Writing About Population Projections: Beware

by Carl Haub, senior demographer, Population Reference Bureau

It’s quite common to see reports such as “The United Nations projects that world population will be 9.3 billion in 2050,” a perfectly true statement. Many readers will most likely take that at face value and move on. But they should be asking questions! There are over 200 countries in the world with birth rates from 1.1 children per woman (in Taiwan) to 7.6 (in Niger). In most of those countries, it is the future course of the birth rate that will largely determine population size. The projection of 9.3 billion is just the sum of all the country-level population projections. What should those readers ask? For starters: What does the United Nations assume will happen to all those birth rates over the next few decades?

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