Magazine article The Futurist

Population Growth Has Big Uncertainties: High Birth Rates in Developing Countries Are Still Causing Concern

Magazine article The Futurist

Population Growth Has Big Uncertainties: High Birth Rates in Developing Countries Are Still Causing Concern

Article excerpt

Birth rates have fallen globally in the past 20 years, and most projections assume they will continue falling. However, demographers are still concerned that birth rates may not fall far enough and fast enough to prevent massive population growth over the next century, especially in the poorest developing nations.

In 1997, the world's developing countries accounted for 98% of the global population increase. In sub-Saharan Africa, women averaged about six births during their lifetimes, according to the 1997 World Population Data Sheet published by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C. While it is expected that these birth rates will decrease, it is difficult to predict just when or how fast that may happen.

Demographers have good information about the current situation, much better than they did 20 years ago, says Carl Haub, co-author of the data sheet. Demographers can confidently predict that world population will total 6.1 billion by century's end. All longer-range projections assume that birth rates will decline and that virtually all growth will take place in developing countries.

Most projections assume that birth rates will come down in these poorer countries as they develop, simply because, historically, these rates fell as today's developed countries industrialized and urbanized. The key uncertainty, according to Haub, is how quickly the birth rates will fall - how far and how fast.

The projections used most often are from the United Nations, which produces medium, high, and low projections, based on different variables and situations. The media and the public largely ignore both extremes and pick the middle of the road, Haub explains.

The developing countries now have about 4.7 billion people, and, in the medium projections, will have over 10 billion by 2100. That assumes that all countries in the developing world will average two children per woman no later than 2040-2045. The countries where that is expected to happen last are in Africa; in other countries it will happen sooner.

In a "high" projection, the birth rate comes down, but to a somewhat higher level. If it stabilizes at 2.5 per woman, for example, then developing countries could reach 25 billion people. That level of population may not really be sustainable, according to Haub, but it's possible mathematically. …

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