Our Expanding World To Top 7 Billion In 2011

Our expanding world to top 7 billion in 2011

The New York Times
July 31, 2010

WITH 267 people born every minute and 108 dying, the world's population will top 7 billion next year. While births soar, the ratio of working-age adults to support the elderly in developed countries is declining precipitously.

In a sobering assessment of those two trends, William Butz, president of the Population Reference Bureau, said that ''chronically low birth rates in developed countries are beginning to challenge the health and financial security of the elderly''.

At the same time, ''developing countries are adding over 80 million to the population each year and the poorest of those countries are adding 20 million, exacerbating poverty and threatening the environment.''

Projections, especially over decades, are vulnerable to changes in immigration, retirement ages, birth rates, health care and other variables. But in releasing the bureau's 2010 population data sheet, Carl Haub, its senior demographer, estimated this week that by 2050 the planet will be home to more than 9 billion people.

Even with a decline in birth rates in less developed countries from six children per woman in 1950 to 2.5 today, the population of Africa is projected to at least double by mid-century to 2.1 billion. Asia will add an additional 1.3 billion.

While the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand will continue to grow because of higher birth rates and immigration, Europe, Japan and South Korea will shrink (although the recession reduced birth rates in the US and Spain and slowed rising rates in Russia and Norway).

In Japan, the population of working-age people, compared with the population 65 and older that is dependent on them, is projected to decline to a ratio of 1:1, from the current 3:1. Worldwide, the ratio of working age people to those in the older group is expected to decline from 9:1 to 4:1.

Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union, reported this week that while the union's population topped half a billion this year, 900,000 of the 1.4 million growth from the year before resulted from immigration. Eurostat has predicted that deaths will outpace births in five years, a trend that has already occurred in Bulgaria, Latvia and Hungary.

While the bulge in younger people, if they are educated, presents a potential ''demographic dividend'' for countries such as Bangladesh and Brazil, the shrinking proportion of working-age people elsewhere may place a strain on governments and lead them to raise retirement ages.