GLOBAL SOCIAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROJECT
WORLD TREND REPORTS
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Most recently updated January 2013. May be used provided proper citation is given. See note at bottom.
This is a summary of a set of reports about global
demographic trends. In this report, we summarize world
population trends, and characteristics which may help
explain the population trends. The characteristics include net
natural change (births, deaths and migration), infant mortality
rate, fertility rate and age distributions.
This set of reports is meant to describe general world
demographic trends, and are part of a larger project describing
basic world social, political and economic trends, in ways that
can be easily understood by anyone, and that can help to
understand the world today. These reports are overviews and
introductions, and hopefully lead people to more detailed
examinations of the topics.
In addition, while population is still increasing in all
regions, the increase has been slowing, and the slowing varied
by region. For example, annual average growth rates in Asia
declined from 2.1% during 1950-1955 to 1.1% during 2005-2010. On
the other hand, European growth rates declined much more, from
1% during 1950-1955 to 0.2% during 2005-2010. Sub-Saharan
African growth rates in 2005-2010 (2.6%) were actually higher
than they were in 1950-1955 (2.2%). However, this is because
average annual growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa increased to a
high of 3% in the 1980s and have since been declining, to the
level lower than the 1980s level, but still higher than the
As a consequence of the differing growth rates, and
differing slow down of growth rates, the proportion of world
population that is from each region has changed over time. The
largest change was that Sub-Saharan Africa increased from 7.4%
of world population in 1950 to 12.4% in 2010, while Europe
declined from 21.6% to 10.7%.
Explaining the population trends:
Births, deaths and migration help explain the population
trends. Briefly, the population in most regions is still
increasing, because there are still more births than deaths.
Europe is the exception in that there are more deaths than
births in the last decade. However, population in Europe is
still increasing, because net migration - into Europe - is
larger than the difference between deaths and births.
Second, net population change is highest in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. The higher net population change in these areas corresponds to their higher population growth rates, and so their increasing percentage of the world population.
Third, fertility rates, and consequently births, in Asia,
and Latin America and the Caribbean, have been declining. So
while the population is still growing, it is growing more
slowly. On the other hand, births are still increasing in
Africa. However, the fertility rates in Sub-Saharan Africa have
been declining. So, like other regions, the population continues
to increase, but it is increasing at a slower rate. In Europe,
in the last 5 year period, deaths have been declining and
fertility rates and births have been increasing, so population
growth has been increasing in the past 5 year period. In
Northern America, net population change has had very little
change recently and so population growth in Northern America has
also been very small.
Infant mortality rates (IMR) also helps to explain
population change. IMR declined in all regions but the rate of
decline varied considerably. IMR was very high in
Sub-Saharan Africa, declined the least, and by 2005-2010 was the
highest of anywhere. IMR was the lowest in Europe and North
America, declined substantially, and was still the lowest in
2005-2010. IMR also declined substantially in Asia, Latin
America and the Caribbean, and North Africa, and, by 2005-2010,
were generally at levels comparable to Europe and North America
in the 1950s.
Because IMR was high and didn't decline by much in Sub-Saharan Africa, the fertility rate didn't contribute as much to population as it would have if the IMR had been lower. That is, the highest world population growth is in Sub-Saharan Africa (see the first report), but if IMR in Sub-Saharan Africa had been lower, the population growth would have been even higher. Fertility rates are declining in Sub-Saharan Africa, but so are infant mortality rates, and so if the IMR declines faster than does the fertility rate then declining fertility rates will not result in lower numbers of infants and children.
Age distributions also help explaining population change.
Basically, in all regions, the largest group is the adults
(15-59 years old). In Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the
Caribbean, there are more children than there are seniors,
while, recently, in Europe there are more seniors than children,
and in Northern America there will soon be more seniors than
children, In almost all regions, the proportion of the
population who are children is declining while the proportion
who are seniors is increasing. Sub-Saharan Africa is an
exception. There are almost as many children as there are
seniors, and the proportions of the population who are seniors
and children have not yet changed.
Changes in age distributions have many implications for society. For example, a larger proportion of younger people means more people who have yet to attain adulthood and who can be expected to have more children, which means continued population growth. So, Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest proportion of children, also has the highest population growth rates (as seen in previous reports), and can be expected to continue to have the highest population growth rates. Similarly, Europe and North America, which have the lowest proportion of children, also have the lowest population growth rates, which can be expected to continue to be low. Also, since most regions have declining proportions of children, most regions have declining population growth rates and will likely continue to have declining population growth rates.
Detailed descriptions of world demographic trends
- The population in most regions is still increasing, because there are still more births than deaths.
- Europe had more deaths than births, but still has an growing population because net in-migration is larger than the loss from net natural change.
- Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa had higher proportions of children and lower proportions of seniors than do Europe and Northern America
- In Europe, the number of children has been declining since the 1960s/1970s, while the number of seniors has been increasing, at least since the 1950s.
- As a result of these longer trends, in Europe, the number of seniors now exceeds the number of children.
- In Northern America, the number of child is still increasing, but the number of seniors is increasing faster.
- Consequently, in Northern America, the number of seniors will soon exceed the number of children.
Charts and tables
||Latin America and the Caribbean
|1950 to 2010||197%||35%||253%||295%||101%||360%||173%|
|Population Growth - Annual Average|
|1950 to 1955||2.1%||1.0%||2.9%||2.5%||1.8%||2.2%||1.9%
|2005 to 2010||1.1%||0.2%||1.2%||1.8%||0.9%||2.6%||1.2%|
|Births, Deaths, Migration, 1950-1955|
|Asia||Europe||Latin America and the Caribbean||Northern Africa||Northern America||Sub-Saharan Africa|
|Net Natural Change||29,132,486||5,989,485||4,851,883||1,414,230||2,717,511||4,042,479|
|Net Population Change||29,180,828||5,589,806||4,867,791||1,315,696||3,069,032||4,026,504|
|Births, Deaths, Migration, 2005-2010|
|Asia||Europe||Latin America and the Caribbean||Northern Africa||Northern America||Sub-Saharan Africa|
|Net Natural Change||45,419,767||-316,881||7,655,209||3,692,431||1,849,350||20,160,110|
|Net Population Change||43,851,987||1,492,573||6,608,863||3,488,487||3,059,532||19,762,742|
||Latin America and
|Asia||Latin America and the Caribbean||North Africa||Sub-Saharan Africa||Europe||North America||World|
|Percent of Population age 0-14
|Percent of Population age
A number of other reports also describe data or trends
about demographics. Some of these reports include:
IMF Global Demographic Trends http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2006/09/picture.htm
The US Census Bureau shows world population and growth rates http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/worldpopinfo.php
World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, United
Nations Population Division,
UN Data, http://data.un.org
All of the data used in this report are from the United Nations http://data.un.org/ They write, "All data and metadata provided on UNdata’s website are available free of charge and may be copied freely, duplicated and further distributed provided that UNdata is cited as the reference." http://data.un.org/Host.aspx?Content=UNdataUse Thus, all charts and tables in our report may be used freely, provided the proper citation is given (Shackman et al, 2012, from data provided by UNData). All text from this report may be used freely provided that the proper citation is given (Shackman et al. 2012).
Using Demographic Data and Reports
This report, and all other reports about demographic trends, must be viewed with some degree of caution. There are two sources of concern: data quality and unit of analysis. Briefly, not all countries have recent data, and in some cases not all counties are included in the databases. Second, reports often describe trends by region or country, but there is often wide variation within regions or countries. Thus, most demographic reports can be viewed as general overviews, or broad descriptions of trends, but are not to be taken as describing, to the exact numbers, trends and conditions. While such reports are very useful, they should be used, as are intended here, as introductions and overviews, or in the context of more detailed reports.
Data quality: The main issue described here is about data availability. One problem is that, according to the UN World Population Prospect source notes (1), the most recent population data from some countries are quite old. The most recent census covering all of Cyprus was in 1973, although there were more recent census counts (up to 2006) in parts of the country. Similarly, the most recent census count in Eritria was in 1984, in Pakistan was in 1998, and in Uzbekistan was in 1989. Other countries also had only old census counts but used more recent health or social surveys to update their estimates. For example, Chad used a 1993 census count updated with a 2004 health survey, the Democratic Republic of Congo used a 1984 census updated with a 2007 health survey, and Somalia used a 1975 census updated with a 2002 social survey. The most recent data from many other countries was from 2001 census counts, which were more recent and so more likely to be accurate estimates of 2010 population, but not exact counts.
A related problem is that in many cases, countries or regions may not have data available. For example, one report indicates that for some regions of Asia, only 15% of the population were represented in mortality registration data. (2)
Thus, most reports have reasonably data. Conclusions from such data and reports should be viewed, though, with some degree of caution.
Units of analysis: A second caution about reports about demographic trends is about the units of analysis. In our reports, for example, we describe infant mortality rates by world region. But there is considerable variation within regions. For example, The following table shows infant mortality rates for 2005-2010 for several countries in Asia. As can be seen, there is wide variation in IMR, ranging from 71 in Pakistan to 3 in Japan.
Infant Mortality Rate, 2005-2010, Asia
World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision
There is also considerable demographic variation even within countries. For example, IMR varies widely within Japan (3), caused by a number of factors such as per capita public health nurses, maternal education, centralized water supply and household income. Similarly, variationin IMR within countries happens due to variation in maternal health and other regional factors (4).
That is, regions and countries are often used for convenience in demographic reports. As above, reports using regions or countries as units of analysis can give general overviews of demographic conditions and trends, but should be used as overviews or introductions, or in the context of more detailed information.
(1) United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, New York, 2011 (comprehensive Excel tables). Country data. http://esa.un.org/wpp/sources/country.aspx
(2) Availability and quality of cause-of-death data for estimating the global burden of injuries, Kavi Bhalla, James E Harrison, Saeid Shahraz, Lois A Fingerhut & on behalf of the Global Burden of Disease Injury Expert Group. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2010;88:831-838C. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/11/09-068809/en/index.html
(3) Mishina H, Hilton JF, Takayama JI. Trends and variations in infant mortality among 47 prefectures in Japan. J Eval Clin Pract. 2012 May 29. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2012.01862.x. [Epub ahead of print] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22639950
(4) Mario Sims, Tammy L. Sims, and Marino A. Bruce. Urban poverty and infant mortality rate disparities. J Natl Med Assoc. 2007 April; 99(4): 349–356.
PMCID: PMC2569641 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569641/
First Copyright June 2002. Updated in September
2011, April 2012, July 2012 and January 2013.
May be used provided proper citation is given.
Shackman, Gene, Xun Wang and Ya-Lin Liu. 2013. Brief review of world demographic trends - Summary. Available at