Reuters is reporting that a milestone will be reached in world history today, but it won't reflect the real population trend which has been slowing dramatically across the globe.
According to Dudley Poston, a professor of sociology and demographics at Texas A&M University, it took the world until the year 1800 to produce a billion residents. In those days, birth rates were much higher, but so were infant mortality and disease rates. But since then, scientific progress has allowed more and more of those babies to live a longer and healthier life, which resulted in the human population reaching two billion by 1930. By 1999, that figure climbed to six billion.
But these trends are going to change dramatically in the very near future. The advent of birth control coupled with greater opportunities for women in the workplace, programs such as China's one-child policy and cultural changes such as increased urbanization, have led to a drastic decrease in fertility rates. Holding the population steady requires fertility rates of 2.2 to 2.3, but in dozens of countries, that number has fallen way short.
"We now have 75 countries in the world where the fertility rate is below two," Poston told Reuters.
These numbers will translate into much slower growth in the years ahead with experts saying that even though it took only 12 years to hit this new milestone, the eight billion mark will take 14 years and another 18 years will be needed to hit nine billion. The world won't hit the 10 billion mark until sometime around the turn of the century.
The good news is that the dire predictions about widespread global hunger being the result of high population have not materialized. The United Nations says that the world has been able to keep up with increased demands for food. In fact, food production per person today has jumped 41 percent since 1961. India's food production is 37 percent higher than fifty years ago, according to the World Bank.
What the world needs to worry about now is how to deal with the impact of an aging population, something experts say we'll start feeling the impact of within about 40 years. The number of retirees will increase while the number of workers needed to support them will drop precipitously - making pension programs tough to maintain.
Even though demographers are not exactly sure when and where the seven billionth child will be born, the UN is using today as the day to mark this child's birth. Dire predictions are being tossed aside as several "symbolic" babies born today are being greeted like superstars.
One of them, born to an explosion of flashbulbs and instant fame, defied all the experts. Instead of being a boy born in India or China, the seven billionth chose to come into the world as a little girl named Danica Camacho at Manila's Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in the Philippines.
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Photo of Danica Camacho by Erik de Castro of the Associated Press