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    World Population reaches 8 billion on 15 November 2022

    Experts in the United Nations Population Division have estimated that the world’s population will hit 8 billion on 15 November 2022, having risen by 1 billion since 2011. The growing global population is a direct result of progress in medicine and health systems, is a measure of improvements in education and development, and is a landmark for human survival. [1]

    The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said that the milestone was “an occasion to celebrate our diversity, recognise our common humanity, and marvel at the advancements in health that have expanded lifespans, and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates”. [1]

    To mark the milestone, CPC Director and PI of Connecting Generations, Professor Jane Falkingham OBE, took part in a Population Europe event ‘How far have we come, and where are we headed?’. The webinar brought together demographers from five European population centres, with discussions focusing on how the world has evolved since reaching 5 billion inhabitants in 1987, and how the future might look.

    Professor Falkingham discussed intergenerational support systems in post-demographic transition ageing societies. Her talk considered how the life course has changed in recent decades and the impact on support, future social change, intergenerational solidarity, and the importance of generations working together. You can watch a recording of the event on YouTube:

    In this article, we take a look at the changes and trends driving population change, and what this means today and in the future according to some of our research.

    Slowing population growth

    Recent projections by the UN suggest that global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, and 9.7 billion in 2050. Despite the apparent speed of hitting this latest demographic milestone, the global population rate has slowed substantially, and is currently at its slowest rate since the 1950s. [1]

    Over previous decades, demographic diversity has increased. There has been an improvement in life expectancy worldwide, and this, accompanied by falling fertility rates, explains the rapid ageing of populations everywhere. However, population growth is currently concentrated in the world’s poorest countries, whilst some of the richest countries are experiencing population decline. This diversity has brought with it concerns from both ends of the spectrum – while some of the poorest countries are concerned with how they can sustain the needs of a large and growing population, some of the richest are worrying about how they can promote fertility. [2]

    CPC researchers, Dr Jason Hilton and Professor Brienna Perelli-Harris, have responded to alarming reports of falling birth rates, highlighting that demographers have long known that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been declining worldwide. They also point out that population estimation is uncertain - forecasting mortality and fertility over a long period of time is hard; social and economic changes, as well as technological advancements, can alter their path. [3]

    Dr Hilton and Professor Perelli-Harris also note that declining fertility often represents positive societal developments. Increased autonomy for women, improved education and access to unmet need for contraception is correlated with lower fertility. [3]

    In the UK, data shared by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2022, showed that half of women in England and Wales are childless by their 30th birthday – a record high since data collection began in the 1930s.

    Research undertaken at CPC by Dr Bernice Kuang and colleagues has found that women are delaying or foregoing having children for a variety of reasons, including labour market engagement, increases in women’s education, lack of stable work, lack of appropriate housing, and difficulty accessing affordable childcare services. [4]

    Their research also shows that policies promoting fertility haven’t consistently resulted in increased fertility. For example, despite France being a pioneer of such policies, the fertility rate has dropped from above two children per woman in 2010, to 1.83 in 2021. [5]

    CPC-CG members, Professor Ann Berrington and Dr Joanne Ellison, investigated the expected impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fertility. Data from the Office for National Statistics suggested that there was a temporary decline in babies conceived during the first three months of the first UK lockdown in 2020, followed by a resurgence in fertility rates to levels above those seen in previous years.

    Professor Berrington and Dr Ellison considered a range of social and economic factors that might positively or negatively affect the decision to become pregnant. They speculated that the pandemic would not have a uniform effect on fertility rates, rather that it would affect childbearing differently based on a woman’s age.

    For young people, a sharp reduction in socialising may have meant fewer opportunities to meet people and form romantic and sexual relationships.

    While for established couples, spending more time together with a focus on home life, and the impacts of furlough or working from home, potentially encouraged people to have children they may not otherwise have had. [6]

    Their research concluded that the Covid-19 pandemic was more likely to lead to a suppression of fertility among younger adults, , while among slightly older people, they found more reasons to expect fertility increase.

    In England and Wales, the average fertility rate rose to 1.61 children per woman in 2021, compared with 1.58 in 2020, the first time we have seen a rise since 2012.However, the longer term sustainability of this increase remains uncertain with the current cost-of-living crisis, , difficulties in securing stable, affordable housing, a greater awareness of environmental concerns and worries about global security, all of which could diminish people’s desires to have children.

    An ageing population

    According to the UN, the share of the global population aged 65 and above is expected to rise from 10% in 2022 to 16% in 2050; when it is also expected that the number of people over the age of 65 will be more than double those aged five and under. The UN also highlighted that global life expectancy at birth reached 72.8 years in 2019, an improvement of almost 9 years since 1990. They predict that by 2050, global life expectancy will reach around 77.2 years. [1]

    Latest estimates from the UK census show that in 2021 18.6% of the population were aged 65 and over, an increase from 16.4% in 2011. The census also highlighted that the proportion of people over 80 in England and Wales has increased by 2.2% in 2011 to 5%. [7]

    Professor Jane Falkingham OBE explains that understanding these changes is essential for future planning:

    “While the percentage change in the proportion of people in the oldest age groups might seem small, understanding increases in these age groups is vitally important. There is a clear correlation between increasing age and the need for social care, and we also need to know where older people are living so that we can meet the future demand for services in these areas.” [7]

    Globally, the family remains the dominant source of support for social care in later life. But, as we have seen, these traditional systems of family support are coming under pressure due to, for example, longer lives, more older people than young people, and – particularly women’s – increasing participation in the labour market, and for longer. [8]

    Intergenerational caring

    With the increasing number of older people living longer and needing support, the amount of intergenerational carers, also called “the sandwich generation” is rising. The “sandwich generation” are mid-life individuals who support both their parents and their children, whether financially, physically, or emotionally.

    CPC research has investigated how parents and adult children care for each other, exploring what it is like to be a carer, and how this affects your paid employment. In the UK, about 3% of the population care for more than one generation either in the same home, or across multiple homes.

    Successive UK governments have reduced the benefits to working families with children; although the government has introduced 30 hours of free childcare per week, the cost of childcare means that many parents (frequently mothers) are unable to work full-time without family support.

    Professor Athina Vlachantoni, a CPC and Centre for Research on Ageing researcher, has highlighted that “the role of grandparents has significantly increased over the last decade. Older parents facilitating, especially younger women, to stay in the labour market and become more senior and progress is a key part of the sandwich generation”. [9]

    As well as those that care for grandchildren, there are those that care for older relatives with implications on their working lives. People in mid-life who have caring responsibilities are more likely to reduce the amount of paid work they do so that they can provide care, particularly if they are female, single, are in lower paid employment, have poor health themselves and have frequent contact with their parents.

    However, with the ageing population, there are generally smaller cohorts of adults of traditional working age available to support the growing number of elders. Intergenerational relationships will likely move beyond kin to embrace, for example, friendship networks, neighbours and communities. Such relationships and associated flows of support may take on greater prominence where kinship ties are weakened, for example, if family members do not live near each other, or if people are childless. One in five women born in the 1960s in the UK, for example, were childless at age 50, meaning that the number of women childless at age 80 will triple from around 20,000 today to over 60,000 in 2045.

    “I have always found that effective policy tools are the ones that give individuals real choice,” reflects Profession Vlachantoni. “Looking to the future, my hope is that employers and the government will recognise the often ‘hidden’ life outside of the workplace, where many people are juggling multiple caring responsibilities, and create policies and working conditions which support individuals in their roles, and ultimately support our ageing society as a whole.” [10] [11]


    Migration is an important component of population change. Migration can have complex implications on sending and receiving countries, from benefits to low fertility countries receiving healthy young workers, to disadvantages for communities in sending regions who may experience loss of workers and ‘left behind’ elders. Both international and internal migration can affect intergenerational relationships; younger people moving for studies and work can mean weakened kinship ties which has implications for care needs. It is also important to consider migration from an environmental and political perspective, as both have an impact on the places in which people live.

    The uncertainty of migration presents a significant challenge for resource planning, and it is necessary to recognise that migration can never be perfectly estimated or predicted. The more than 2 million refugees fleeing Ukraine in the first two weeks after the Russian invasion in February 2022 demonstrate the scale of the challenge. A policy change in one country can have unplanned effects on the migration flows to or from other countries. Dealing with uncertainty in the size and pattern of migration is important when devising migration policies and the potential impact of migration on society and the economy. [12]

    Research led by CPC-CG member, Professor Jakub Bijak, under the QuantMig project is working towards ensuring policy makers are better prepared for various migration contingencies by devising appropriate analytical tools for addressing the challenges posed by the barely predictable nature of migration flows.

    Where next?

    Many countries are already adapting public policies and programmes to meet the needs of the growing numbers of older people. To progress further the UN suggests the establishment of universal health care and long-term care systems and improving the sustainability of social security and pension systems. For those in the sandwich generation, more supportive policies around flexible working and a recognition of the unpaid labour that goes on outside the workplace would be beneficial.

    Fertility levels are different across the globe. In the UK, policies which support younger people in their transitions to adulthood, such as stable employment, access to affordable housing, cost of living assistance and improved childcare provision may support improved choices about when to start a family. In countries with increasing fertility, improved access to education and contraception can support women in gaining autonomy and choice about the number and timing of children.

    Recent years have shown how unpredictable global migration flows can be. By working more collaboratively and creating evidence-informed migration policies incorporating flexibility and uncertainty, the international community can be better prepared for migration events.

    Watch Professor Falkingham on TRT World News discussing population growth and decline:

    To discover more about population change and its implications, visit www.cpc.ac.uk and follow our social media accounts: @CPCpopulation @ConnectingGens www.facebook.com/CPCpopulation.

    Further reading

    1. Day of Eight Billion (UN)
    2. The Global Population Will Soon Reach 8 Billion—Then What? (UN)
    3. Is global fertility really plummeting? How population forecasts are made (The Conversation)
    4. Half of women in England and Wales do not have children by age 30 (Financial Times)
    5. Baby bust: Can policymakers boost dwindling world fertility rates? (Financial Times)
    6. Effect of lockdowns on birth rates in the UK (CPC News)
    7. Census 2021: How England and Wales have aged over the past four decades (Sky News)
    8. Global Ageing and Long-term Care Network (GALNet)
    9. Why the 'sandwich generation' is so stressed out (BBC Worklife)
    10. Social participation and health outcomes among carers in Great Britain (CPC Policy Briefing 47)
    11. Informal caring in mid-life and its economic consequences (CPC Policy Briefing 46)
    12. What Is QuantMig

    Posted 14/11/2022 16:30