January 27, 2023

Off the Charts: Population Growth Forecast From the U.N. May Be Too High

The United Nations population division said this summer that fertility rates in many developing countries had not slowed as the U.N. had expected. As a result, it revised its forecast of the world population in 2100 upward by 700 million people, to 10.9 billion.

Two years earlier, the U.N. had made an even larger revision, raising the forecast from 9 billion. And in its 2008 forecasts, global population was set to peak around 2070 and then begin to fall. In the latest forecast, there is no peak in sight.

“What we have been finding, when we have looked at all of the data,” said Barney Cohen, the chief of the U.N.’s populations studies branch, “is that our previous projections were a little too optimistic. Fertility in Africa is not coming down as rapidly as we thought it would.”

Africa accounts for nearly all the increased forecast for 2100 — about 600 million — and Latin America accounts for 100 million more. The U.N. forecasts for Europe and North America were reduced from previous ones.

But it is possible that the U.N.’s latest forecast is too pessimistic. An analysis of population trends by Sanjeev Sanyal, the global strategist for Deutsche Bank, concludes that population growth is likely to be much slower than the U.N.’s estimate.

“In our view, global fertility will fall to the replacement rate in less than 15 years,” Mr. Sanyal wrote. “Population may keep growing for a few more decades from rising longevity but, reproductively speaking, our species will no longer be expanding.” He forecasts that world population will peak in around 2055, at 8.7 billion, and decline to 8 billion by the end of the century.

The fertility replacement rate — the number of children per woman needed to keep the population level over time — is usually considered to be 2.1. Mr. Sanyal says that in the developing world, it is higher, because of higher infant mortality and maternal death in childbirth. For the world as a whole, he thinks the current replacement rate is about 2.27, a figure that will come down gradually over time.

The spread between the latest U.N. forecast and Deutsche Bank’s for 2100 — 2.8 billion people — is greater than the entire population of the world in 1955.

“Developed countries have long had low birthrates, but the largest declines in fertility are in developing countries, with the Chinese, Russians, Koreans and Brazilians no longer reproducing themselves,” Mr. Sanyal wrote.

Even if Mr. Sanyal turns out to be right, some developing countries seem likely to face explosive growth. In Nigeria, Mr. Sanyal says the fertility rate — the number of children born to an average woman during her life — is about six, more than four times than the rate in Japan. He thinks that rate will come down more rapidly than the U.N. expects, but still forecasts that the country will have 521 million people by the end of the century, an increase from about 160 million in 2010. The U.N. forecast is 914 million.

The accompanying charts show the two forecasts for nine major countries. They agree in many ways. By the end of the century, both forecasts see population falling in China, India, Germany, Japan, Russia and Brazil. The bank thinks there will also be declines in the United States and France by then, while the U.N. forecast has both countries continuing to grow, albeit at declining rates. Both forecasts expect the British population to have leveled off.

There is, of course, no way to be sure what will happen. A major epidemic could throw all forecasts off. Some developed countries have started campaigns to raise fertility, with only limited success so far.

But a world with falling populations in many countries — and with the number of people of working age declining even more rapidly — could lead to major changes. Retirements are likely to occur later, and it is at least conceivable that some countries will even compete for immigrants. “Many countries are beginning to welcome skilled immigrants,” Mr. Sanyal said in an interview, adding that Germany was increasingly open to those whose skills were not as high.

Mr. Sanyal is skeptical about one widespread forecast — that demand for health care will expand rapidly as populations grow. He says many of the older people are likely to be healthy, and notes that with fewer children, there will be less demand for health care from the young.

Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at nytimes.com/economix.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/business/uns-forecast-of-population-growth-may-be-too-high.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End

Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.

The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.

“Every billion more people makes life more difficult for everybody — it’s as simple as that,” said John Bongaarts, a demographer at the Population Council, a research group in New York. “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.”

The projections were made by the United Nations population division, which has a track record of fairly accurate forecasts. In the new report, the division raised its forecast for the year 2050, estimating that the world would most likely have 9.3 billion people then, an increase of 156 million over the previous estimate for that year, published in 2008.

Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some poor countries, and has shown a slight increase in many wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Denmark.

The director of the United Nations population division, Hania Zlotnik, said the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the wealthy Western nations that help finance their development, face a choice about whether to renew their emphasis on programs that encourage family planning.

Though they were a major focus of development policy in the 1970s and 1980s, such programs have stagnated in many countries, caught up in ideological battles over abortion, sex education and the role of women in society. Conservatives have attacked such programs as government meddling in private decisions, and in some countries, Catholic groups fought widespread availability of birth control. And some feminists called for less focus on population control and more on empowering women.

Over the past decade, foreign aid to pay for contraceptives — $238 million in 2009 — has barely budged, according to United Nations estimates. The United States has long been the biggest donor, but the budget compromise in Congress last month cut international family planning programs by 5 percent.

“The need has grown, but the availability of family planning services has not,” said Rachel Nugent, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, a research group.

Dr. Zlotnik said in an interview that the revised numbers were based on new forecasting methods and the latest demographic trends. But she cautioned that any forecast looking 90 years into the future comes with many caveats.

That is particularly so for some fast-growing countries whose populations are projected to skyrocket over the next century. For instance, Yemen, a country whose population has quintupled since 1950, to 25 million, would see its numbers quadruple again, to 100 million, by century’s end, if the projections prove accurate. Yemen already depends on food imports and faces critical water shortages.

In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the report projects that population will rise from today’s 162 million to 730 million by 2100. Malawi, a country of 15 million today, could grow to 129 million, the report projected.

The implicit, and possibly questionable, assumption behind these numbers is that food and water will be available for the billions yet unborn, and that potential catastrophes including climate change, wars or epidemics will not serve as a brake on population growth. “It is quite possible for several of these countries that are smallish and have fewer resources, these numbers are just not sustainable,” Dr. Zlotnik said.

Well-designed programs can bring down growth rates even in the poorest countries. Provided with information and voluntary access to birth-control methods, women have chosen to have fewer children in societies as diverse as Bangladesh, Iran, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

One message from the new report is that the AIDS epidemic, devastating as it has been, has not been the demographic disaster that was once predicted. Prevalence estimates and projections for the human immunodeficiency virus made for Africa in the 1990s turned out to be too high, and in many populations, treatment with new drug regimens has cut the death rate from the disease.

But the survival of millions of people with AIDS who would have died without treatment, and falling rates of infant and child mortality — both heartening trends — also mean that fertility rates for women need to fall faster to curb population growth, demographers said.

Other factors have slowed change in Africa, experts said, including women’s lack of power in their relationships with men, traditions like early marriage and polygamy, and a dearth of political leadership. While about three-quarters of married American women use a modern contraceptive, the comparable proportions are a quarter of women in East Africa, one in 10 in West Africa, and a mere 7 percent in Central Africa, according to United Nations statistics.

“West and Central Africa are the two big regions of the world where the fertility transition is happening, but at a snail’s pace,” said John F. May, a World Bank demographer.

Some studies suggest that providing easy, affordable access to contraceptives is not always sufficient. A trial by Harvard researchers in Lusaka, Zambia, found that only when women had greater autonomy to decide whether to use contraceptives did they have significantly fewer children. Other studies have found that general education for girls plays a critical role, in that literate young women are more likely to understand that family size is a choice.

The new report suggests that China, which has for decades enforced restrictive population policies, could soon enter the ranks of countries with declining populations, peaking at 1.4 billion in the next couple of decades, then falling to 941 million by 2100.

The United States is growing faster than many rich countries, largely because of high immigration and higher fertility among Hispanic immigrants. The new report projects that the United States population will rise from today’s 311 million to 478 million by 2100.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.

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