The world’s population will likely reach 920 crore in 2050, with nearly three times as many people over the age of 60 and virtually all growth in the developing world, the United Nations population division reported.
Hania Zlotnik, the division’s director, said an important change in the new population estimate is a decrease in expected deaths from HIV/AIDS because of the increasing use of anti-retroviral drugs and the downward revision of the prevalence of the disease in some countries.
The new report issued Tuesday estimates 32 million fewer deaths from AIDS during the 2005-2020 period in the 62 most affected countries compared with the previous UN estimate in 2004.
This change contributed to the slightly higher world population estimate of 920 crore in 2050 in the 2006 estimate, compared with 910 crore in the 2004 estimate, the report said.
The new 2006 report also confirms “the very huge changes” that the population of the world is about to experience, mostly as a result of the reduction in fertility in developing countries, which means women are having fewer children, Zlotnik said.
Fertility has already reached below replacement levels in 28 developing countries which account for 25% of the world’s population, including China, the report said. China’s average birth rate during 2005-2010 is estimated at 1.73 children per woman.
According to the 2006 estimate, world population will likely increase by 250 crore people over the next 43 years from the current 670 crore—a rise equivalent to the world’s population in 1950.
If fertility levels are slightly higher than projected, global population would reach 1,080 crore in 2050, and if they were slightly lower, it would hit 780 crore, the report said.
The growing population will be absorbed mainly in less developed countries whose population is projected to rise from 540 crore in 2007 to 790 crore in 2050.
The populations of poor countries like Afghanistan, Burundi, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, East Timor and Uganda are projected to at least triple by mid-century.
By contrast, the population of richer developed countries is expected to remain largely unchanged at 120 crore. The report said the figure would be lower without expected migration from poorer to richer countries, averaging 23 lakh people annually.
But according to the report, 46 countries are expected to lose population by mid-century including Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, most of the countries in the former Soviet Union, and several small island nations.
Population growth will remain concentrated in populous countries with half the projected increase from 2005 to 2050 in eight countries listed according to the size of their expected growth—India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, the United States, Bangladesh and China, the report said.
Half the increase in world population between 2005 and 2050 will be the result of a rise in the over 60 population while the number of children under age 15 will decline slightly, it said. Today, just 8% of the population in developing countries is over 60 years old, but the report said that by mid-century the figure will rise to 20%. Globally, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to almost triple, from 67.3 crore in 2005 to 200 crore by 2050, it said.
“Population aging is, in fact, the result of a success—the success of humanity in controlling its number,” Zlotnik said. “The only thing we can hope is that aging continues and that society can adapt itself to the important social changes... and have better lives.” She said most countries in Asia and Latin America have reached the “relatively beneficial stage” of having more workers than children or elderly “and they will remain in that stage for at least two more decades.”
But then their populations will start aging more, which is where Europe and North America are going, she said.
“Europe is the only region at this moment where the number of people aged 60 and over has already surpassed the number of children,” Zlotnik said. “We expect that Asia and Latin America will have by 2050 an age distribution that is very similar to the one that Europe has today.”
African countries will have a lot of workers by 2050 but to get there the population will nearly double from 2007 to 2050, Zlotnik said.
“So it is the continent that is going to have to absorb a very high increase, and it will have to absorb it at levels of development that are the very lowest that we have in this world,” Zlotnik said.