its one-child policy—is even lower.

John Wilmoth, director of the UN department that produced the report, urged against governments taking action to reduce fertility, arguing it would have little effect given the population’s youthful age structure. However, not everyone agrees.

The UN’s press release announcing the revised changes tied population policies to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. According to the press release investments in population policies “will contribute to reducing fertility levels and slowing global population growth” by helping girls stay in school longer and begin childbearing later, and by reducing the “unmet need” for family planning.

The UN Population Fund has made ending “unmet need” for family planning one of its three major goals, despite the fact that for most women, the purported “need” is not due to a lack of access, nor does it measure any intention to use contraceptives. Scholars increasingly point out the widespread misuse of the “unmet need” concept, while acknowledging its “central importance to global family planning.”

What is not disputed is the fact that global fertility is declining, including in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions. UN agencies theorize that this decline in fertility creates a potential “demographic dividend” because a greater share of the population is of working age.  However, the actual benefits of this trend are by no means guaranteed and have not always materialized. There is a risk that entire populations might grow old before becoming rich.

Economists and demographers increasingly worry more about the ability of countries experiencing prolonged low fertility and who have aging populations to provide for the social and economic needs of their populations.

Population Matters responded to the UN’s new projections by dismissing concerns about declining and aging populations in developed countries as “exaggerated, ‘first world’, challenges.”