On Oct. 31, 2011 there will be 7 billion people on earth, according to a new report by the UN Population Fund.
Titled The State of World Population 2011: People and possibilities in a world of 7 Billion, the report was released globally on Oct. 26. It shows that actions we take today could determine whether the world population will grow to 10 billion or 16 billion by the end of the century. The report also urges nations to ensure that our future is more equitable and environmentally sustainable.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) report updates earlier findings that suggested that the world's population would not breach 7 million until the end of the year. New estimates put that date at the end of the month and a real time ticker on 7billionactions.org tracks that number in real time.
UNFPA notes that the milestone will be marked by achievements, setbacks, and paradoxes.
For example, globally, people are younger - and older - than ever before. In many of the world's poorest nations, high fertility rates hamper development and perpetuate poverty, while in some of the world's richest countries, low fertility rates and too few people entering the job market raise concerns about sustainable economic growth.
7 Billion - How did we get here?
On Monday, the world's population will be twice the number of humans that lived on earth in the 1960s. Even scarier is the fact that earth's population will likely reach 8 billion in just 14 more years.
Growth began its rapid acceleration with industrialization around 1750. However, humanity did not reach its first billion until 1804. It took another 125 years to hit the two billion mark.
The numbers grew dramatically over the last 50 years from three billion in 1959 to seven billion this coming Monday.
Growth rates actually peaked in the mid-1960s with a rate of two percent per year. Today, the annual growth rate hovers around one percent.
Research suggests that in 2011, roughly 135 million people will be born and 57 million will die - making a net increase of 78 million people.
Looking ahead, the UN projects that the world population will reach 8 billion by 2025 and 10 billion by 2083.
Needless to say, those numbers are drastically greater than anything earth has experienced before. This has scientists concerned about the impact that this surplus of humans will have on the world. Notably, they are unsure whether or not the planet can actually sustain that many humans.
The predictions are frightening, but demographers say that by the end of the century, the global population will likely level off. Researchers cannot predict with any certainty when that may occur or at what level, but the debate rages on as to how current population levels will impact the economy, environment, and quality of life.
Look on the bright side
It's not all bad news. The UNFPA goes out of its way to state that there are many positive accomplishments.
Our record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity, the UNFPA notes in the report.
There is much to celebrate in world population trends over the last 60 years, especially the average life expectancy, which leapt from about 48 years in the early 1950s to about 68 in the first decade of the new century. Infant deaths plunged from about 133 in1000 births in the 1950s to 46 per 1000 in the period from 2005 to 2010.
Furthermore, immunization campaigns have reduced the prevalence of childhood diseases across the globe.
Population growth in developed and developing countries
By and large, the majority of the increase in population will occur in high-fertility countries, which comprise 39 in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceana, and four in Latin America.
Much of the population growth between 2011 and 2050 will be in less-developed regions and nearly half will occur in Africa, where some regions are experiencing a doubling population every 20 years. In these areas, it is near impossible for communities to keep up with the growing demand for schools, housing, roads, and health clinics.
The population of Africa will more than triple in the 21st century, with a growth rate of nearly 2.3 percent each year.
On the flip side, the populations in more developed countries are expected to remain flat. This sparks economic concerns as less working-age adults are around to support the retirees on pensions.
Europe's population, for example, is projected to peak around 2025 at .74 billion and decline thereafter.
UNFPA notes that while labor shortages threaten to stymie the economies of several industrialized countries, unemployed, would-be migrants in developing countries continue to find national borders closed to them and the expertise they may have to offer.
Inequalities of the global population
It is the hope of the UNFPA that nations will be able to chart a path now to development that promotes equality, rather than exacerbating or reinforcing inequalities.
Progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty. Yet, gaps between the rich and poor have widened almost everywhere.
Although the issues immediately confronting developing countries are different from those facing the rich countries, in a globalized world, demographic challenges anywhere are demographic challenges everywhere, David Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health argued in a recent series of papers published in Science.
Though longer life spans and lower death rates play a big role in explaining population growth, the variable that will make the largest change in how people will live on earth in 100 years is fertility rates.
If every woman had two babies, the world's population would - more or less - remain as it is. However, the global average is 2.5 births per woman, down from five in 1950. It's important to add that these numbers are hard to grasp based on a global average because the number varies dramatically by geographical location.
One thing is certain. Statistically, women who matter more to society and have more access to education end up having less kids.
Consequently, many experts are pushing for a worldwide investment in family planning programs that would provide women with the facts and education they need to access contraception.
According to the UNFPA, nations in the developing world where population growth is outpacing economic growth must meet the needs for reproductive health care, particularly voluntary family planning programs.
Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies, and information that women, men and young people need to exercise their reproductive rights, the UNFPA states in the report.
The clock is ticking and in just a few days, the world will reach a new milestone with the birth of the 7 billionth child.
For a more personal look at the milestone, view the videos below and visit 7billionactions.org.