Danica May is one of several babies around the world symbolically designated the seven-billionth person on earth by the UN. She was born just before midnight on Sunday in the Philippines.
With the world’s six billion mark surpassed just 12 years in the past, in 1999, major organisations are at work on resource allocation and guiding planning.
It is forecasted that planet earth will pass the nine-billion mark before 2050 — so, some two billion in 38 years. By 2100, the researchers are predicting 10 billion people, with Indians outnumbering Chinese well before that.
Underdeveloped countries or those in development today represent a large percentage of the world population, underscoring a demographic challenge. Policy must take account of everyone’s ageing populations, notably in China, which has a general one-child-per-couple limit. Since in a few decades time over-60s will represent around a quarter of the population, experts are warning that more has to be done to encourage child-bearing, including in China.
Fudan University sociology professor Peng Xizhe said: “At this moment, if we are only dealing with the problem of ageing. It would definitely be better for China to relax the one child policy, to allow couples, or even encourage the younger generation, to produce more kids. But of course this will come at a cost: the population will be even bigger than expected.”
The impact of ageing is already a strong consideration in developed countries, which have far higher proportions of older people than the fast developers have.
Those of retirement age and older in 1950 counted 200 million 60 years ago. Now that is 900 million. This is largely down to declining birth rates; 60 years ago, women the world over were having five children each per year, on average. By 2005, that has halved. Also, people are living longer now. Average life expectancy in 1950 was age 47. It is now 65. In 2050 it is projected to be 75 years.
But even in rich western countries, the people born in the boom after WWII, between 1945 and 1965, some experts say are not likely to enjoy the proper treatment each deserves.
Alexandre Kalache, a global ageing specialist with the World Health Organisation, said: “We continue to have the same attitudes and denying to older people what they should have, which is the same rights as the rest of the population. You go to health services, there is discrimination! To education… discrimination! Jobs… discrimination!”
Even thinking in terms of billions is mind-boggling. In the time of Jesus, the world had some 300 million people. Today the task of organising who pays for what, how much, when and how is far bigger than it ever was.