How Will the World Look When It Stops Growing?
Dr. James Emery White
- 2019 Aug 26
What will the world look like when it stops growing?
And it will stop growing.
In the year 1800, there were less than 1 billion people on the planet. Through advances in medicine, sanitation and food production, by 1900 there were 1.65 billion, and by 2000 there were more than 6 billion. In a breathtakingly short 20 years since, we’ve climbed to 7.7 billion.
But this will not continue. In a fascinating article in The Atlantic, the number of people on Earth will stop growing. “Based on the latest figures from the United Nations, demographers’ best guess for when this will happen is about 2100. By then, the global population is projected to have risen to just shy of 11 billion.”
Population declines have happened before, such as with the Black Death, which is estimated to have killed 200 million people, but the leveling-off in population being predicted is not about upcoming disasters or plagues. It’s about people having fewer children, largely as a result of “rising incomes and levels of education, especially for women and especially in less-wealthy countries.”
This isn’t mere conjecture. Population predictions are usually less uncertain than other social and economic projections. “This is because researchers already know roughly how many humans there are now, as well as how old everyone is, so they can guess, with some confidence, how many people will be of childbearing age in the next couple of decades—which means they can then guess how many children people will have.”
And not only will the world’s population peak at around 11 billion, it will stay at around 11 billion, barring some unforeseen increase in fertility rates. This also means that we can forecast what the world will look like at a population of 11 billion. “Because some determinants of what the population will be 80 years from now are locked in today, it’s possible to anticipate broad demographic shifts.”
Ready for some headlines from the future?
Africa will be the most populous continent, Islam will be the most popular religion, and there will be a lot more elderly people. During the next eight decades, the number of people aged 80 or older will rise from 146 million to 881 million. The median age will increase from 31 to 42.
Many will want to focus on the ascent of Islam, and that is certainly noteworthy. Islam is growing faster than Christianity larger through a more robust birth rate.
But Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, a development-sociology professor at Cornell University, makes an intriguing analysis of the equally, if not greater, cultural importance of age. “Because the young shape a lot of the large segments of the culture – let’s say, artistic culture or sports culture – it would be interesting to see where most of the young people [will be],” he says. According to his calculations based on the UN’s data, the proportion of all humans on Earth under the age of 25 who live in Asia will drop from 56 to 37% between next year and 2100. Meanwhile, Africa’s share of the global population of young people will shoot up, from 25 to 48%. (The proportion living in the rest of the world will not fluctuate much.)
So not only will Africa have the most people, but also the youngest. So let’s continue to pray for and support the explosion of the Christian faith in Africa.
It may just hold the future of our world.
James Emery White
Joe Pinsker, “What Happens When the World’s Population Stops Growing?” The Atlantic, July 31, 2019, read online.
“World Population Prospects 2019,” United Nations, New York 2019, read online.
Anthony Cilluffo and Neil G. Ruiz, “World’s Population Is Projected to Nearly Stop Growing by the End of the Century,” Pew Research Center, June 17, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.