2021 World Population Growth Trends
More people now live on the Earth than ever before, with the global population rising to almost eight billion people. However, this is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In the early 1800s, about one billion people were living on the planet. But thanks to the Industrial Revolution, food production and medical knowledge increased exponentially, resulting in a huge population boom.
By 1950, the global population numbered 2.5 billion. And in the last 50 years, that total has surged to 7.7 billion. There are three main reasons for the drastic change in population over the last two centuries; higher fertility rates, lower infant mortality rates, and longer life expectancy.
Medical advances have seen fewer infants dying within their first few years. This allows more humans to reach reproductive age, which results in higher levels of fertility. These same medical advances are allowing people to live much longer. These factors continue to have higher impacts on populations in developing nations.
However, population growth now seems to be slowing down in many parts of the world. In the 1960s, the population growth rate across the world was 2.2%. Now, it's around 1.05%. In many developed nations in Europe, the birth rate has dropped as life expectancy has risen. Aging populations are now seeing declining numbers as a result.
So what trends in population growth can we detect in 2021? There are two main types of population data that we can use to reveal changes in population trends; the average rate of annual population change, and natural population growth levels.
The average annual rate of population change shows how the population of a country increases or decreases as a result of total births, deaths, and net migration between 2015 and 2020. Tracking the average rate of annual population change combines these factors to give a picture of how much a country is growing.
Figures concerning levels of natural population change omit net migration and concentrate only on births and deaths in individual countries. This data reveals that many countries are experiencing gradual population declines as a result of people aging and not enough babies being born to replace them. This is becoming a particular issue in Europe.
In the following sections, we will examine each geographical region of the world and look at the population trends emerging in certain countries.
The vast continent of Asia accounts for over 60% of the total world population. Of the top five most populated nations in the world, three are in Asia; China (1.42 billion), India (1.37 billion), and Indonesia (270 million). In Asia, we can see notable differences between advanced nations and those that are still developing.
Japan is a classic case of a developed country struggling with an aging, declining population. Japan's natural population growth fell by 0.4% in 2020 alone. Faced with rapidly falling fertility rates and longer lifespans, Japan's working-age population is having to shoulder the burden of taking care of growing numbers of elderly Japanese.
China and India are two of the world's most rapidly developing nations. Their meteoric rises have been powered by large population booms in the 20th Century. In the 1980s, the natural population of India grew by around 2.3% each year, while China's natural population increased by 2.6% at its peak in 1969.
However, since these respective peaks, both countries have experienced much slower natural growth rates. In 2020, China's population grew naturally by only 0.43%, while India expanded by just over 1%. These countries now have burgeoning middle classes, which are living longer and having fewer children.
Other countries in Asia are now growing more rapidly. The total population of Afghanistan grew by 2.3% in 2019. This may have been due to a baby boom trend following the wars in Afghanistan. Mongolia is another country growing rapidly, seeing an average annual rise of 1.8% between 2015 and 2020.
The Middle East and North Africa
Many countries north of the Sahara Desert have seen large spikes in population growth since 2015. In terms of average annual growth, Niger grew by 3.8%, followed by a 3.6% increase in Oman and a rise of 3% in Chad and Mali. Only Syria showed a population decline, falling by a staggering average of 0.6% per year, likely due to the ongoing civil war that has raged since 2011.
The Middle East and North Africa may have seen some of the greatest population booms due to lower infant mortality rates in the world. In the 1950s, around 200 out of 1000 infants died. In the 21st Century, that rate has fallen dramatically to approximately 50 out of every 1000 live births. However, that rate is still higher than many other developing regions such as Asia or South America.
Fertility rates are also beginning to fall in the Middle East and North Africa, but enough young people have been born in recent years to power continued population growth over the next decades. Currently, the region's population grows by around seven million people per year. This rate is only exceeded by the rest of Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the most rapidly growing region on the planet. The Sub-Saharan region has grown from a total population of 185 million in 1950 to a staggering 1.1 billion in 2019. However, this is creating a huge population crisis in one of the poorest regions on Earth.
As populations continue to rise in Sub-Saharan Africa, scarce resources will have to be stretched even further. Infrastructure and economic opportunities are not growing fast enough to support this huge population increase. Some figures predict that the population could double by 2050.
The highest growth levels, based on 2019 figures, came from Niger (3.8%), Uganda (3.6%), and Equatorial Guinea (3.5%). Increasing fertility rates and declining infant mortality will continue to drive this rapid rate of population growth for some time.
One of the most developed regions of the world, Europe's population growth has been slowing down in recent decades as birth rates fall and the age of the population rises. For a baby born in 2020, life expectancy in Europe averages at 82 years for women and 75 years for men.
This means that a shrinking workforce must take care of more and more dependents as the population continues to live longer. This workforce is also aging, with people working longer throughout their lives. However, even when combined with migration, this trend doesn't seem likely to be reversed.
When looking at natural population growth for European countries, several nations have experienced declines. According to figures from 2020, Eastern Europe has been hit the hardest. Croatia and Ukraine's natural populations shrank by over 0.5% each, whilst Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, and Serbia experienced declines of 0.4%.
Further west, Greece's natural population also declined by 0.4% in 2020. Hungary and Italy saw declines of 0.35%, followed by Portugal (-0.3%), and Spain (-0.1%). Many European countries experienced negligible growth, such as Belgium, Germany, Finland, and Poland.
The United States is the third most populated country in the world, with 330 million inhabitants. It is also the second-largest country by geographical area, covering 3.8 million square kilometers. The population of the United States grew by 0.6% in 2020, but half of that number was due to migration. Both overall and natural population growth is gradually falling in America.
Canada is also growing relatively slowly, growing naturally by just 0.25% in 2020. However, total population growth was recorded at 0.9%, suggesting that migrants are beginning to outnumber natural births. Mexico's population continues to grow by around 1% each year. Many Mexicans attempt to migrate to the United States.
Central and South America
Between 1950 and 2000, the population of Latin America increased three-fold. A rapid boom in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with more development in urban areas. Currently, around 70% of Latin Americans live in cities, including the infamous shanty towns around cities like Rio De Janeiro.
Brazil is the fifth most populated nation on Earth, with about 210 million inhabitants. Growth rates continue to rise steadily across much of the region, topped by a whopping 2.7% increase in French Guiana in 2020. Other rapidly growing populations include Belize and Guatemala, who both recorded average annual increases of 1.9% from 2015 to 2020.
Most Central and South American countries have relatively young populations, which continue the steady momentum of the region's population growth. However, that could change in the coming decades as these young Latin Americans begin to work and live longer. Soon, Central and South America could also face the problem of having an aging population.
The Pacific and Oceanic islands present some of the starkest contrast between aging developed countries and younger, faster-growing developing nations. Australia and New Zealand, the two most developed nations in the region, are both experiencing slower population growth.
In 2020, Australia had a total population growth rate of 1.1%, whilst New Zealand grew by 0.8%. By comparison, the population of the Solomon Islands grew by a staggering 2.5%, followed by Vanuatu (2.4%) and Papua New Guinea (1.9%).
However, these relatively small islands will likely have natural ceilings for their population numbers due to their small size. Climate change may also lead to larger migrations levels from these islands to countries like Australia and New Zealand.
World Population in Perspective
- The 7 countries with the most population (China, India, United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria) have as many people than the other 226 countries combined.
- Both China and India have more than 4 times the polpulation of the United States.
- The continent of Asia account for about 60% of the world's population.