Nine billion people by 2300, projects UN

Posted: 20 January 2004

Author: John Rowley

In its first attempt to assess the size of the world's population two centuries hence, the United Nations projects that today's population of 6.3 billion could rise to 9 billion in 2300.

But this is based on the assumption that all countries will eventually stabilise their fertility at an average of around two children per woman.

Even on this assumption, the UN Population Division says that world population would continue to rise, slowly, owing to continuously improving longevity - with life expectancy of over 100 years in many countries.

The experts point out, however, that even tiny variations from the two-child norm can have huge consequences over the long-term. "As little as one-quarter of a child under the two-child norm, or one-quarter of a child above the norm, results in a world population ranging from 2.3 billion (in the low variant) to 36.4 billion (in the high variant) by 2300."

Most populous

In these scenarios, fertility (or the average number of children women will bear in a lifetime) would stabilise at around 1.85 children per woman under the low variant, or 2.35 children, under the high variant.

The demographers also show that the current high levels of fertility in many countries cannot continue indefinitely. They say that if today's levels of fertility were to continue, world population would soar to 144 billion by 2150 and to an impossible 134 trillion by 2300.

Looking ahead more realistically, the UN says that under the medium scenario Africa would double its share of world population from 13 per cent to 24 per cent by 2300.Europe's share, by contrast, would be halved from 12 per cent to 7 per cent by 2300. But India, China and the United Sates would continue to be the most populous countries in the world.

In fact, the UN projects that the United States' population will go on growing until 2300, when it will almost reach half a billion (493 million). China, by contrast, is projected to reach a maximum of 1.45 billion by 2030 and to fall back to 1.27 billion by 2300.

India's growth

India is projected to overtake China with a maximum population of 1.56 billion in 2065, falling back to 1.37 billion by 2300. But Pakistan's rate of growth is projected to be much greater, with population soaring from 143 million to 412 million by 2090 before falling back slightly to 359 million in 2300.

The population of the United Kingdom is expected to reach 74 million by 2300 under this medium projection.

In this same scenario, the population of 2300 will be much older, on average, than it is today. The average age will be 50, the percentage of the population over 60 will rise from 10 to 38 per cent. And 17 in every 100 will be over 80.

Overall, these new projections indicate that world population is likely to stabilise at a lower level that previously predicted. Previous long-range projections suggested that global numbers of humans would grow to 10-12 billion before stabilising. But recent fertility declines in developing countries and expectations that fertility levels there will follow the path experienced in developed countries have changed the outlook.

These projections also reinforce the need to reduce fertility rates in countries where these remain abnormally high, snd to stabilise numbers sooner rather than later.

John Rowley is Editor-in-Chief of Planet 21.

The UN Population Division report, World Population in 2300, is accessible at United Nations. It includes projections for every country in the world.