Amount of people alive vs dead

O.K. I have a feeling this may be an oldie… so sorry to bore you if you’ve heard it before.

I was recently told that there are more people alive today than have died throughout history… is this true? If not, when are we likely to reach this point?


It’s not true according to Cecil Adams.

Never. The Earth’s population is stabilising and within 50 years is expected to begin to fall. We clearly can’t produce another 63 billion living people within the next 50 years and a declining population can never exceed it’s own ancestors in size.

So there will never be a time when the living outnumber the dead.

Per Blake “So there will never be a time when the living outnumber the dead.”

Perhaps not, but the living are more robust and involved with the world. That should count for something.

Man, our children are in for it! there oughta be more ZOMBIES, GHOSTS, and EVIL DEAD people walking around than at any point in history!
I predict; good career opportunities for exorcists, priests, and zombie-hunters.

Even if the population kept increasing, it’d be approximately exponential, which means that the ratio of dead to living should remain more or less constant. Remember, all the people alive now will eventually die, and add their numbers to those of the dead, so it’s an ever-moving target.

See, this is why I oppose giving the dead voting rights.

Here is a 2004 thread on the same topic.

Well, except for once in 4004 BC ;).

You may scoff, and I don’t blame you as it is a pretty far fetched example, but say that in 500 years, we have populated the our spiral arm of the galaxy, and there is a huge population boom over the period of 100 years. Would the growth of multiple planets from a stock of say 10 billion people over the course of a hundred years- say final product being 1 trillion people, be possible? Would then the living outnumber the dead?

It’s possible but it seems unlikely. Chronos made a very good point above, which is that the goal posts are constantly moving.

Imagine that we had the opportunity to do this today, when the dead only outnumber the living about 10-fold. That means that within the next 45 years every female will have to produce, on average, 11 surviving children just to equal the number of dead. Given that many females are already at or approaching menopause, many more are infertile etc. that means that many women will have to produce 20 or more children to meet that 11 child average.

And if we leave it for another generation the dead population will eqaul 69 billion rather than 63 billion so every living female will need to produce 12 children. And so the goal posts will move ever further away each generation.

11 surviving children per femalke isn’t a completely unobtainable number and becomes increasingly more plausible as medical technology improves but it is hard to envision a time when a majority of woman would want to have more than 10 children.

I think the most plausible way for it to occur would be some sort of medical breakthrough which vastly extended the natural human lifespan, and possibly the fertile period as well. Few women would want to have twenty children over a span of, say, 30 years between puberty and menopause, but over a span of 300 years? Maybe. And if you extend lifespans far enough, you wouldn’t even need to extend fertility: A woman might not be having any more children in her hundreds, but her great-great-great-great-great-granddaughters (whom she would live to see) would still be having them.

Today I happened to run across a chapter in this book that tries to answer the question “How many people have ever lived?” The mathematical model that the author developed, which fit the data available pretty well, assumed not exponential growth but rather hyperbolic (or coalition) growth.

His results:

Here is a 2005 thread on the same dagon topic.