A Striking Global Milestone: The World’s Population Hits 8 Billion

Lorenzo Capito

On 15th November, we globally saw a new milestone as the world’s population reached 8 billion people. This is despite the world population growth rates dipping below 1%, the lowest since 1950. Lorenzo Capito takes a look at the severity of rapidly rising (and declining) populations across our continents, and the various consequences that this new figure can be expected to have.

Despite the unprecedented number of 8 billion, this growth in population has been unevenly distributed; the bulk of the world’s population growth occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, the fertility rate (births per woman) in the region was 4.6 in 2020 – well above the fertility replacement rate of 2.1, a figure needed for a population to be sustained without migration. The high number of births in the region has left Sub-Sahara Africa’s population ballooning.  

However, this population boom doesn’t come without its downfalls. More people being born in the region means more food is required to sustain the population, which has been shown to increase food insecurity. This is on top of existing agricultural production systems and policies designed to export much-needed food to the rest of the world, a legacy left by Western colonialism. The boom in population also fuels rapid urbanisation, which creates massive wealth gaps and the creation of slums, leading to higher crime rates along with increased risks of disease contractions in cities.

Mass migrations made up of climate refugees

Climate change is also expected to worsen the effects of overpopulation as the multiple risks of sea-level rise, extreme heat, and natural disasters are predicted to hit low-lying deltas and cities, along with arid and semi-arid areas the hardest. This could lead to mass migrations made up of climate refugees into other parts of the region and beyond, stressing resource availability in these regions. 

On the flip side, many regions of the world are experiencing population declines due to low fertility rates – throughout Europe especially. In Italy for example, low birth rates have led to future projections of its population shrinking from 59.2 million in 2021 to 47.7 million in 2070. Some European countries also face high emigration rates along with low birth rates. In Bulgaria, many of its younger, working-age population are leaving in mass for better job opportunities, especially since the country’s enrolment into the EU in 2007, which has made barriers for entering wealthier EU states like Germany easier to cross. 

Threatening to decrease the quality of public services

Low birth rates and high emigration rates in some countries can cause detrimental effects. Less babies being born means fewer younger, working-age people being able to support a larger retirement-age population. This then means a greater strain on people’s incomes, through having to pay more to support social services for the retired. The social services themselves would also be put under greater strain, since less working-age people means that governments will be able to pay less for the social services through less taxes, threatening to decrease the quality of public services because of this.

Population decline in Europe also has the impact of depopulating rural areas, which bears the brunt of both low birth rates and mass emigration to urban areas. This could lead to local food not being produced as there is a lack of workforce to work in agricultural lands, which can cause rural desertification and potentially damage local wildlife. 

We must take these patterns of growth seriously

As the world passes through another population milestone never seen before in human history, we can only expect the effects of an uneven balance of this growth to be amplified in the coming years. We must take these patterns of growth seriously if we want future generations to live sustainable, healthy lives.  

Lorenzo Capito

Featured image courtesy of Bruce Detorres via Flickr under Public Domain Work license. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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