Countries drawn in proportion to their populationCountries drawn in proportion to their population The world’s population underwent a massive increase during the 20th century. In 1900 it stood at 1.6 billion. By the end of the century, it topped 6 billion. According to estimates, it passed the 7.5 billion mark on 24th April 2017. Although population growth is slowing, the population is still increasing at a rate of 79 million people a year. According to the United Nations, the world population will be somewhere between 8.3 and 10.9 billion people by 2050.


A busy scene in Varanasi, IndiaA busy scene in Varanasi, India
Population growth from 1760 to todayPopulation growth from 1760 to today

Population growth

Rapid population growth began in about 1800 with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Then most of the increase was in Europe and North America as better health care and food resources became available. In 1900 most of the world’s largest cities were in these continents. In the 20th century, about 97% of the growth took place in the developing world: the countries of Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Here, people have traditionally had a lot of children because they fear that many will not survive to be adults. The average fertility rate in Niger, for example, is 7 babies per woman, compared to 1.3 in Poland.

A doctor checks a mother and child in Nairobi, KenyaA doctor checks a mother and child in Nairobi, Kenya Better health care, even in poorer countries, means that today fewer children die of hunger or disease, and fewer women die in childbirth. As a result, the populations of countries in the developing world now have large proportions of young people. Half of India’s population, for example, is under 25 years old. These young people are having children of their own, so the birth rate remains high. In contrast, regions like Europe have ageing populations because of low birth rate and high life expectancy. More than 20% of Italy's population, for example, is over 65.

Countries like China, the most populous country in the world, have taken steps to arrest the growth of their massive population. In 1979, the Chinese government introduced a policy of one child per family. From 1st January 2016, a new law allowing Chinese couples to have two children, came into force. 

According to the United Nations, the world population could reach up to 11.2 billion by the year 2100.

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