The global population is predicted to shrink by the end of the century due to falling fertility rates, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of Washington have predicted that the global population will peak at around 9.7 billion in 2064, before dropping dramatically to 8.8 billion by 2100.
Falling fertility rates
The forecast is based on a fall in overall fertility rate, which is the average number of children a woman gives birth to, thanks to women having better access to education, work and contraception.
If the number falls below approximately 2.1 births per woman, the size of the population then starts to fall.
In 1950, women had an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime. By comparison, researchers showed that the global fertility rate had nearly halved by 2017 to just 2.4.
Their study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, predicts that this rate will fall even further in the years to come, and will drop below 1.7 by 2100.
Where will population fall the most?
Projections indicate that by 2100, a total of 183 out of 195 countries will not be able to maintain their current populations, while 23 countries, including Spain, Italy, Japan, Portugal and Thailand, will see their populations plummet by more than half by the end of the century.
In Japan, the population is projected to drop from a peak of 128 million in 2017, to less than 53 million by 2100. Italy will see an equally dramatic fall, with figures dropping from 61 million to just 28 million over the same period.
China, which has the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in 2024, before almost halving to 732 million by the end of the century, allowing India to take its place.
Here in the UK, the population is predicted to peak at 75 million in 2063, with numbers later falling to 71 million by 2100.
Is a shrinking population problematic?
Researchers have warned that a smaller population will create significant social change and will bring about a number of economic challenges, due to an inverted age structure.
Professor Stein Emil Vollset, of the IHME and first author of the paper, said, “While population decline is potentially good news for reducing carbon emissions and stress on food systems, with more old people and fewer young people, economic challenges will arise as societies struggle to grow with fewer workers and taxpayers, and countries’ abilities to generate the wealth needed to fund social support and health care for the elderly are reduced.”
The researchers said that immigration could help to offset a shrinking population, particularly in countries where fertility rates are low, such as the US, Australia and Canada.