According to the latest estimates by the United Nations, within the next three decades, the world’s population will increase from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion. By the end of the century, it will rise by another 2 billion, although at a slower rate than in the previous two centuries.
The following infographic from The Economist provides a vivid depiction of how this growth is highly uneven, with Africa and Asia accounting for most of it.
Note how the U.S. will be the only developed country among the twelve most populous by 2050, whereas today more than half of the largest countries by population are in the developed world. Africa alone accounts for more than half of this growth, with its population projected to double to 2.5 billion. Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and largest economy, will overtake the U.S. with over 400 million inhabitants, despite being roughly twice the size of California.
China, long the world’s most populous country, will see its aging population peak at 1.4 billion by 2028, with runner-up India surpassing it six years earlier, and growing for another four decades to 1.75 billion before peaking.
This impressive growth is the culmination of developments beginning in the 19th century, when industrialization, agricultural innovation, and improvements in medicine and public health markedly reduced death rates for all age groups, precipitating in explosion in human population that will continue for at least another hundred years. These benefits once applied only to a small number of people in a small number of countries, but over the last few decades even poorer nations have succeeded in bettering the prospects of their citizens, such that nearly every country has seen life expectancy increase to some degree.
With the center of population shifting overwhelmingly to Africa, Asia, and other parts of the developing world, the world order will no doubt be radically changed too. Nations that succeed in making the most of their large and youthful populations — and giving them opportunities to thrive and succeed — will subsequently become more powerful economically and politically. But without political, economic, and technological changes, larger populations can prove burdensome and potentially destabilizing (e.g., what happens when a large segment of your youth population is deprived of resource, economic opportunity, and/or political rights?)
Conversely, most of the developed world will see its population shrink, barring an unusual baby boom or large scale immigration. By 2050, the average European will be in their forties, with a one out of four already over the age of sixty, thereby portending a higher death rate than birth rate. But while Europe, east Asia, and other countries will be hardest hit in this regard, most of the world will similarly experience some degree of population aging and fertility decline; the median age of the global population will rise from thirty today, to thirty-six by 2050.
Combined with other projections showing most of the world’s largest economies will be in the developing world, and it is very likely that the world order will become dramatically overturned in a relative blink of an eye.