World Population Hits Eight Billion

With a record population high of 8 billion, there are many sociopolitical and environmental implications to consider. Image from CNBC.

The global population hit a record of eight billion people on Nov. 15, 2022, according to the United Nations. While this is the largest the population has ever been, the number is expected to continue to grow with a peak of 10.4 billion by the end of the twenty-first century. Population growth can be attributed to worldwide progress and improvements in various social sectors. Along with this growth comes inequality across the population. 

The first major population landmark was in 1803, when the global population hit one billion. Since then, each new billion mark has arrived quicker, with the jump from seven billion to eight billion taking only 12 years. Despite increased life expectancy and global gross domestic product (GDP), equal access to opportunity has yet to be achieved for all eight billion.

The world population is larger than ever, which implies great demographic diversity. Total fertility rate is a key component in assessing the impacts of sociopolitical improvements. Lower fertility rates imply developed societies, due to women receiving educations and decreased child mortality rates. Across the past 70 years, global fertility rates have decreased to a total 50% recorded in June 2022. This population growth is concentrated in the world’s poorest countries, most of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa. This disparity continues to grow as the global population increases.

The makeup of the world population proves to be a major change that calls for the adaptation of new ways of life. With a declining young population, there has been a shift in the dominating age groups in population distributions. Essentially, the world population is getting older. The sector of those aged 65 or older, known widely as the retired population, is projected to double their dependency on the working sector, which is those aged 15 – 64.

This shift in age and dependency has drastic implications. A smaller workforce places pressure on pension systems, as there are fewer laborers to support those old enough to collect pensions. Economic slowdown can be anticipated if countries do not alter their pension systems in accordance with the aging population. This can be done by adjusting the retirement pension age to reflect the aging global population instead of a standardized age blind to population shifts. Additionally, systems can promote higher workforce participation from older citizens to relieve stress placed on the typical working ages. Increasing the integrity of the systems by reducing gender and racial pension gaps works toward inclusivity in all these changes. 

An aging population can also put strain on healthcare systems, with more senior citizens meaning more patients. This challenges the balance between supply and demand within the system, with a growing demand and decreasing supply. In turn, healthcare costs will rise and the value of end-of-life care will become limited. 

With an increased population comes greater responsibility to not only protect members of all sectors, but the planet. Slowing population growth is often a misconstrued and oversimplified solution to mitigating environmental degradation, articulated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The most carbon emissions are produced by nations with population growths that are either slowing or already negative. Meanwhile, the highest population growth rates are concentrated in some of the poorest countries. These impoverished societies have significantly lower rates of emissions but are also more likely to suffer disproportionate consequences of climate change. 

Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stated how systems are in need of the “rapid decoupling of economic activity from the current over-reliance on fossil-fuel energy, as well as greater efficiency in the use of those resources.” Matching these objectives of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with focus on countries often left behind and oppressed by international hierarchies will provide an effective transition and movement to a sustainable global future. 

The prioritization of human rights, ranging from social discrepancies to relieving pressure on the workforce to resolving global environmental degradation consequences, provides more potential for improved quality of life for the record-high population. As the number continues to grow and develop, keeping such efforts in mind will allow for effective and fair global progression.