According to recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the growth rate of the world population has slowed down considerably over the last decade. In 2002, humanity added 74 million people to its global population, down from 87 million added per year a decade ago.
The rate of growth peaked 40 years ago, when it stood at about 2.2 percent a year. The Census Bureau partly attributes the drop to women having fewer children. In 1990, women around the world gave birth to 3.3 children on average, the report says. By 2002, the average had dropped to 2.6 children—slightly above the level needed to assure replacement of the population.
The Bureau’s projections show the level of fertility for the world as a whole descending below replacement level by 2050. It forecasts there will be nearly 9.1 billion people by 2050, just under a 50 percent increase from the 6.2 billion in 2002.
The Census Bureau also projects a population decline in Africa because of the lower life expectancy due to HIV-AIDS. The projections also indicate that by 2010, some African countries will experience falls in life expectancy at birth to about 30 years—a level not seen since the early 20th Century. Much of this trend is likely to result from AIDS, the Bureau reports.