Statistician Hans Rosling says world population will never exceed 11 billion. Is he wrong?

Or should I say, said:

Has this been debunked? Any wrong assumptions or glaring holes in his logic?

The logic is sound, the number is up for debate. The reality is that as we get wealthier, we have fewer children. Eventually we have so few that we drop below replacement level. The West has largely already hit this peak and demographically, our numbers will begin falling relatively soon. The developing world is also heading in this direction. When exactly they reach it and whether governments can stop it is a question that we can only guess at. Most demographers though are pretty confident in saying that there will be a peak population at some point. 11 billion is certainly a reasonable guess. I have seen some that say 9 billion, some say 13 billion. It’s hard to say exactly where it will pan out, but I would wager that 9 is too low. 10 isn’t out of the question. 11 or 12 are probably the reasonable guesses.

Well, we’re approaching 7.5 billion and major problems already abound. The demand for food and clean water are becoming more and more critical, and the huge number of people on the planet are eroding the environment at an alarming rate.

At some point, it’s going to go critical. Whether that is at 10, 11, 12 or whatever billion, I can’t say. It’s going to happen, though.

Here is a link to his Gapminder site that talks about the population projections: https://www.gapminder.org/answers/how-reliable-is-the-world-population-forecast/ It’s a video that goes into the subject and I think answers the OP. Plus, that Gapminder site is just fun to play with the tools, IMHO. :slight_smile: Short answer for those who don’t want to watch either video is that we PROBABLY won’t exceed 11 billion, plus or mines a few hundred million, and then the population will start to slide downward. The only reason it won’t crash is that at the same time all this is happening, the other trend is folks around the world are living longer and that trend will almost certainly continue. So, we will probably be at double digit billions for a while after we finally peak.

I kinda teared up at Rosling’s dark humour about his hope to live longer “statistically” for 15 more years. Sadly, he was a statistical outlier had had less then 2 years after that lecture.


This article has citations for different numbers. I saw one as high as 12.

I recall a recent-ish Deutsche Bank(?) study saying we wouldn’t even hit 9, but that’s either an outlier or I’m misremembering.

Yes that is a shame. Hans Rosling died in 2017. But he is almost certainly correct (about the 21st century, anyway). Population will probably be declining by 2100, possibly quite dramatically - but not because of climate change or resource depletion, but because of wealth.

I’m not denying the importance of climate change and resource depletion (the most important depleted resource will be oil, of course); it is just that the inexorable improvement of living standards that Rosling talks about will act to slow down population growth very efficiently.

Eventually, of course, population growth could increase again- if we gain the technology to extend our lifespans significantly and to inhabit space- but I don’t think Rosling ever considered that.

Population might grow again due to other technological improvements or cultural change as well.

Population growth slowing as a result of richer societies is due to a complicated mix of economics and culture, not some natural law. And there are pressures that push the other way, too. In industrialized nations, people have more kids when the economy is good.

Massive economic growth that alleviated the costs of caring for many children and provided plenty of resources for humanity to expand could result in a more quickly growing population in the future, even as average wealth increases.

Can you cite which industrial nations are having ‘more kids when the economy is good’? That seems directly contradicted by the data I’ve seen and certainly by Hans. Which countries are seeing this trend?

Yeah, pumping out tons of kids in the past has generally been based on the fact that there was a very good chance your kid would die, and to serve as, essentially, child labor.

Yes, there are certainly wealthy people that have a bunch a kids. The famous cases usually adopt a bunch since they can afford costly adoption expenses But I think these people are the exception, not the rule.

What he/she is referring to is likely the fact that birth rates drop during economic crises and (presumably) rise again when the economy is good (although we haven’t seen much of that since 2008 which is abnormal–or the new normal, who knows?). Where he’s going wrong is that what is typically happening is that births are being put off, not eliminated. So the number of children per woman does not necessarily go down during a recession, but rather WHEN the child is being born. So Bob and Sally still want two kids, but Bob just lost his job, so they wait until he gets a new one. The overall trend of more wealth equals fewer children seems to hold. Personally, I think though that we’re actually going to get into another phase of human reproduction where technological adaptation is going to be more indicative of birth rate than economics-although since those tend to go hand in hand it might be hard to disentangle.

Sure. Here’s a chart of the US birth rate and an article noting the same fact. Obviously, the long-term trend is down, but in the short term economic growth is correlated with growth in birth rates.

Some hypothetical future technology that led to massive economic growth could reverse the “rich people have fewer kids” correlation by effectively reducing the cost of having children.

I just watched the latest avengers movie this weekend and basically the villain tries to kill 50% of all populations of all planets to save them from their own demise. So this post caught my eye.

It seems most data supports the topping out of the populations…

But then some posters thought if the wealthy could have more kids at cheaper costs they may choose to do so in the future, thus reversing the trend.

However, we already have lots of wealthy folks in our current time, and their kid count seems to top off at two kids, maybe three, just like the middle class. They already have the healthcare and nannies to spare, and yet they still only have two kids. So unless something else changes, I don’t see this as a reversal of the population-declining-for-the-wealthy trend.

Under current trends, population tends to stabilize around a per capita income of $5000. I think it drops below replacement above 10-15k or so.

Buuuuut, if history is any guide, when humanity undergoes a great technological revolution population skyrockets.

Before the neolithic revolution, world population was maybe 2 million max. After the neolithic revolution it slowly creeped up to 500 million or so.

Then the industrial revolution happened, and world population is growing to 10 billion.

A machine intelligence and interstellar travel revolution could result in a whole new population explosion. But who knows when that will happen.

Perhaps humanity will undergo random tech revolutions which cause the population to grow 10-100 fold. Who knows. Maybe in the year 2400 the population will be a trillion in a post humanity interstellar society.

But as it stands, world population should stabilize around 10 billion due to wealth.