On June 17, the UN released its 26th edition of its World Population Prospects, reporting global population estimates and projections. It includes estimates from 1950 to the present for 235 countries or areas. The report concentrates on two (population growth and ageing) of the four demographic ‘megatrends’—population growth, population ageing, migration and urbanization. In addition, it examines human fertility, mortality, and net international migration.
According to the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights,” the current world population is 7.7 billion. It is estimated that by 2030 there will be 8.5 billion people on earth, and by 2050, 9.7 billion people, the population possibly reaching its peak at 11 billion in 2100. More than half of the predicted population growth between 2019 and 2050 will be from nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt, and the United States of America (in descending order of the expected increase.) According to the report, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2027.
However, there are still several countries that are experiencing a reduction in population. As stated in the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights,” “since 2010, 27 countries or areas have experienced a reduction in their populations by one percent or more because of low levels of fertility or high rates of emigration.”
Furthermore, between 2019 and 2050, a one percent decrease in the population of 55 countries is anticipated. The UN report accounts for these large numbers of migratory movements as “driven by the demand for migrant workers (Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines), or by violence, insecurity and armed conflict (Syria, Venezuela, and Myanmar).”
Although migration accounts for a population decrease in some countries, migration is also a key contributor to major increases in population in other countries. As predicted in the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights,” between 2010 and 2020 “fourteen countries or areas will see a net inflow of more than one million migrants, while ten countries will see a net outflow of more than one million migrants.” Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine are the countries listed in the report that are projected to “experience a net inflow of migrants over the decade, helping to offset population losses caused by an excess of deaths over births.”
However, we found this portion of the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights” on the net inflow of migrants, to be lacking in a substantial projection. In the political climate of today, where manipulating the controversial subject of migration is often used as a tool to garner support, we can question why the Report was only able to predict the net inflow of migrants until 2020, when we are already in 2019, especially when every other section of the report casts a projection well into 2050. Therefore, we asked Mr. John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), during an UN-DESA press conference on the World Population Prospects 2019 at the UN headquarters, if he could elaborate as to why this was so for this particular topic.
We asked why the report talks about 2010 to 2020, when we are already in 2019; that is, it’s practically about the past. We also wanted to know more about the net inflow of migrants over the decade in the countries that had been mentioned, because we were left with the impression that migration was being presented in an unjustified positive light. The central question is about what will happen after 2020, because we know that there are many countries– including those that had actually been mentioned– that have anti-migration policies and that haven’t even signed the Global Compact on Migration. So, although this Report is meant to be merely statistical and not political, we would have liked to have a prediction about the ways, irrespective of political maneuvers and policies, that these countries are going to receive a certain number of migrants. Unfortunately, we did not receive a direct answer from Mr. Wilmoth. (Watch from minute 15:30)
As a result, we followed up with him after the press briefing and asked him once again if he predicted that some countries, for example, Italy and Germany, will continue to augment their population from migrants the same way they did in the last decade, regardless of policies and actions on the part of the governments. To which we received a resounding “Yes.” Mr. Wilmoth went on to explain, “If … in the last two decades, [or] at some average of recent patterns, the recent level of migration into the country, the net migration, the difference between those coming in and those coming out, and we project that into the future and we keep at the same level until 2050, and then we gradually have it decline to zero because we don’t know the long-term future.”
When asked to confirm this conclusion–specifically about countries such as Italy– that wish to avoid such an outcome, Mr. Wilmoth reiterated, “There will continue to be an inflow of migrants similar to what we have observed…”
Another key finding reported in the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights” is that the world is growing older. This is because global life expectancy is on the rise, whereas fertility is falling. According to the report, “Life expectancy at birth for the world, which increased from 64.2 years in 1990 to 72.6 years 2019, is expected to increase further to 77.1 years in 2050.” However, those in the poorest countries were found to live 7 years less than the reported global average due to a variety of reasons, including high child and maternal mortality, violence, conflict, and the continuing HIV epidemic. On the other hand, although fertility rates remain high in some parts of the world, according to the report, “the global fertility rate fell from 3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.5 in 2019 [and] is projected to decline [even] further to 2.2 in 2050.”
As the Report finds that the global population is getting older, it claims that those over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing age group. The report projects that “By 2050, one in six people in the world will be over the age of 65 (16%), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9%).” Furthermore, “by 2050 one in four persons living in Europe and North America could be aged 65 or over.” In addition, for the first time in history, “persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five years in age” in 2018 and there are expected to be twice as many persons over 65 than children under 5 by 2050.
All of this is to say that achieving the SDGs of 2030 will depend on focusing on these statistics of the World Population Prospects. One of the key findings is that the world is growing older. The Report found that the potential support ratio, which compares numbers of working-age people aged 25-64 to those over 65, is falling around the world with Japan at the lowest at 1:8. This information implies that there will be a variety of pressures that many countries will have to face: public systems of health care, pensions, and social protection for the growing population of older people. Is there enough attention being placed on this growing and imminent issue within the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 to prepare for possible ensuing consequences in the future? As is the case for the other major issues discussed at the press briefing and in the Report, there was little clarity provided.