While it took just 11 years for the latest billion people to be added to the Earth’s population, population growth is slowing down.

Author: Kim Iskyan

If it has felt more crowded on planet Earth lately, you’d be right.

The world’s population recently hit 8 billion people, according to the United Nations. That’s up from 7 billion as recently as 2011, and 5 billion in 1987. There are five times more people on the planet today than there were in 1900.

And the chart leaders are whom you’d think: China has more people than any other country, with 1.43 billion inhabitants. It’s closely followed by India, at 1.42 billion (India will likely overtake China next year, though). The US takes third position, at 339 million, followed by Indonesia, at 276 million. The top four account for a little less than half of all people on Earth.

Each billion-person increment has come faster than the previous one, and the reason is simple: Births are outstripping deaths. In 2022 alone, as of mid-November, births outnumbered deaths by around a two-to-one margin. This resulted in total population growth for the year of about 60 million.

Also, people are simply living longer, and fewer babies are dying—even though women are giving birth less often. The average global life expectancy today of just under 73 years compares to 52.6 years as recently as 1960. In 1990, one out of every 11 children worldwide died before celebrating their fifth birthday. In 2020, one out of every 27 children died prior to turning 5. 

While it took just 11 years for the latest billion people to be added to the Earth’s population, population growth is slowing down. It is currently at its lowest level since the 1950s. The UN forecasts that the global population will peak at 10.4 billion inhabitants in the 2080s—though demographic forecasts are notoriously unreliable. Most of that growth will happen in just a handful of countries, most notably in Africa. The developed world, and much of Asia, will see a decline in population.

Economic growth is a function of improvements in productivity and increases in population. After the first 8 billion, growth in population is going to come more slowly. And that will be a headwind for economic growth everywhere.