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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Study Revises Population Forecast

UNITED NATIONS -- Women around the world are choosing to have fewer children, confounding long-held predictions of a global population of 10 billion by the end of this century, a UN study said.

Demographers from around the world met at the United Nations on Monday to consider lowering that estimate to between 8 billion and 9 billion.

That is not just a mathematical exercise. The implications are "momentous," the UN Population Division report said. Governments use population projections to plan just about everything, from social security to school budgets, said Joseph Chamie, the agency's director.

For decades, experts assumed the global population, now about 6 billion, would reach a staggering 10 billion by the end of this century. But the past few decades have witnessed dramatic declines in birthrates in the large, developing nations that were driving the growth.

There are 74 countries in what the United Nations calls the intermediate-level fertility group, where women have between 2.1 and 5 children each. This group accounts for about 43 percent of the world's population and includes Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, and Mexico.

The study suggests those nations are heading toward a fertility rate of 1.85 children for each woman by 2050, a significant decrease that in India alone would represent 85 million fewer people.

"That's groundbreaking because anything below two children, like we have in Europe, the population starts to decline," Chamie said.

If that new scenario is correct, the world population will ultimately begin to shrink, though not in this century. Since 1965, world fertility has declined from 5 to 2.7 births per woman, the study said.

There are many factors for the declining birthrates, not the least of which is the use of contraceptives. Now that women have the means to limit the size of their families, they are choosing to do so, Chamie said.

Also, many people in developing nations are moving to cities, negating the need for large rural families. Changing attitudes about the role of women, declines in infant mortality and better reproductive healthcare also play a role.

Suriname is at the low end of the intermediate-level nations with a birthrate of 2.2 children per woman, while Guatemala and Sudan are at the high end with 4.9. By comparison, Europe is at 1.34 children per woman and Japan 1.33. China, the most populous nation, has a birthrate of 1.8 children per woman.