Global Concerns

The Century of Population

Excerpted from World Population Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau
Washington, DC USA

Year 2000 begins the era of 6 billion plus. The 20th Century began with 1.6 billion people in the world. The explosion of population this last century is one of our generation's defining characteristics. What about the next century? Population may grow even more in the 21st century, but in a different way. The next century's growth will occur mostly in less developed countries.

Beginning in 1950, the rapid decline in death rates throughout the less developed world brought unheard-of population growth rates in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This population "explosion" became one of the key international policy issues of the post-World War II period. With fertility rates in many countries still averaging six or more children and life expectancy continuing to improve, growth rates are such that populations in many countries will double every 20 years. Such growth will over-tax food supplies and outstrip countries' efforts to cope in many other areas.

UN Fertility Map


Three decades ago, family planning and reproductive health was virtually unknown in many less developed countries. Some "modern" contraceptive methods such as the pill, were only beginning to be accepted in Europe and North America. Today, family planning is widely used in diverse settings of less developed countries, in societies undergoing rapid economic development, as well as in the poorest rural areas. Many less developed countries lowered their birth rates in mere decades--much faster than any of the industrialized countries.

Population Stabilization rests upon the sweeping assumption that Family Planning will continue to spread in less developed countries.

It took a record low 13 years from 1987 to 2000 to grow from 5 billion to 6 billion. It could take even less time to grow to 7 billion. How could this be with the expansion of family planning programs?

Part of the answer lies in the age structure of the population. Past levels of high fertility have resulted in record high numbers of children in the youngest age range. When all these children reach childbearing age, even if they have fewer children than previous generations, population will still continue to grow. Total births will continue to exceed total deaths as these youth become parents.

The next century may well produce the ultimate size of world population. Global population growth could continue to slow, resulting in a stable but much larger number than today's 6 billion.

Population stabilization rests upon the sweeping assumption that Family Planning will continue to spread in less developed countries.

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