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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 21 Dec 2022

Global population is growing

It is projected to reach 9.7 billion people in 2050 and 10.4 billion by 2100, in the context of decreasing fertility and mortality

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(© Photo by Denys Nevozhair on Unsplash)

Trend: Global population is growing

A trend indicates a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society.

The world’s population is growing, but the pace is slowing down. It is projected to reach 9.7 billion people in 2050 and 10.4 billion by 2100, in the context of decreasing fertility and mortality and higher life expectancies (UNDESA). Population growth was highest in the 1960s and has since dropped to around 1 % annually.

Although the demographic transition has started everywhere on the planet, it is at different stages in different parts of the world, which results in various demographic profiles and paces of change. Estimates indicate that by 2100, the share of Europe and Asia in the global population will drop, while the share of Africa’s population will increase. The global fertility rate is declining, but is likely to remain above average in the least developed countries. Global life expectancy is growing but at a slower pace than in the past and the differences in life expectancy between countries are still significant.

This Trend is part of the  Megatrend  Increasing demographic imbalances




Developments happening in certain groups in society that indicate examples of change related to the trend.

Population growth up to today

In 1926, the world had 2 billion inhabitants and almost 25 % of them were living in Europe. Since then, the global population has increased fourfold to reach 7.8 billion in 2020. It took 12 years to reach 8 billion inhabitants in 2022 from 7 billion. After 1945, Asia and Africa started experiencing high rates of population growth, over 2% every year. Since 1965, the highest and quite a stable rate of growth can be found in Africa with 2.5 % on average annually. Today, about 60 % of mankind lives in Asia and 17 % in Africa. Europe’s share (excluding Russia) of the global population has dropped to 10 %. Population growth occurs at around 1 % annually, and is expected to slow down further.

Signals of change: World population growth until today, Worldometer, UN DESA 22, Our World Data


Population growth in the future

Population growth is projected to slow down dramatically in Asia. China is expected to experience negative growth from 2030 onwards, while the population of India is expected to continue to grow. Asia will remain the most populated continent throughout the 21st century, with an estimated 4.7 billion inhabitants in 2100. The population size of Africa will be less than half that of Asia by 2050. But Africa could get within Asia’s reach by the end of the century (2100) with 4.3 billion. By 2100, Asia’s share of the global population is expected to drop to 43 % and Africa’s share of the global population could increase to 39 %. Europe’s share is expected to be around 6 %.

Europe’s population is likely to decline from 748 million in 2020 to 630 million in 2100. More specifically, the population of EU-27 was 448 million in 2020 and is projected to decline to 441 million people by 2050. When aggregated, all EU countries report more deaths than births. Therefore, this projected number will depend heavily on the size of future migration flows to the EU.

Signals of change: UN DESA 22, Eurostat, World Population History


Global fertility decline

In recent decades global fertility has declined at an unprecedented rate and to unprecedented levels. It has reached a median of 2.4 live births per woman in 2020, down from 3.2 in 1990 and 5 births per woman in 1950. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest fertility levels, total fertility fell from 6.6 births per woman in 1990 to 4.6 in 2020. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division assumes that global fertility will fall to 2.2 children by 2050 and 1.9 by 2100. However, fertility levels are projected to remain above average in many countries up to the middle of the century, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Fertility rates could remain above 3 births per woman in most countries there. This is also the case for other countries that belong to the group of the 'least developed countries', but to a lesser extent.

Average fertility levels within the EU were declining between the 1960s and the early 1990s, but have stabilised at 1.55 to 1.60 live births per woman in 2018. Since the 1970s, the age at which women in the EU have their first child has been rising. In 2018 it reached 29.3 years. As a result of these two trends, there have been more deaths than births recorded in EU-27 since 2015.

Signals of change: UN DESA, UN DESA, Eurostat, Eurostat


Increasing life expectancy

Global average life expectancy has risen from 50 years in 1960, to 73 years in 2020.  A decline in infant and child mortality and maternal mortality have largely driven this increase. This was particularly the case in low-income countries in recent decades, due to improved health care and disease prevention. In the future, the decline in death rates of people over 65 will drive increases in life expectancy. Most population projections assume that life expectancy will continue to grow, although at a slower pace than in the past. The difference between countries where people live the longest and those where people live the shortest is decreasing but still wide: 30 years. There is also a gender gap. Of the children born in 2020, women will live, on average almost 5 years longer than men.

Over the past four decades, the average life expectancy in the EU-27 rose from 72.1 in 1980 to 81 in 2018. The differences between the highest and lowest life expectancies among EU Member States amounted to 11.1 years for men and 7.7 years for women.

Signals of change: Macrotrends, UN DESA, Eurostat



Interesting questions

What might this trend imply, what should we be aware of, what could we study in more depth? Some ideas:

  • What if housing or food supply does not accommodate the rising population?
  • What if the population estimates for year 2100 are not correct?
  • If fertility decline continues everywhere and all countries eventually achieve fertility levels below the replacement rate, the world population will start shrinking. If this continues into a distant future, could it lead to the extinction of human species?
  • Can we envisage that countries or regions would strive to achieve an optimal population level and what could that be?
  • Is there a limit (biological or ethical) to extending the average maximum lifespan?
  • Could AI contribute to increasing years of healthy life?