World population to reach 8 billion this year - UN

Still, the UN warns that populations are decreasing worldwide • by 2050, senior citizens will outnumber children for the first time in world history • Guterres: "our world is in peril"

 PEOPLE SUNBATHE on the beach in the Italian town of Stintino, at the tip of Sardinia, Italy. The island is one of the Blue Zones, where a large segment of the population lives beyond 100. (photo credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)
PEOPLE SUNBATHE on the beach in the Italian town of Stintino, at the tip of Sardinia, Italy. The island is one of the Blue Zones, where a large segment of the population lives beyond 100.
(photo credit: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

A new UN report published on Monday found that the world’s population is set to surpass eight billion people by the end of 2022. 

The “World Population Prospects 2022” is this year’s UN report regarding global population trends, the latest rendition since the world body issued the previous report in 2019. The report further found that India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2023 and that birth rates have slowed to the lowest level observed since 1950.

"This is an occasion to celebrate our diversity, recognize our common humanity, and marvel at advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"The cumulative effect of lower fertility, if maintained over several decades, could be a more substantial deceleration of global population growth in the second half of the century."

John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)

Birth rates in the 21st Century

While the world's population will reach eight billion after exceeding seven billion 11 years ago in 2011, the UN did highlight that in 61 countries or areas, the population is actually expected to decrease by at least one percent over the next three decades.

 People crowd into 7th Avenue at 42nd street in Manhattan in 2015.  (credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR) People crowd into 7th Avenue at 42nd street in Manhattan in 2015. (credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)

For instance, the report found that two-thirds of the global population lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman – the level required for zero population growth for a population with a low mortality rate. 

John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), warns that "the cumulative effect of lower fertility, if maintained over several decades, could be a more substantial deceleration of global population growth in the second half of the century."

Changing demographics

Among the 193 UN member-states that comprise the modern world, a mere eight will be responsible for over half of the population growth over the next quarter-century: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Tanzania, Egypt, Ethiopia and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). 

While UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin notes that rapid population growth makes eradicating poverty, malnutrition and other pertinent issues in developing countries more difficult, the rise of the working-age population (25 to 64 years old) in developing nations provides an opportunity for accelerated economic growth per capita.

In the developed world, however, declining birth rates have coincided with rising life expectancy. By the year 2050, the number of persons aged 65 years or older worldwide will be roughly the same as the number under age 12, marking the first time in recorded human history where senior citizens will outnumber children. 

COVID-19’s impact

While much has changed in the world since the UN released its last “Population Prospects” report in 2019, the primary event and catalyst for many of these changes was the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While life expectancy has been rising globally, it actually decreased from 72.9 years in 2019 to 71 in 2021 – a staggering decline directly attributed to the COVID-19 virus. Experts have also concluded that short-term declines in pregnancies and birth rates can also be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We should consider “our shared responsibility to care for our planet and [take] a moment to reflect on where we still fall short of our commitments to one another,” declared Gutteres, saying that “our world is in peril.”