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The story of our species is one of remarkable success. From a starting point in Africa, our ancestors spread across the planet, harnessing local resources and adapting to the harshest environments.

Inca temples

While some societies collapsed once they had exhausted local resources, and other groups migrated to new lands or fought wars over diminishing local resources, the overall picture was one of continued growth. As technological advances enabled our ancestors to increase agricultural output, their numbers grew exponentially.

The lack of open discussion about this topic means most people are not aware that our high numbers today are such a recent phenomenon. As recently as 1930, in our parents’ or grandparents’ youth, world population was some two billion compared with the seven billion living on the planet now.

Read more about the history of population growth.

Current trends
The population trends projected by the UN vary enormously by region:

  • Africa and much of Asia are predicted to grow significantly
  • the Americas are expected to grow somewhat
  • Europe is predicted to stabilize

Crowd of people

The mid-range global projection is that the planet’s population will increase from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. Broader estimates range from eight to 11 billion, depending on how effectively and quickly reproductive and development programmes are implemented in developing areas of the world to address the key drivers of population growth: the lack of reproductive health and contraception, lack of women’s rights and poverty. In some countries, migration also contributes significantly to the increase in population.

Read more about population trends.

Population growth rates worldwide are declining but absolute numbers are still rising at one and a half million every week. Growth is also variable; populations are declining in some countries while continuing to grow rapidly in others.

Universal access to reproductive health services is one of the main factors that help to reduce birth rates and hence population growth.

Women working

Improvements made to infrastructure, wide availability of modern contraceptives and the empowerment of women all greatly contribute to significantly lower and therefore much more sustainable rates of birth.

Economic development also helps to lift women out of the high birth rate poverty trap.

Across the planet, societies face other population challenges, including ageing and migration.

Appropriate population goals must be set.

Read about Earth’s population problem.