6 Billionth

We Are

Population Change and People's Choice

The world’s population reached 6 billion around 12 October 1999. It has doubled since 1960. And it is still increasing rapidly—by 77 million a year—and may grow to 9 billion or more by 2050. Most of the increase will be in the world’s poorest and least-prepared countries.

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Population growth is slowing in much of the world, and has already stopped in developed countries and some developing ones. But a global slowdown is not inevitable. When and at what level world population ultimately stabilizes, and whether this is accompanied by increasing well-being or increasing stress, will depend heavily on decisions and action in the next 10 years—particularly on action to ensure gender equity and enable all people to enjoy their rights to reproductive health and choice.

Reaching 6 billion has both positive and negative aspects.  
On the positive side, it is the result of personal choice and collective action for better health and longer life.  This is reflected, for example in:

Every newborn
whose mother had a healthy pregnancy;
Every young woman
who can protect herself from HIV infection;
Every older person
who protected their health while they were younger;
Every Infant
who is properly fed;
Every woman
who can space her
who avoids health risks with better information
and responsible behaviour;
Every girl
who receives better nutrition, health care and education;
Every man
who accepts responsibility
for his own and his family's well-being;
who has choices and control over the key decisions in their lives.

The 6 Billionth Baby

During this final year of the 20th century, a child will be born, bringing the world's population to 6 billion. No one knows when or where the baby will arrive. It could be a girl or a boy, the child of a millionaire or — far more likely — the child of a family living on less than a dollar a day. But regardless of where the infant draws its first breath, it will be endowed with the fundamental human rights as any other child — to life, to protection, to education, to health care, to an adequate standard of living and more. There is a catch, however. The child's chances of enjoying these birthrights, and of fulfilling his or her potential, will depend on where this baby is born and to whom - and whether it is a girl or a boy.

  • The 6 billionth baby has less than 1 chance in 10 of being born into relative prosperity, as a member of the majority in an industrialized country or of the wealthy minority in a developing one. On the other hand, the child has 3 chances in 10 of being born into extreme poverty — and 4 in 10 of being only marginally better off.

  • The 6 billionth child will also find himself in a world where the gap between rich and poor has never been so wide. The richest one fifth of humanity has 82 times the income of the poorest fifth — and consumes 86 per cent of the world's resources.

  • The 6 billionth child will be particularly disadvantaged if she is born into a minority ethnic group — a category that includes two thirds of the poorest children in the United States, for example. In Peru, indigenous people one-and-a-half times more likely to be poor and almost three times more likely to be extremely poor non-indigenous people.

  • If the baby is a girl, she will also be worse off than a boy born almost anywhere. She may receive less than her brother when food is scarce, and she will be less likely to start school. If she is put in school, she will have a greater chance than her brother of being taken out, either to save her family the cost of schooling or because she is needed to work at home.

  • The 6 billionth baby's future will also be much brighter if her mother has received some education. The child will be less likely to die in infancy, will grow up healthier and better fed and will be more likely to start and to stay in school. Indeed, increased schooling for girls sends benefits cascading through societies and economies. As more girls are educated, and for longer periods, their confidence and empowerment will rise, and infant mortality and population growth will fall — all of this a boon to life expectancy and overall economic growth.

Excerpted from The Progress of Nations 1999 The Roll of the Dice
by Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF.

Where We Are Today

  • Global population has quadrupled in 100 years,
    a rate of increase unknown in previous history.

  • Life expectancies are increasing in most countries. A child born today has a better chance than ever before of surviving in-fancy and living a long, healthy life.

  • There are more young people (over 1 billion aged 15-24) than ever before, and many developing countries have an unprecedented share of the population in their working-age years. At the same time, there are more older people than ever before, and populations are steadily ageing.

  • A growing majority of women and men have the information and means to make choices about the number and spacing of their children.

  • Education has become more accessible, to women as well as men, and its importance more widely appreciated.

  • Communication and travel have become easier, accelerating the flow of ideas and people within and between countries.

  • Women are gaining increasing control over their life choices. In diverse cultural settings, women are demanding equality with men in social and economic participation, decision-making and control of resources.

  • Environmental degradation and climate change, new diseases, social disruption and economic instability all threaten people’s health, livelihoods and security, and are spreading more widely and quickly than ever before. Fortunately, so can opportunity, technology and social progress.

Population Change and People's Choices

Death Rate Cut by Half
Since 1950, the death rate has been cut in half, from about 20 to fewer than 10 deaths per year per thousand people. At the same time, average global life expectancy has risen from 46 to 66 years.

Fertility is Declining, but Unevenly
Asia’s fertility fell sharply in the last 50 years, from 5.9 to 2.6 children per woman. Sub-Saharan Africa’s has dropped much more slowly, from 6.5 to 5.5. Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a decline from 5.9 to 2.7, North Africa and Western Asia from 6.6 to 3.5. Europe’s fertility rate fell from 2.6 to 1.4, well below replacement level. On the other hand, Northern America’s fertility fell from 3.5 in 1950-1955 to 1.8 in the late 1970s, and then rebounded to the 1.9 to 2.0 range, where it has remained. It is projected to stay around 1.9 to the middle of the 21st century.

Education leads to smaller, healthier families
One of the strongest and most consistent relationships in demography is between mothers’ education and infant mortality — the children of women with more years of schooling are much more likely to survive infancy. More-educated mothers have better health care, marry later and are significantly more likely to use contraception to space their children.

Women's Literacy & Population Growth: Selected Countries

Ageing Populations
A gradual ageing of the global population in the decades to come is all but certain. The reasons for this trend reflect the substantial human progress of this century —lowered infant and child mortality; better nutrition, education, health care and access to family planning; and longer life expectancies.

The Youth Factor
Today, as a result of high fertility in the recent past, there are more young people than ever — over 1 billion between ages 15 and 24. They are entering their peak childbearing years.
In all developing countries, the proportion of the population aged 15-24 peaked around 1985 at 21 per cent. Between 1995 and 2050, it will decline from 19 to 14 per cent, but actual numbers will grow from 859 million to 1.06 billion

The Impact of AIDS
HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death in Africa and the fourth most common cause of death worldwide.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that 33.4 million people were HIV-positive as of December 1998 and 2.5 million died of the disease in 1998
— 2 million in Africa. One half of all new HIV infections are in young people between ages 15 and 24.

Regional Distribution Changing
As the global population has doubled over the past 40 years, the shifts in geographical distribution of that population have been equally remarkable. In 1960, 2.1 billion of the world’s 3 billion people lived in less-developed regions (70 per cent of the global population). By late 1999, the less-developed regions had grown to 4.8 billion (80 per cent); 98 per cent of the projected growth of the world population by 2025 will occur in these regions.

Global Trend Towards Urbanization
The proportion of people in developing countries who live in cities has almost doubled since 1960 (from less than 22 per cent to more than 40 per cent), while in more-developed regions the urban share has grown from 61 per cent to 76 per cent. There is a significant association between this population movement from rural to urban areas and declines in average family size.

International Migration
Globally, the number of international migrants increased from 75 million to 120 million between 1965 and 1990, keeping pace with population growth. As a result, the proportion of migrants worldwide has remained around 2 per cent of the total population.

Water, Land and Food
An estimated 1.1 billion people were without access to clean drinking water in 1996; 2.8 billion people lacked access to sanitation services. Each year an estimated 5 to 7 million hectares of agricultural land are lost to erosion. The world's absolute food supply is almost certainly sufficient for six billion or more people now and in the future: yet some 841 million people-nearly one sixth of the world's population-are chronically malnourished today.



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