The world is getting older and growing slower

World population tops 8 billion this week, despite slowing fertility rates and aging population, UN says

What we are looking at: The average human is older than before. The median age of Earthlings in 2022 is 30.2, up from 20.6 in 1974, when the world’s population was half of what it is today, according to Our World in Data.

  • An aging population can be a positive sign – people are living longer and having fewer children. Smaller families can mean that women have better access to reproductive health care and are more confident that their children will survive to adulthood on their own.
  • But aging populations can also lead to slower economic growth if older, unemployed generations end up outnumbering the active workforce in a given country.

Age structures vary considerably by country. Japanese nationals have a median age of 49, while for Nigerians the median age is only 17.

  • Women typically give birth to 2.4 children in their lifetime today, up from 4.3 in 1974.
  • A fertility rate of 2.1 is generally considered a “replacement level”, meaning that there are enough births for the new generation to exactly replace the last generation. 60% of the population lives in countries that are at or below this fertility rate, according to the UN

Many high-income countries have seen birth rates plummet, leading to population declines in more than 40 countries, including Singapore, Japan, Italy and Russia.

  • Jennifer Sciubba, Wilson Center Fellow and author of 8 billion and moretold Axios, told Axios that she is concerned about the growing phenomenon of rapidly declining fertility rates, as it could be a sign that systems are not serving women effectively.
  • She and other population experts also worry about a future where fewer people work to support much larger and longer-lived generations of older people. Immigration will play an increasingly important role in preventing this kind of worst-case scenario in many countries, including the United States.

The other side: Meanwhile, nearly 3 in 10 births worldwide last year took place in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Pew Research Center.

  • The birth rate in sub-Saharan Africa is double the world average at 4.6 births per woman. Such high birth rates are often a sign of worrying social and economic circumstances.
  • For example, if a country’s women have an average of four or five or more children, “I bet anything, there’s no good health care and the girls aren’t going to school” , said Sciubba.

The bottom line: As the world’s population continues to grow, the human experience – including life expectancy and family size – varies greatly depending on where we are born.

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