According to a new report by the UN Population Fund, there will be 7 billion people on earth by Oct. 31, 2011.

The report, titled The State of World Population 2011: People and possibilities in a world of 7 billion, will be released globally on Oct. 26. It shows that actions we take today could determine whether world population will grow to 10 billion or 16 billion by the end of the century. It will also urge nations to ensure that our future is more equitable and environmentally sustainable.

The new report is an update on earlier findings that the world's population would breach 7 billion by the end of the year. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) now estimates that the population will reach that mark by the end of the month.

The fund notes that this milestone will be marked by achievements, setbacks, and paradoxes.

For instance, globally, people are younger - and older - than ever before. In some 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.

How did we get to 7 million?

By the end of October, the world's population will be double the number of people that lived on earth in the 1960s.

Scarier still, the fund believes that earth's population will reach 8 billion people in just 14 more years.

According to recent projections by the United Nations, by 2100, there will be well over 10 billion of us cramming for space on planet earth.

Needless to say, those numbers are dramatically larger than anything the earth has experienced before - and scientists are very concerned about the impact this surplus of humans will have on the world. Namely, they are unsure whether or not the planet can actually sustain that many people.

While the 2100 predictions are frightening to many, demographers believe that by the end of the century, the global population will gradually level off. Researchers can't predict with any certainty when that may happen or at what level, but the debate rages on as to how the current level of population growth will impact the environment, economy, and quality of life.

It's not all bad news

The UNFPA is careful to state that there are many positive achievements.

Our record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity, the UNFPA notes in their press summary.

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.

Immunization campaigns have also reduced the prevalence of childhood diseases worldwide.

Where will the population growth happen?

Most of the increase will come from high-fertility countries, which comprise 39 in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceana, and four in Latin America.

The vast majority of the population growth to take place between now and 2050 is expected to be in less developed regions. Nearly half will take place in Africa, where in some regions, population is doubling every 20 years. This makes it near impossible for communities to keep up with the growing demand for health clinics, schools, housing, and roads.

Africa's population will more than triple in the 21st century, with a growth rate of about 2.3 percent each year.

Meanwhile, the populations in more developed countries are expected to remain flat, sparking economic concerns in the developed world as less working-age adults are around to support retirees on pensions.

The population of Europe, for example, is projected to peak around 2025 at .74 billion and decline thereafter.

The 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 provide.

Population statistics and inequalities

The UNFPA hopes that nations can chart a path now to development that promotes equality, rather than exacerbating or reinforcing inequalities.

Though progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty, gaps between the rich and poor have widened nearly 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.

According to that study, growth began accelerating with industrialization around 1750. The world did not reach one billion people until 1804, and it took another 125 years to hit two billion.

Yet, the number grew dramatically over the last 50 years from three billion to seven billion (3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, and 6 billion in 1998) and actually peaked in the mid-1960s with a growth 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.

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 remain as it is.

However, the global average is 2.5 births per woman, down from five in 1950. It is important to note that these numbers are hard to grasp based on an average because the number varies drastically by geographical location.

Statistically, women who matter more to society and have access to education end up having fewer children.

This has led many experts to push for a worldwide investment in family planning programs that would provide women with the education they need and access to contraception.

The UNFPA notes that 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 their press summary of the report.

Oct. 31, 2011

The clock is ticking and in just a few days, the world will reach a new milestone: 7 billion people.

The UN Population Fund keeps track of the current world population estimates with a running ticker on its 7billionactions.org (7 Billion Actions) Web site. Have a look to see the real time estimate as we countdown to Oct. 31.

For a more personal look at the world at 7 billion, view the videos below from the UNFPA.