World population

In demographics, the world population is the total number of humans currently living. The world population was estimated to have reached 7,500,000,000 at 16:21(UTC) on April 24, 2017. The United Nations estimates it will further increase to 11.2 billion in the year 2100.

World population has experienced continuous growth since the end of the Great Famine of 1315–17 and the Black Death in 1350, when it was near 370 million. The highest population growth rates – global population increases above 1.8% per year – occurred between 1955-1975 peaking to 2.06% between 1965-1970. The growth rate has declined to 1.18% between 2010-2015 and is projected to decline to 0.13% by the year 2100. Total annual births were highest in the late 1980s at about 139 million, and are now expected to remain essentially constant at their 2011 level of 135 million, while deaths number 56 million per year and are expected to increase to 80 million per year by 2040. World population reached 7 billion on October 31, 2011 according to the United Nations Population Fund, and on March 12, 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau.

The median age of the world's population was estimated to be 30.1 years in 2016, with the male median age estimated to be 29.4 years and female, 30.9 years.

The 2012 UN projections show a continued increase in population in the near future with a steady decline in population growth rate; the global population is expected to reach between 8.3 and 10.9 billion by 2050. 2003 UN Population Division population projections for the year 2150 range between 3.2 and 24.8 billion. One of many independent mathematical models supports the lower estimate, while a 2014 estimate forecasts between 9.3 and 12.6 billion in 2100, and continued growth thereafter. Some analysts have questioned the sustainability of further world population growth, highlighting the growing pressures on the environment, global food supplies, and energy resources.

Estimates on the total number of humans who have ever lived range in the order of 106 to 108 billion.

World population v3.svg
World population estimates from 1800 to 2100, based on "high", "medium" and "low" United Nations projections in 2015 and UN historical estimates for pre-1950 data
Population Growth by World Bank continental division.png
Population growth graph generated with data supplied by World Bank, via Google

Population by region

Six of the Earth's seven continents are permanently inhabited on a large scale. Asia is the most populous continent, with its 4.3 billion inhabitants accounting for 60% of the world population. The world's two most populated countries alone, China and India, together constitute about 37% of the world's population. Africa is the second most populated continent, with around 1 billion people, or 15% of the world's population. Europe's 733 million people make up 12% of the world's population as of 2012, while the Latin American and Caribbean regions are home to around 600 million (9%). Northern America, primarily consisting of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, has a population of around 352 million (5%), and Oceania, the least-populated region, has about 35 million inhabitants (0.5%). Though it is not permanently inhabited by any fixed population, Antarctica has a small, fluctuating international population, based mainly in polar science stations. This population tends to rise in the summer months and decrease significantly in winter, as visiting researchers return to their home countries.

Population by continent

Population by continent (2016 estimates)
Continent Density
(inhabitants/km2)
Population
(millions)
Most populous country Most populous city (metropolitan area)
Asia 96.4 4,436 1,382,300,000 -  China 35,676,000/13,634,685 - Japan Greater Tokyo Area/Tokyo Metropolis
Africa 36.7 1,216 0186,987,000 -  Nigeria 21,000,000 - Nigeria Lagos
Europe 72.9 738 0143,439,000 -  Russia;
approx. 110 million in Europe)
19,468,664 - Russia Moscow
North America 22.9 579 0324,991,600 -  United States 21,163,226/08,851,080 - Mexico Metro Area/Mexico City
South America 22.8 422 0209,567,000 -  Brazil 27,640,577/11,316,149 - Brazil Metro Area/São Paulo City
Oceania 4.5 39.9 0024,458,800 -  Australia 05,005,400 - Australia Sydney
Antarctica 0.0003
(varies)
0.004 in summer
(non-permanent, varies)
N/A 0000001,200 (non-permanent, varies) - McMurdo Station

History

Estimates of world population by their nature are an aspect of modernity, possible only since the Age of Discovery. Early estimates for the population of the world date to the 17th century: William Petty in 1682 estimated world population at 320 million (modern estimates ranging close to twice this number); by the late 18th century, estimates ranged close to one billion (consistent with modern estimates). More refined estimates, broken down by continents, were published in the first half of the 19th century, at 600 to 1000 million in the early 1800s and at 800 to 1000 million in the 1840s.

Antiquity and Middle Ages

Estimates of the population of the world at the time agriculture emerged in around 10,000 BCE have ranged between 1 million and 15 million. Even earlier, genetic evidence suggests humans may have gone through a population bottleneck of between 1,000 and 10,000 people about 70,000 BCE, according to the Toba catastrophe theory. By contrast, it is estimated that around 50–60 million people lived in the combined eastern and western Roman Empire in the 4th century CE.

The Plague of Justinian, which first emerged during the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, caused Europe's population to drop by around 50% between the 6th and 8th centuries CE. The population of Europe was more than 70 million in 1340. The Black Death pandemic of the 14th century may have reduced the world's population from an estimated 450 million in 1340 to between 350 and 375 million in 1400; it took 200 years for population figures to recover. The population of China decreased from 123 million in 1200 to 65 million in 1393, presumably due to a combination of Mongol invasions, famine, and plague.

Starting in 2 AD, the Han Dynasty of ancient China kept consistent family registers in order to properly assess the poll taxes and labor service duties of each household. In the year 2 AD the population of Western Han was recorded as 57,671,400 individuals in 12,366,470 households, decreasing to 47,566,772 individuals in 9,348,227 households by 146 AD, towards the End of the Han Dynasty. At the founding of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, China's population was reported to be close to 60 million; toward the end of the dynasty in 1644, it may have approached 150 million. England's population reached an estimated 5.6 million in 1650, up from an estimated 2.6 million in 1500. New crops that were brought to Asia and Europe from the Americas by Portuguese and Spanish colonists in the 16th century are believed to have contributed to population growth. Since their introduction to Africa by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, maize and cassava have similarly replaced traditional African crops as the most important staple food crops grown on the continent.

Around 300 BCE, the population of India was between 100 million and 140 million. The population of India in 1600 was around 100 million. Hence, from 300 BCE to 1600 CE India's population was more or less stable.

The pre-Columbian North American population probably numbered somewhere between 2 million and 18 million. Encounters between European explorers and populations in the rest of the world often introduced local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. According to the most extreme scholarly claims, as many as 90% of the Native American population of the New World died due to Old World diseases such as smallpox, measles and influenza. Over the centuries, the Europeans had developed high degrees of immunity to these diseases, while the indigenous peoples had no such immunity.

Modern era

2006megacities.svg
Map showing urban areas with at least one million inhabitants in 2006. Only 3% of the world's population lived in cities in 1800; this proportion had risen to 47% by 2000, and reached 50.5% by 2010. By 2050, the proportion may reach 70%.

During the European Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, the life expectancy of children increased dramatically. The percentage of the children born in London who died before the age of five decreased from 74.5% in 1730–1749 to 31.8% in 1810–1829. Between 1700 and 1900, Europe’s population increased from about 100 million to over 400 million. Altogether, the areas populated by people of European descent comprised 36% of the world's population in 1900.

Population growth in the West became more rapid after the introduction of vaccination and other improvements in medicine and sanitation. Improved material conditions led to the population of Britain increasing from 10 million to 40 million in the 19th century. The population of the United Kingdom reached 60 million in 2006. The United States saw its population grow from around 5.3 million in 1800 to 106 million in 1920, exceeding 307 million in 2010.

The first half of the 20th century in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union was marked by a succession of major wars, famines and other disasters which caused large-scale population losses (approximately 60 million excess deaths). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's population declined significantly – from 150 million in 1991 to 143 million in 2012 – but by 2013 this decline appeared to have halted.

Many countries in the developing world have experienced extremely rapid population growth since the early 20th century, due to economic development and improvements in public health. China's population rose from approximately 430 million in 1850 to 580 million in 1953, and now stands at over 1.3 billion. The population of the Indian subcontinent, which was about 125 million in 1750, increased to 389 million in 1941; today, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are collectively home to about 1.63 billion people. Java had about 5 million inhabitants in 1815; its present-day successor, Indonesia, now has a population of over 140 million. Mexico's population grew from 13.6 million in 1900 to about 112 million in 2010. Between the 1920s and 2000s, Kenya's population grew from 2.9 million to 37 million.

Milestones by the billions

World population milestones in billions (USCB estimates)
Population 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Year 1804 1927 1960 1974 1987 1999 2011 2024 2042
Years elapsed –– 123 33 14 13 12 12 13 18

It is estimated that the world population reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It was another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to reach three billion in 1960. Thereafter, the global population reached four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, six billion in 1999 and, according to the United States Census Bureau, seven billion in March 2012. The United Nations, however, estimated that the world population reached seven billion in October 2011.

According to current projections, the global population will reach eight billion by 2024, and will likely reach around nine billion by 2042. Alternative scenarios for 2050 range from a low of 7.4 billion to a high of more than 10.6 billion. Projected figures vary depending on underlying statistical assumptions and the variables used in projection calculations, especially the fertility variable. Long-range predictions to 2150 range from a population decline to 3.2 billion in the "low scenario", to "high scenarios" of 24.8 billion. One extreme scenario predicted a massive increase to 256 billion by 2150, assuming the global fertility rate remained at its 1995 level of 3.04 children per woman; however, by 2010 the global fertility rate had declined to 2.52.

There is no estimation for the exact day or month the world's population surpassed one or two billion. The points at which it reached three and four billion were not officially noted, but the International Database of the United States Census Bureau placed them in July 1959 and April 1974 respectively. The United Nations did determine, and celebrate, the "Day of 5 Billion" on July 11, 1987, and the "Day of 6 Billion" on October 12, 1999. The Population Division of the United Nations declared the "Day of 7 Billion" to be October 31, 2011.

Global demographics

Esperanza de vida.PNG
2012 map showing average life expectancy by country in years. In 2012, the World Health Organization estimated the average global life expectancy as 70.5 years.
  80+
  77.5+
  75+
  72.5+
  70+
  67.5+
  65+
  60+
  55+
  50+
  45+
  40+
  less than 40

As of 2012, the global sex ratio is approximately 1.01 males to 1 female. The greater number of men is possibly due to the significant gender imbalances evident in the Indian and Chinese populations. Approximately 26.3% of the global population is aged under 15, while 65.9% is aged 15–64 and 7.9% is aged 65 or over. The median age of the world's population was estimated to be 29.7 years in 2014, and is expected to rise to 37.9 years by 2050.

According to the World Health Organization, the global average life expectancy is 70.5 years as of 2012, with women living an average of 73 years and men approximately 68 years. In 2010, the global fertility rate was estimated at 2.52 children per woman. In June 2012, British researchers calculated the total weight of Earth's human population as approximately 287 million tonnes, with the average person weighing around 62 kilograms (137 lb).

The CIA estimated nominal 2013 gross world product at US$74.31 trillion, giving an annual global per capita figure of around US$10,500. Around 1.29 billion people (18.4% of the world population) live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than US$1.25 per day; approximately 870 million people (12.25%) are undernourished. 83% of the world's over-15s are considered literate. In June 2014, there were around 3.03 billion global Internet users, constituting 42.3% of the world population.

The Han Chinese are the world's largest single ethnic group, constituting over 19% of the global population in 2011. The world's most-spoken first languages are Mandarin Chinese (spoken by 12.44% of the world's population), Spanish (4.85%), English (4.83%), Arabic (3.25%) and Hindustani (2.68%). The world's largest religion is Christianity, whose adherents account for 33.35% of the global population; Islam is the second-largest religion, accounting for 22.43%, and Hinduism the third, accounting for 13.78%. In 2005, around 16% of the global population were reported to be non-religious.

Largest populations by country

Countries and Dependencies by Population in 2014.svg
A map of world population in 2014
10 most populous countries
Rank Country / Territory Population Date Approx. % of world
population
Source
1  China 1,383,250,000 May 19, 2017 18.4%
2  India 1,316,090,000 May 19, 2017 17.5%
3  United States 324,992,000 May 19, 2017 4.33%
4  Indonesia 261,600,000 October 31, 2016 3.49%
5  Brazil 207,514,000 May 19, 2017 2.76%
6  Pakistan 196,482,000 May 19, 2017 2.62%
7  Nigeria 188,500,000 October 31, 2016 2.51%
8  Bangladesh 162,470,000 May 19, 2017 2.16%
9  Russia 146,400,000 October 31, 2016 1.95%
10  Mexico 129,100,000 October 31, 2016 1.69%

Approximately 4.3 billion people live in these ten countries, representing around 58% of the world's population as of March 2016. Approximately 3.7 billion people, or half of the world population, live in the six most populous countries.

Most densely populated countries

The tables below list the world's most densely populated countries, both in absolute terms and in comparison to their total populations.

World population density 1994.png
Population density (people per km2) map of the world in 1994. Red and pink areas denote regions of highest population density.
10 most densely populated countries (with population above 5 million)
Rank Country Population Area (km2) Density
(Pop. per km2)
1  Singapore 5,535,000 710 7,796
2  Bangladesh 162,470,000 143,998 1,128
3  Taiwan 23,519,518 36,190 650
4  South Korea 50,801,405 99,538 510
5  Lebanon 5,988,000 10,452 573
6  Rwanda 11,553,188 26,338 439
7  Burundi 11,552,561 27,816 415
8  Netherlands 17,120,000 41,526 412
9  Haiti 11,078,033 27,065 409
10  India 1,316,090,000 3,287,240 400
Countries ranking highly in both total population (more than 20 million people) and population density (more than 240 people per square kilometer):
Rank Country Population Area (km2) Density
(Pop. per km2)
Notes
1  India 1,316,090,000 3,287,240 400 Growing population
2  Pakistan 196,480,000 803,940 244 Growing population
3  Bangladesh 162,470,000 143,998 1,128 Growing population
4  Japan 127,000,000 377,873 336 Declining population
5  Philippines 104,050,000 300,000 347 Growing population
6  Vietnam 92,700,000 331,689 279 Growing population
7  United Kingdom 65,110,000 243,610 267 Slowly growing population
8  South Korea 50,801,405 99,538 510 Slowly growing population
9  Taiwan 23,519,518 36,190 650 Steady population
10  Sri Lanka 21,203,000 65,610 323 Slowly growing population

Fluctuation

World population (UN).svg
Estimates of population evolution in different continents between 1950 and 2050, according to the United Nations. The vertical axis is logarithmic and is in millions of people.

Population size fluctuates at differing rates in differing regions. Nonetheless, population growth is the long-standing trend on all inhabited continents, as well as in most individual states. During the 20th century, the global population saw its greatest increase in known history, rising from about 1.6 billion in 1900 to over 6 billion in 2000. A number of factors contributed to this increase, including the lessening of the mortality rate in many countries by improved sanitation and medical advances, and a massive increase in agricultural productivity attributed to the Green Revolution.

In 2000, the United Nations estimated that the world's population was growing at an annual rate of 1.14% (equivalent to around 75 million people), down from a peak of 88 million per year in 1989. By 2000, there were approximately ten times as many people on Earth as there had been in 1700. Globally, the population growth rate has been steadily declining from its peak of 2.19% in 1963, but growth remains high in Latin America, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Countriesbyfertilityrate.svg
A world map showing global variations in fertility rate per woman, according to the CIA World Factbook's 2015 data.

During the 2010s, Japan and some countries in Europe began to encounter negative population growth (i.e. a net decrease in population over time), due to sub-replacement fertility rates.

In 2006, the United Nations stated that the rate of population growth was visibly diminishing due to the ongoing global demographic transition. If this trend continues, the rate of growth may diminish to zero by 2050, concurrent with a world population plateau of 9.2 billion. However, this is only one of many estimates published by the UN; in 2009, UN population projections for 2050 ranged between around 8 billion and 10.5 billion. An alternative scenario is given by the statistician Jorgen Randers, who argues that traditional projections insufficiently take into account the downward impact of global urbanization on fertility. Randers' "most likely scenario" reveals a peak in the world population in the early 2040s at about 8.1 billion people, followed by decline. Adrian Raftery, a University of Washington professor of statistics and of sociology, states that "there’s a 70 percent probability the world population will not stabilize this century. Population, which had sort of fallen off the world’s agenda, remains a very important issue."

Population curve.svg

Estimated world population figures, 10,000 BCE–2000 CE

World population growth (lin-log scale).png

Estimated world population figures, 10,000 BC–2000 CE (in log y scale)

World population history.svg

World population figures, 1950–2000

World population growth rate 1950%E2%80%932050.svg

Estimated global growth rates, 1950–2050

UN DESA continent population 1950 to 2100.svg

Estimated and projected populations of the world and its continents (except Antarctica) from 1950 to 2100. The shaded regions correspond to the range of projections by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Population growth by region

The table below shows historical and predicted regional population figures in millions. The availability of historical population figures varies by region.

World historical and predicted populations (in millions)
Region 1500 1600 1700 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 1999 2008 2010 2012 2050 2150
World 585 660 710 791 978 1,262 1,650 2,521 6,008 6,707 6,896 7,052 9,725 9,746
Africa 86 114 106 106 107 111 133 221 783 973 1,022 1,052 2,478 2,308
Asia 282 350 411 502 635 809 947 1,402 3,700 4,054 4,164 4,250 5,267 5,561
Europe 168 170 178 190 203 276 408 547 675 732 738 740 734 517
Latin America 40 20 10 16 24 38 74 167 508 577 590 603 784 912
North America 6 3 2 2 7 26 82 172 312 337 345 351 433 398
Oceania 3 3 3 2 2 2 6 13 30 34 37 38 57 51
World historical and predicted populations by percentage distribution
Region 1500 1600 1700 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 1999 2008 2010 2012 2050 2150
World 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Africa 14.7 17.3 14.9 13.4 10.9 8.8 8.1 8.8 13.0 14.5 14.8 15.2 25.48 23.7
Asia 48.2 53.0 57.9 63.5 64.9 64.1 57.4 55.6 61.6 60.4 60.4 60.3 54.16 57.1
Europe 28.7 25.8 25.1 20.6 20.8 21.9 24.7 21.7 11.2 10.9 10.7 10.5 7.55 5.3
Latin America 6.8 3.0 1.4 2.0 2.5 3.0 4.5 6.6 8.5 8.6 8.6 8.6 8.06 9.4
North America 1.0 0.5 0.3 0.3 0.7 2.1 5.0 6.8 5.2 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.45 4.1
Oceania 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.59 0.5

Past population

The following table gives estimates of population in the past. The data for 1750 to 1900 are from the UN report "The World at Six Billion" whereas the data from 1950 to 2015 are from a UN data sheet.

Year World Africa Asia Europe Latin America & Carib. North America Oceania Notes
70,000 BCE < 0.015
10,000 BCE 4
8000 BCE 5
6500 BCE 5
5000 BCE 5
4000 BCE 7
3000 BCE 14
2000 BCE 27
1000 BCE 50 7 33 9
500 BCE 100 14 66 16
CE 1 200 23 141 28
1000 400 70 269 50 8 1 2
1500 458 86 243 84 39 3 3
1600 580 114 339 111 10 3 3
1700 682 106 436 125 10 2 3
1750 791 106 502 163 16 2 2
1800 1,000 107 656 203 24 7 3
1850 1,262 111 809 276 38 26 2
1900 1,650 133 947 408 74 82 6
1950 2,525 229 1,394 549 169 172 12.7
1955 2,758 254 1,534 577 193 187 14.2
1960 3,018 285 1,687 606 221 204 15.8
1965 3,322 322 1,875 635 254 219 17.5
1970 3,682 366 2,120 657 288 231 19.7
1975 4,061 416 2,378 677 326 242 21.5
1980 4,440 478 2,626 694 365 254 23.0
1985 4,853 550 2,897 708 406 267 24.9
1990 5,310 632 3,202 721 447 281 27.0
1995 5,735 720 3,475 728 487 296 29.1
2000 6,127 814 3,714 726 527 314 31.1
2005 6,520 920 3,945 729 564 329 33.4
2010 6,930 1,044 4,170 735 600 344 36.4
2015 7,349 1,186 4,393 738 634 358 39.3

Using the above figures, the change in population from 2010 to 2015 was:

  • World: +420 million
  • Africa: +142 million
  • Asia: +223 million
  • Europe: +3 million
  • Latin America and Caribbean: +35 million
  • Northern America: +14 million
  • Oceania: +2.9 million

Projections

Long-term global population growth is difficult to predict. The United Nations and the US Census Bureau both give different estimates – according to the UN, the world population reached seven billion in late 2011, while the USCB asserted that this occurred in March 2012. The UN has issued multiple projections of future world population, based on different assumptions. From 2000 to 2005, the UN consistently revised these projections downward, until the 2006 revision, issued on March 14, 2007, revised the 2050 mid-range estimate upwards by 273 million.

Average global birth rates are declining fast, but vary greatly between developed countries (where birth rates are often at or below replacement levels) and developing countries (where birth rates typically remain high). Different ethnicities also display varying birth rates. Death rates can change rapidly due to disease epidemics, wars and other mass catastrophes, or advances in medicine.

UN (medium variant – 2012 revision) and US Census Bureau (June 2015) estimates
Year UN est.
(millions)
Difference USCB est.
(millions)
Difference
2005 6,514 6,473
2010 6,916 402 6,866 393
2015 7,324 408 7,256 390
2020 7,717 393 7,643 380
2025 8,083 366 8,007 363
2030 8,425 342 8,341 334
2035 8,743 318 8,646 306
2040 9,039 296 8,926 280
2045 9,308 269 9,180 254
2050 9,551 243 9,408 228
UN 2012 estimates and medium variant projections (in millions)
Year World Asia Africa Europe Latin America/Caribbean Northern America Oceania
2010 6,916 4,165 (60.2%) 1,031 (14.9%) 740 (10.7%) 596 (8.6%) 347 (5.0%) 37 (0.5%)
2015 7,324 4,385 (59.9%) 1,166 (15.9%) 743 (10.1%) 630 (8.6%) 361 (4.9%) 39 (0.5%)
2020 7,717 4,582 (59.4%) 1,312 (17.0%) 744 (9.6%) 662 (8.6%) 376 (4.9%) 42 (0.5%)
2025 8,083 4,749 (58.8%) 1,468 (18.2%) 741 (9.2%) 691 (8.5%) 390 (4.8%) 45 (0.6%)
2030 8,425 4,887 (58.0%) 1,634 (19.4%) 736 (8.7%) 717 (8.5%) 403 (4.8%) 47 (0.6%)
2035 8,743 4,997 (57.2%) 1,812 (20.7%) 730 (8.3%) 739 (8.5%) 415 (4.8%) 50 (0.6%)
2040 9,039 5,080 (56.2%) 1,999 (22.1%) 724 (8.0%) 757 (8.4%) 426 (4.8%) 52 (0.6%)
2045 9,308 5,136 (55.2%) 2,194 (23.6%) 717 (7.7%) 771 (8.3%) 436 (4.7%) 55 (0.6%)
2050 9,551 5,164 (54.1%) 2,393 (25.1%) 709 (7.4%) 782 (8.2%) 446 (4.7%) 57 (0.6%)
2055 9,766 5,168 (52.9%) 2,595 (26.6%) 700 (7.2%) 788 (8.1%) 456 (4.7%) 59 (0.6%)
2060 9,957 5,152 (51.7%) 2,797 (28.1%) 691 (6.9%) 791 (7.9%) 465 (4.7%) 61 (0.6%)
2065 10,127 5,120 (50.6%) 2,998 (29.6%) 681 (6.7%) 791 (7.8%) 474 (4.7%) 63 (0.6%)
2070 10,277 5,075 (49.4%) 3,195 (31.1%) 673 (6.5%) 788 (7.6%) 482 (4.7%) 64 (0.6%)
2075 10,409 5,019 (48.2%) 3,387 (32.5%) 665 (6.4%) 783 (7.5%) 490 (4.7%) 66 (0.6%)
2080 10,524 4,957 (47.1%) 3,570 (33.9%) 659 (6.3%) 776 (7.4%) 496 (4.7%) 67 (0.6%)
2085 10,626 4,894 (46.1%) 3,742 (35.2%) 653 (6.1%) 767 (7.2%) 502 (4.7%) 68 (0.6%)
2090 10,717 4,833 (45.1%) 3,903 (36.4%) 649 (6.1%) 757 (7.1%) 506 (4.7%) 69 (0.6%)
2095 10,794 4,773 (44.2%) 4,051 (37.6%) 644 (6.0%) 747 (6.9%) 510 (4.7%) 69 (0.6%)
2100 10,854 4,712 (43.4%) 4,185 (38.6%) 639 (5.9%) 736 (6.8%) 513 (4.7%) 70 (0.6%)

Mathematical approximations

In 1975, Sebastian von Hoerner proposed a formula for population growth which represented hyperbolic growth with an infinite population in 2025. The hyperbolic growth of the world population observed until the 1970s was later correlated to a non-linear second order positive feedback between demographic growth and technological development. This feedback can be described as follows: technological advance → increase in the carrying capacity of land for people → demographic growth → more people → more potential inventors → acceleration of technological advance → accelerating growth of the carrying capacity → faster population growth → accelerating growth of the number of potential inventors → faster technological advance → hence, the faster growth of the Earth's carrying capacity for people, and so on. The transition from hyperbolic growth to slower rates of growth is related to the demographic transition.

According to the Russian demographer Sergey Kapitsa, the world population grew between 67,000 BCE and 1965 according to the following formula:

where

  • N is current population
  • T is the current year
  • C = (1.86±0.01)·1011
  • T0 = 2007±1
  • = 42±1

Years for world population to double

According to linear interpolation and extrapolation of UNDESA population estimates, the world population has doubled, or will double, in the years listed in the tables below (with two different starting points). During the 2nd millennium CE, each doubling took roughly half as long as the previous doubling, fitting the hyperbolic growth model mentioned above. However, after 2024, it is unlikely that there will be another doubling of the global population in the 21st century.

Population-doubling.svg
Historic chart showing the periods of time the world population has taken to double, from 1700 to 2000
Starting at 500 million
Population
(in billions)
0.5 1 2 4 8
Year 1500 1804 1927 1974 2024
Years elapsed 304 123 47 50
Starting at 375 million
Population
(in billions)
0.375 0.75 1.5 3 6
Year 1171 1715 1881 1960 1999
Years elapsed 544 166 79 39

Overpopulation

Predictions of scarcity

Los Angeles Aerial view 2013.jpg
Greater Los Angeles lies on a coastal mediterranean savannah with a small watershed that is able to support at most one million people on its own water; as of 2015, the area has a population of over 18 million. Researchers predict that similar cases of resource scarcity will grow more common as the world population increases.

In his 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population, the British scholar Thomas Malthus incorrectly predicted that continued population growth would exhaust the global food supply by the mid-19th century. Malthus wrote the essay to refute what he considered the unattainable utopian ideas of William Godwin and Marquis de Condorcet, as presented in Political Justice and The Future Progress of the Human Mind. In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich reprised Malthus' argument in The Population Bomb, predicting that mass global famine would occur in the 1970s and 1980s.

The predictions of Ehrlich and other neo-Malthusians were vigorously challenged by a number of economists, notably Julian Lincoln Simon, and advances in agriculture, collectively known as the Green Revolution, forestalled any potential global famine in the late 20th century. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the world, grain production increased by over 250%. The world population has grown by over four billion since the beginning of the Green Revolution, but food production has so far kept pace with population growth. Most scholars believe that, without the Revolution, there would be greater levels of famine and malnutrition than the UN presently documents. However, neo-Malthusians point out that fossil fuels provided the energy for the Green Revolution, in the form of natural gas-derived fertilizers, oil-derived pesticides, and hydrocarbon-fueled irrigation, and that many crops have become so genetically uniform that a crop failure in any one country could potentially have global repercussions.

In 2004, a meta-analysis of 70 quantitative studies estimating a sustainable limit to the world population generated a meta-estimate of 7.7 billion people.

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Graph of the global human population from 10,000 BCE to 2000 CE, from the US Census Bureau. The graph shows the extremely rapid growth in the world population that has taken place since the 18th century.
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The human population has been growing rapidly since the mid-1800s.

In May 2008, the price of grain was pushed up severely by the increased cultivation of biofuels, the increase of world oil prices to over $140 per barrel ($880/m3), global population growth, the effects of climate change, the loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development, and growing consumer demand in the population centres of China and India. Food riots subsequently occurred in some countries. However, oil prices then fell sharply. Resource demands are expected to ease as population growth declines, but it is unclear whether mass food wastage and rising living standards in developing countries will once again create resource shortages.

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, estimates that the sustainable agricultural carrying capacity for the United States is about 200 million people; its population as of 2015 is over 300 million. In 2009, the UK government's chief scientific advisor, Professor John Beddington, warned that growing populations, falling energy reserves and food shortages would create a "perfect storm" of shortages of food, water, and energy by 2030. According to a 2009 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people.

The observed figures for 2007 showed an actual increase in absolute numbers of undernourished people in the world, with 923 million undernourished in 2007, versus 832 million in 1995. The 2009 FAO estimates showed an even more dramatic increase, to 1.02 billion.

Environmental impacts

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Illegal slash-and-burn agriculture in Madagascar, 2010

A number of scientists have argued that the current global population expansion and accompanying increase in resource consumption threatens the world's ecosystem. The InterAcademy Panel Statement on Population Growth, which was ratified by 58 member national academies in 1994, states that "unprecedented" population growth aggravates many environmental problems, including rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming, and pollution. Indeed, some analysts claim that overpopulation's most serious impact is its effect on the environment. The situation has continued to worsen, as at the time of the 1994 IAP statement, the world population stood at 5.5 billion and lower-bound scenarios predicted a peak of 7.8 billion by 2050, a number that current estimates state will be reached in the late 2020s.

Scientists contend that human population growth is a primary driver of mass species extinction. By 2050 population growth, along with profligate consumption, could result in oceans containing more plastic than fish by weight.

Population control

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India is anticipated to overtake China as the world's most populous country by 2022.

Human population control is the practice of intervening to alter the rate of population growth. Historically, human population control has been implemented by limiting a region's birth rate, by voluntary contraception or by government mandate. It has been undertaken as a response to factors including high or increasing levels of poverty, environmental concerns, and religious reasons. The use of abortion in some population control strategies has caused controversy, with religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church explicitly opposing any intervention in the human reproductive process.

The University of Nebraska publication Green Illusions argues that population control to alleviate environmental pressures need not be coercive. It states that "Women who are educated, economically engaged, and in control of their own bodies can enjoy the freedom of bearing children at their own pace, which happens to be a rate that is appropriate for the aggregate ecological endowment of our planet." The book Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly similarly points to the importance of supporting the rights of women in bringing population levels down over time.

Overpopulation skepticism

The Population Research Institute (PRI), an anti-abortion, anti-contraception advocacy group, has criticised predictions of overpopulation and attendant resource scarcity, with some describing overpopulation as a "myth". The PRI argues that advances in agricultural, medical, and industrial technology have allowed global economic productivity to keep pace with rising populations despite Malthusian predictions to the contrary. PRI further says that family sizes are naturally declining worldwide due to higher living standards, increased availability of contraception and better economic opportunities for women. However, other commentators have described PRI's arguments on overpopulation as deceptive.

Number of humans who have ever lived

Estimates of the total number of humans who have ever lived range in the order of 100 billion. Estimates of this kind cannot hope to give more than the rough order of magnitude, as even modern population estimates are fraught with uncertainties of the order of 3% to 5%. Kapitzka (1996) cites estimates ranging between 80 and 150 billion. Haub (1995) prepared another figure, updated in 2002 and 2011; the 2011 figure was approximately 107 billion. Haub characterized this figure as an estimate that required "selecting population sizes for different points from antiquity to the present and applying assumed birth rates to each period".

One problem is in regard to the semantic difficulty of deciding the precise meaning of "human". A population of, say, 4 million, with an average lifespan of, say, 10 years (see below), implies a birthrate of 0.4 million per year, which over a period of 100 000 years represents 40 000 million people. Also, robust population data only exists for the last two or three centuries. Until the late 18th century, few governments had ever performed an accurate census. In many early attempts, such as in Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire, the focus was on counting merely a subset of the population for purposes of taxation or military service. Thus, there is a significant margin of error when estimating ancient global populations.

Another critical factor for such an estimate is the question of pre-modern infant mortality rates; these figures are very difficult to estimate for ancient times due to a lack of accurate records. Haub (1995) estimates that around 40% of those who have ever lived did not survive beyond their first birthday. Haub also stated that "life expectancy at birth probably averaged only about ten years for most of human history".

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