There has been tremendous growth in the size of the world’s population in the last half century. Global population was around 3 billion in 1960. By 1987, in less than three decades, it had surpassed 5 billion and there were around 7.6 billion people in the world in 2018.
This growth varies greatly across regions. Since 1960, the largest relative growth has taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa where the population expanded from 227 million in 1960 to more than 1 billion in 2018—a nearly fivefold increase. The second largest growth over the period can be seen in Middle East and North Africa, where the population increased more than 4 times, from 105 million to 449 million.
It is projected that the world’s population will continue to grow and will reach nearly 10 billion by 2050. While in other regions growth will slow significantly, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the population is projected to double by 2050, an expansion of nearly 10 times relative to 1960, from 227 million to 2.2 billion.
As a result, the share of Sub-Saharan Africa in the world’s population is projected to grow as well. In 1960, the share of the region was just 7 percent, but this has increased to 14 percent in 2018, and is projected to reach 23 percent by 2050. Globally, almost 1 in 4 people will be Sub-Saharan African in 2050, whereas the ratio was 1 in 13 in 1960.
This is largely due to continuously higher fertility rates in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to the rest of the world. Today, on average, women there have 4.8 children per woman, compared with less than 3 children per woman worldwide, and the fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to remain substantially higher than in any other region for the next few decades.
The size of the world’s population is the result of fertility and mortality in the past years – births and deaths. In fact, there is a strong correlation between fertility and mortality. Women tend to have more children where children are more likely to die, and bear fewer children where their child’s risk of dying is lower. In all regions, both mortality and fertility are lowering, but in Sub-Saharan Africa both fertility and mortality are higher than in other parts of the world, and fertility tends to be higher for a given level of child mortality, when compared to other regions, such as South Asia.
Fertility level has a broad range across countries spanning from less than 1.1 children per woman in the Korean Republic to more than 7.1 children in Niger. The risk of dying for children also varies across countries from 2.1 children dying per 1000 live births in Iceland to 127 children dying in Somalia according to the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).
Population data can be accessed through the World Development Indicators database and Population Estimates and Projections database. For more information on data coverage, curation, and methodologies, please refer to the World Development Indicators website, and HealthStats website.