Experts predict 'profound' decline in world population, continuing drop in fertility rate

Rachel Grumman Bender
The global population is projected to decline by the year 2100, which researchers say have "profound" consequences. (Photo: Getty Images)
The global population is projected to decline by the year 2100, which researchers say have "profound" consequences. (Photo: Getty Images)

The global population is projected to decline by the year 2100, which could have “profound economic, social, and geopolitical impacts in many countries,” according to a new study published in the journal, The Lancet.

In the study, researchers forecasted mortality, fertility, migration, and population rates in 195 countries and territories and concluded that the global population is projected to peak at 9.7 billion people by 2064 and then fall to 8.8 billion by 2100 — an estimated 2 billion lower than the United Nations’ June 2019 world population report had forecasted. The researchers also forecast that the populations in 23 countries, including Japan, Thailand, and Spain, will drop by more than 50 percent from 2017 to 2100.

The current global population is 7.8 billion.

The age groups of populations will shift significantly as well — namely, a greater percentage of people older than 65 (2.37 billion people), compared to people younger than 20 (1.7 billion), is projected by 2100.

Although a global population decline is potentially good for the environment, these population shifts can significantly affect a country’s economy. “With all other things being equal, the decline in the numbers of working-aged adults alone will reduce GDP growth rates,” the study authors wrote.

Dr. Michael Cackovic, a maternal fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life: “A population decline ultimately results in an aging population where fewer people are involved in the workforce affecting research and productivity, while possibly placing a strain on other industries like healthcare. This also has repercussions in economic growth.”

The study also predicts a continued drop in fertility rates. By 2100, “projected fertility rates in 183 of 195 countries will not be high enough to maintain current populations,” according to Eurekalert.

Last year’s U.N. report projected that the global fertility rate, which had already fallen to 2.5 births per woman in 2019 (compared to 3.2 births in 1990), will go down even further, to 2.2 births by the year 2050. “A fertility level of 2.1 births per woman is needed to ensure replacement of generations and avoid population decline over the long run in the absence of immigration,” according to the U.N. report.

The study authors attribute the decline in fertility rates to contraceptive use and women’s increased access to education. But they warn against policies to improve population growth that would interfere with women’s reproductive rights and freedom. “A very real danger exists that, in the face of declining population, some states might consider adopting policies that restrict female reproductive health rights and access to services,” the study authors wrote. “Low fertility in these settings might become a major challenge to progress for females' freedom and rights.”

Cackovic says that declining fertility rates aren’t necessarily a bad thing and notes that there are several reasons why people decide to put off having children or choose to have fewer (or no) children: “Falling fertility rates can sometimes be interpreted as a success: more women working and vital to the workforce, greater access to contraception and fewer deaths in childhood resulting in women having fewer babies. Additionally, parents may have a desire to provide the most they can to fewer children with regards to education, housing and other financial support. Other reasons can be lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable or available child care, as well as delaying starting a family.”

The study authors point out that one of the immediate ways to offset population decline and boost economic growth is through immigration. They also mention other ways countries might help, such as by “creating a supportive environment for females to have children and pursue their careers.”

Cackovic adds: “I would like to interpret this phenomenon as a wake-up call to government and society in general for support to women and families. If we do not provide appropriate support, tougher times are ahead.”

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