Where Half the World Lives

With the world’s population now around 7.5 billion, and projected to grow by another 4 billion or so within a century, one could be forgiven for imagining the world as already swelling to the brim with people.

Yet as the following map designed by Max Galka shows, much of the world is fairly empty, and will likely remain so given the pace of urbanization (wherein more people live and work in less land). 


That means roughly 3.75 billion people live in an area constituting just one percent of the world’s total landmass. Continue reading

How the World Will Look in 2050

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. Continue reading

Human Population Through Time

Humans began migrating out of Africa and across the rest of the world about 100,000 years ago. But it was only around 12,000 years ago, with the invention of agriculture, that large and permanent populations began to emerge. Continued improvements in agriculture and medicine, combined with the development industry, had contributed to an exponential expansion of the human race, as the video below by the American Museum of Natural History powerful visualizes:

While the human population is projected to increase to over 11 billion by 2100, the rapid decline in fertility across much of the world (including developing countries) may indicate — for the first time in history — a peaking of the number of humans, and much earlier than expected.

H/T to Aeon.

The World’s Demographic Outlook and The African Century

While the fate and power of most nations is judged usually by military and economic factors, demographics — the size, make up, and growth rate of the population — are of equally vital consideration. A country’s population is its greatest resource — especially when it is well invested in — and military and economic might are best achieved with larger, younger, and more well-educated people.

The United Nations Population Division, a leading source of demographic data from around the world, has released projections of what the world’s population will look like by 2100. Much of the developing world, centered on Sub Saharan Africa, is poised to become one of the leading economic, political, and cultural centers of the world, with young and fast growing populations supporting vibrant economies while the developed world copes with rapidly aging and shrinking populations.

Of course, these are just estimates, and a lot can change in nine decades; moreover, it is not a given the governments and elites of these nations will make the most of their demographic dividend. But the following rundown and analysis, courtesy of The Washington Post, shows what dramatic changes are may be in store for the world order in the coming century.

1. Africa booms, Asia plateaus, and Europe shrinks

It is a good thing Africa is such a large continent, because it total population is expected to more than quadruple within the century. That means “four times the workforce, four times the resource burden, four times as many voters”, to say nothing of the subsequent global clout; long after Asia and Europe peak — the former in fifty years, the latter as we speak — Africa will keep gaining more people for generations. Meanwhile, North and South America will continue to grow at a slow yet sustainable rate.

2. Nigeria Rises

While Africa takes center stage in the world, it is Nigeria in particular that will lead the way. Already the most populous country on the continent by a significant margin, and fifth most in the world, the country will be home to nearly a billion people by the end of the century — all living within an area roughly the size of Texas. This is an incredible, if disconcerting, rate of growth in a country rife with corruption, instability, sectarian conflict, and abject poverty — yet also with tremendous potential, resource wealth, and entrepreneurial spirit. If the government plays it hands right, Nigeria could be the next China — a major player in the global economy with a large and talented workforce, and thus a probable world power.

Speaking of China, the nation of 1.5 billion is in the midst of a demographic crisis, as its population stagnates and ages rapidly, undercutting economic growth while placing a financial burden on the government and its people. And while it will “continue to be an enormous, important and most likely very successful country”, its demographics will place considerable challenges on its aspirations and potential.

As for the other contender for new superpower status, India’s country will continue to grow at a healthy rate until around 2065, by which point it would have long surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. Its population will still be fairly young, and it, too, will have great potential to be a major cultural, economic, and military power, provided it makes the necessary investment in infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Indonesia, presently the world’s fourth largest country by population, will continue to grow moderately, though like Nigeria, it punches below its weight despite its size, and faces similar constraints to its population growth in the form of environmental degradation, corruption, and poor infrastructure.

Finally, the United States will remain an outlier in the developed world by continuing to grow at a steady and sustainable pace, with room to spare. While its challenges are obviously not as vast as those of its developing world counterparts, mounting inequality, political dysfunction, and infrastructural deficiencies will need to be addressed to take advantage of its unique balance of wealth and population vitality.

3. The world economy pivots to Africa

Given the aforementioned population explosion, Africa may continue down the path of Asia, which also came to political and economic prominence amid and because of its young and growing population; indeed, Africa will be almost as big as Asia by the end of a century, catching up with unprecedented speed:

Between 1950 and 2050, Asia’s population will have grown by a factor of 3.7, almost quadrupling in just a hundred years. Africa’s population, over its own century of growth from 2000 to 2100, will grow by a factor of 5.18 – significantly faster than Asia

Pause for a moment to consider Asia’s boom over the last 50 years – the rise of first Japan, then South Korea, now China and maybe next India – and the degree to which it’s already changed the world and will continue to change it. Africa is expected to grow even more than Asia.

Of course, Asia’s progress had as much to do with good governance and prudence resource management than it did with demographic. If African nations can harness their population boom and make the necessary public investment, then the largest and most prominent among them — Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, to name but a few — can be the next Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Otherwise…

If they don’t improve, exploding population growth could only worsen resource competition – and we’re talking here about basics like food, water and electricity – which in turn makes political instability and conflict more likely. The fact that there will be a “youth bulge” of young people makes that instability and conflict more likely.

It’s a big, entirely foreseeable danger. Whether Africa is able to prepare for its coming population boom may well be one of the most important long-term challenges the world faces right now.

4. Not just more people, but more longer-lived people

As a testament to their socioeconomic progress, the average lifespan in both Africa and Asia on both continents is and will continue to grow. By 2100, Africans will be living 50 percent longer, equal to the North American average today, albeit it still lower than the rest of the world will be by the point. Within the century, the average European and North American will be 87.6 and 89 respectively, an amazing achievement that will nonetheless strain social security systems and economies if not properly prepared for. (Cue automation and guaranteed basic income?)

5. Immigration may save the West

Barring an unanticipated baby boom, most of Europe and the West world will face dramatic population decline, as is already occurring in places like Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine (each among the more populous states in the continent). Unless they can incentivize higher birth rates or offer better economic prospects for raising a family, opening their borders to more new citizens will be the only and most immediate way to reverse course; indeed, generous immigration policies are what have kept the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand steadily growing into the future, despite falling fertility rates.

Of course, the high levels of immigration needed to offset the rapid population decline would come with its own risks, namely cultural clashes, the challenge of assimilation, and mounting, potentially violent nativist resentment. In an ideal world, perhaps the surplus of young people in the developing world could be channeled to the shrinking nations of the rich world, who could use more laborers and caregivers. This has already begun to happen to a certain degree, and over time it would mitigate imbalance of the world’s demographics, wherein growth and youth will be concentrated in poorer regions.

The see the rest of the Post’s analysis beyond this broad overview, click here. Otherwise, as usual, please share your thoughts and comments.


African Century

According to the U.N., Africa’s population is projected to quadruple to over 4.4. billion people by 2100. By then, the total number of people in the world is estimated to be around 11 billion, meaning that Africa alone will account for over a third of the global population and almost all of the new population growth over the next century.

As The Economist points out, this staggeringly high growth rate — contrasted with stagnating, if not declining, populations almost everywhere else  — will have tremendous implications for both the continent and the world at large. Continue reading

America’s Changing Demographics

As The Guardian reports, an already-diverse American population is about to become even more pluralistic, as Europe’s historic role as a major source of immigrants shifts to Asia and Latin America.

An increase in Asian and Hispanic immigration … will drive U.S. population growth, with foreign-born residents expected to make up 18% of the country’s projected 441 million people in 50 years, the Pew Research Center said in a report being released on Monday.

This will be a record, higher than the nearly 15% during the late 19th century and early 20th century wave of immigration from Europe.

Today, immigrants make up 14% of the population, an increase from 5% in 1965.

The tipping point is expected to come in 2055, when Asians will become the largest immigrant group at 36%, compared with Hispanics at 34%. White immigrants to America, 80% back in 1965, will hover somewhere between 18% and 20% with black immigrants in the 8%-9% range, the study said.

Currently, 47% of immigrants living in the U.S. are Hispanic, but by 2065 that number will have dropped to 31%. Asians currently make up 26% of the immigrant population but in 50 years that percentage is expected to increase to 38%.

Immigrants from China and India will largely be driving the trend. The news might surprise most Americans given all the attention and concern regarding arrivals from south of the border; but with birth rates and economic prospects alike stabilizing, far fewer Latin Americans will be coming to the U.S. — though Hispanics will still remain the largest minority, owing to higher births within the country, rather than foreign arrivals.  Continue reading

The American Cities With The Most (And Fewest) L.G.B.T. People

The following chart comes from the New York Times, based on Gallup’s latest survey of where L.G.B.T. people live. (Click the image to make it larger.)

Areas With Largest and Smallest LGBT Populations

A summary of the results:

The Gallup analysis finds the largest concentrations in the West — and not just in the expected places like San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Denver and Salt Lake City are also in the top 10. How could Salt Lake be there, given its well-known social conservatism? It seems to be a kind of regional capital of gay life, attracting people from other parts of Utah and the Mormon West.

On the other hand, some of the East Coast places with famous gay neighborhoods, including in New York, Miami and Washington, have a smaller percentage of their population who identify as gay — roughly average for a big metropolitan area. The least gay urban areas are in the Midwest and South.

Significant as these differences are, the similarities are just as notable. Gay America, rather than being confined to a few places, spreads across every major region of the country. Nationwide, Gallup says, 3.6 percent of adults consider themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And even the parts of the country outside the 50 biggest metropolitan areas have a gay population (about 3 percent) not so different from some big metropolitan areas. It’s a reflection in part of increasing tolerance and of social connections made possible by the Internet.

Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup, notes that the regional variation in sexual orientation and identity is much smaller than the variation in many other categories. The share of San Francisco’s population that’s gay is only two and a half times larger than the share outside major metro areas. The regional gaps in political attitudes, religion and ethnic makeup are often much wider.

“For a generation, they all remember the moment they walked through their first gay bar,” said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the G.L.B.T. Historical Society in San Francisco. “But now they come out for the first time online, and that changes, for some people, the need to leave.”

As with any such research, there are also some caveats to keep in mind:

Before this Gallup analysis, the most detailed portrait of gay demography was the Census Bureau estimates of same-sex couples, including an analysis by the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A. Those estimates and Gallup’s new data show broadly similar patterns: Salt Lake City ranks high on both, and San Jose ranks low, for instance. But couples are clearly an imperfect proxy for a total population, which makes these Gallup numbers the most detailed yet to be released.

Gallup previously released estimates for the country as a whole and for each state. The estimates are based on the survey question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?”

As with any survey, the data comes with limitations. Respondents are asked to place themselves in a single category — L.G.B.T. or not — even though some people consider sexuality to be more of a spectrum. The data also does not distinguish between center cities and outlying areas. Manhattan most likely has a larger percentage of gay and lesbian residents than the New York region as a whole.

And the data is affected by the federal government’s definition of metropolitan areas. Earlier, we mentioned that Raleigh’s percentage is low in part because its area does not include Durham and Chapel Hill. Boston’s percentage may be higher because its metropolitan area is relatively small, with fewer outlying areas. On the whole, however, there is no clear relationship between a metropolitan area’s size and the share of its population that’s gay.

What are your thoughts?

The American Values Atlas

Keeping up with politics is tough, especially if you are going state by state. There are a wide range of issues, policies, and social attitudes spanning the nation’s fifty subnational entities, and things are changing all the time.

Thankfully, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has launched the unique American Values Atlas (AVA), an online tool that allows users to navigate the religious, political, and demographic landscape of the United States in real time, as well as Americans’ attitudes toward key issues like immigration same-sex marriage, and abortion. The details even go down to the local level, with most of the major metropolitan areas represented.

Here is a sample of what the AVA looks like:

You can see the breakdown by state (which includes a comparison to the nation as a whole):

Screen Shot 2015 02 23 at 3.14.23 PM 640x358 Introducing the American Values Atlas (AVA)

And can also view the breakdown by individual state:

Screen Shot 2015 02 23 at 3.00.08 PM 640x631 Introducing the American Values Atlas (AVA)

The PRRI explains how it gleaned such meticulous details about the cultural and religious landscape of the U.S.

[The AVA draws] upon data from 50,000 bilingual telephone interviews conducted among a random sample of Americans in 2014. Roughly 1,000 interviews were conducted every week, with 40,000 interviews on political issue areas. Because of the vast amount of data and large sample size, users have the ability to use the AVA’s dynamic online map to explore specific census regions, all 50 states, and 30 major metropolitan areas. The AVA also provides a rare look into smaller religious communities and ethnic groups, such as Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and more.

You can read more about the methodology here.

The AVA will be updated annually with 50,000 fresh interviews to reflect the changes in demographics, culture, social views, and political policy. It is an invaluable resource for policymakers, academics, and anyone else interested in these details.

The End of the Population Pyramid

The issue of overpopulation has been a bugbear of the popular imagination for decades, and remains so especially into the 21st century, when humanity crossed its seven billion mark — unprecedented in both size and scale of growth (consider that while it took millennia for humanity to finally reach a billion only in 1804, it took just another two centuries to hit seven times that number).

Given all that, it is perfectly understandable why people would be concerned about the impact such rapid growth is having on everything from the environment to global food supplies and energy resources (to say nothing of the subsequent social, political, and economic instability that results from such strains).

But as the following video from The Economist shows clearly, the global population — though set to grow by another two billion by 2042 — has already begun slowing down in its rate of expansion.

An excerpt from the original article nicely sums up the visual data:

 The pyramid was characteristic of human populations since the day organised societies emerged. With lifespans short and mortality rates high, children were always the most numerous group, and old people the least. Now the shape of the global population is changing. Between 1970 and 2015 the dominating influence on the global population was the fertility rate, the number of children a woman would typically bear during her lifetime. It fell dramatically over the period, meaning that the world shifted from having larger to smaller families. The age groups start to become markedly smaller only about the age of 40, so the incline starts much further up the chart than with the pyramid. The shape looks more like the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Between 2015 and 2060 the biggest influence upon the population will be ageing. Small families are already becoming the norm, the fall in fertility is slowing down and now almost everyone is living longer than their parents—dramatically so in developing countries. So, by 2060, the dome will have come and gone and the shape of the population will look more like a column (or perhaps an old-fashioned beehive).

In other words, barring any sort of unlikely massive uptick in the global birthrate, humanity is currently entering its peak of population: shortly after hitting nine billion, growth will begin to stagnate as the number of people of childbearing age declines.

Indeed, a map of fertility rates by nation shows that most of the world’s countries (many of them developing) are already experiencing slowing, stagnating, or even shrinking populations.

Total fertility rates as of 2013. Courtesy of Wikipedia / CIA World Factbook.

Keep in mind that a fertility rate between 2-3 (green) is considered the sweet spot for stable growth: any lower and you face rapid population aging followed by, and concurrent with,population shrinking (unless immigration is high enough to offset the difference); any higher, and populations grow too quickly for resources and institutions to accommodate. Both circumstances bring their own challenges and issues, which in turn vary from country to country.

But note how the majority of the world’s population growth is taking place in the developing world, especially in Africa (where not a single country has a total fertility rate of less than 2. Indeed, as The Economist video showed, 90 percent of the world’s youth will be living in emerging economies, with Africa having more young people than any other continent.

Conversely, it is mostly mid- to high-income countries whose fertility and birth rates are low, and whose populations have already begun stagnating, if not shrinking. The few exceptions — namely the U.S., Canada, the U.K, Ireland, and France — are growing mostly due to immigration and the subsequent increase it brings to the birthrate (since immigrants tend to have more children than native-born individuals).

The following map shows the population growth of the world’s countries by percentage between 2000 and 2010.

Courtesy of Wikipedia / United Nations. Note: data vary by source.

Notice again a similar pattern: broken down by country, most of the world is seeing low to negative population growth, even if the world as a whole is growing. Basically, the global population is growing highly unevenly, with a relatively small number of countries making up the lion’s share of total growth.

Moreover, as the video showed, much of this population “growth” is really a reflection of more people living longer: previously, population stabilized or shrank because enough people would die by the time the next generation came of age to have children. But as more people stick around longer, even the effects of a low birthrate will not be felt since so many people remain.

Hence why countries like Germany and Japan — which have long had some of the lowest fertility rates, and thus fastest-aging populations, in the world — did not begin to experience stagnation or decline until decades later. Their peoples are also among the longest-lived (note that higher immigration as of late has lead to modest but noticeable growth in Germany).

So what is the significance of all this? Well, there are many issues and challenges facing the world now and in the future as population dynamics rapidly change. Frankly, I do not have time to get into the larger social and economic ramifications of having whole societies without enough working-age adults; too many older people strains social security systems

But with regards to the most commonly cited concern — that of overpopulation straining resources — the solution is simple to recognize but difficult to implement: more efficient allocation of resources on a global level.

There is plenty of capital, food, and energy in the world to go around, but most of it is concentrated in and consumed by a wealthy few nations (and within those nations in turn, by a wealthy few people). Finding a way to allocate such resources to where it is needed most would lift hundreds of millions from poverty.

Consider that food output is well above what is needed, but that chronic malnourishment afflicts hundreds of millions of people — especially in fast-growing populations — because much of that food does not go to the poorer parts of the world, and 40 percent is wasted altogether. (To further underline this misallocation, in recent years the number of overweight and obese people in the world has outnumbered the malnourished.)

Moreover, shrinking wealthy countries could benefit from taking in the younger workers overflowing fast-growing poorer nations — as several immigration-friendly nations are experiencing — but there is (and would be) much resistance.

Perhaps as the world continues to develop its global consciousness — and with it the necessary global institutions to implement such policies — we will find a mutually beneficial way address the mismatch in demographic changes. There is a lot more to this topic that I have not touched on given my time constraints, but as always I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Video — World Demographics

The following video chat from The Economist tackles a topic that’s been of great concern to the American public for some time: global population growth. In just a little over one minute, it shows that overpopulation isn’t as big an issue as popularly believed.

So overall, the world population is stabilizing, with many countries — including many in the developing world — experiencing negligible or even negative population growth. Most of the population increase stems from longer lifespans and the “demographic momentum” of younger generations coming into child-rearing age (at which point they will have increasingly fewer children, if any at all).

The following map confirms that most of the biggest population gains will be concentrated almost entirely in Sub-Saharan Africa:

Population growth by percentage increase. Source: Wikimedia / CIA World Factbook.

Of course, this doesn’t mean population growth won’t bring its problems, given that most of the growth is concentrated in nations that lack the resources, infrastructure, and institutions to optimally accommodate their ever-larger number of citizens.

However, as much of the rest of the world experiences a stagnating or declining labor force — not to mention the subsequent financial and economic burdens — nations with more youthful populations may gain a considerable advantage on the global market for human resources.

If poorer nations manage to tap into the potential talent of their young and vibrant people, investing in education and infrastructure to facilitate and promote opportunities, they may well reach unprecedented levels of prosperity and influence — provided they are not turned into giant factories for foreign companies first.