World Population Day, people on the planet and inequalities grow

World Population Day is just around the corner, as the United Nations will celebrate it on Monday, July 11th. Experts from the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities have provided some insights on the topic, addressing demographic challenges, migration issues, and persisting inequalities

World Population Day was established by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 1989 and officially endorsed by the General Assembly in the 1990 Resolution 45/216. The observance provides an opportunity to reflect on the world population challenges. It stems from the enthusiasm with which the public opinion celebrated the milestone of 5 billion people on earth in 1987. Today, the world is populated by more than 8 billion people, and estimates predict an increase to 10 billion in 2050 and 11 billion in 2100. This trend brings distinct risks and opportunities for the different continents. Europe is grappling with a demographic decline, consisting of an increase in older segments of the population and a general decrease in young and working-age people. In contrast, Africa is the continent where more than half of the overall growth will occur between now and 2050. In Asia, on the other hand, China and India firmly hold the record as the most populous countries.

What are the factors conditioning population growth or decline? What kind of economic, social, and geopolitical consequences arise from them? These are some of the questions experts from the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU) address. SACRU is a network composed of eight Catholic Universities from four different continents. The contributions represent the personal views of individual academics and are not intended as the official positions of SACRU and its partner Universities.

Contributions by experts – SACRU Universities

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy)

 Written by Alessandro Rosina, Full Professor of Demography and Social Statistics

Demographic challenges of the 21st century

The world population has reached the 8 billion mark. The most intense growth phase took place in the last century as a consequence of the decrease in mortality compared to the high risks of the past. In the current century, growth continues, but in a decelerated manner due to the progressive reduction in fertility. Most of the world’s countries are now below the generational balance level (about two children per woman). Some continents, such as Europe, have fallen so low (around 1.5) that they have run out of room to grow. Therefore, if the world population continues to increase, it is mainly as a result of an inertial push caused by an age structure that is still unbalanced towards the younger ages. It is like a car that keeps running for a while even after the foot has taken the accelerator off. In particular, population growth is closely linked to the dynamics of Sub-Saharan Africa, which must be helped to complete its demographic transition in line with favorable conditions for sustainable development.

More than population growth per se, what characterizes the demographic challenges of this century are the differentiated rhythms, with an intertwining of the geographical dimension and age structure. This differentiated growth also tends to fuel increasing movements from poorer countries, with an exuberance of youth population, to more prosperous countries, with generational ratios increasingly skewed towards the elderly. International mobility is also fueled by climatic and political instability factors, which lead to facing and managing unforeseen humanitarian crises. One example is the emergency caused by the conflict in Ukraine, which has led to an exodus of refugees within Europe on an unprecedented scale in the post-World War II period.

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile)

Written by Rodrigo Figueroa, Dean of the School of Agriculture & Forestry

Challenges of food security in an increasing world population

We are currently facing an important socio-environmental crisis, which clearly reveals the interconnections of the global agri-food systems, especially under climate changes, such as extended droughts or severe floods at different latitudes. As if the above scenario was not complex, it is aggravated by the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation, countries representing 30% of the world’s wheat production and 78% of sunflower oil. Additionally, Russia is also a key provider of fertilizers worldwide. Concerns on food safety emerge rapidly everywhere, with critical situations concentrated in African and Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Chad, Congo, Madagascar, Yemen, Somalia, and some of the American continent (e.g., Venezuela); a situation that the Coronavirus Pandemic has exacerbated.

Therefore, rapid adjustments in farming practices should be promoted to improve the “resilience” of agri-food systems. This means promoting a more “agroecological intensified model,” keeping in mind the need for a higher yield for a larger population. Similarly, it also becomes vital to reduce food losses (in soccer words… “to improve defense”) associated with different stages (pre-and post-harvesting) and pests (weeds, insects, diseases) specific to each cropping system.

Surely, countries with large extensions (USA, Australia, and Canada), will increase their farming acreage, and there will be significant increases in global prices. Then, it is urgent to address the question of who will be the population with the greatest food risk on a sustained rise in prices? The answer is clear: our communities’ most vulnerable and poorest people will suffer the most. Therefore, we must heed the food safety call under the light of an “open fraternity,” as mentioned in Fratelli Tutti. It is there where the main focus and efforts must be.


Written by Rafael Sánchez, Professor at the Faculty of History, Geography and Political Science

 A joint effort of solidarity to address population growth

When World Population Day was celebrated on July 11, 1990, there were more than 5.28 billion people; thirty-two years later, those of us who commemorate this date will number 8 billion. In addition to these astonishing figures, we must reflect on the challenges we will face as Humanity, which will require all our efforts, creativity, and solidarity. Population growth is concentrated in Asia and Africa, which will be home to more than 80% of the world’s inhabitants by the end of this century. We must not forget that this increase will occur in territories that currently have a severe deficit of adequate housing, inequities in access to resources such as drinking water, electricity, and sewage, low investment in education and sanitation infrastructure, high levels of informality and precarious labor, and deteriorated environments, among other problems. In addition to all of the above, it should be considered that, along with population growth, there will be a parallel intense urbanization process, which will involve the concentration of population in large cities, exposing millions of people to the effects of extreme hazards generated by climate change.

The increase in social, economic, and territorial inequalities will drive large contingents of the population to migrate to new regions in search of job opportunities and better life expectancy, putting pressure on the social systems of the receiving countries. The expected increase in energy, water, and food consumption will generate significant pressures on fragile ecosystems, increasing the likelihood of armed conflicts over the control of resources, the search for new arable land at the expense of protected areas, the use of fossil fuels and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, the entire planet will see the consequences of population growth. Due to the above, it is necessary to consider that population growth is not and has never been a problem exclusive to certain countries, but rather a global challenge that necessarily requires the joint efforts of collaboration and the generosity of all. It is urgent to seek new and innovative strategies to help mitigate and adapt to the effects of population growth, generating integrated economic development and territorial plans that do not view the problems only from one sphere (economic, migratory, or climatic) or focus only on what happens within a country or a region. Instead, they should consider the demographic issue in a multidimensional manner and its effects beyond certain borders. Once again, our union, reciprocity, and fraternity as Humanity is the path we must follow to achieve global well-being.

Universitat Ramon Llull (Spain)

 Written by Valeria Bello, Associate Professor at the Blanquerna Faculty of Communication and International Relations

 Inequality: still the greatest challenge for our world population

With almost 8 billion humans, our globe is more populated than ever. Despite being also more educated than in the past, with its 91 percent lettered inhabitants, the world population does not seem to have become wiser. Adding to the negative environmental impact, it is also regrettable that humans do not treat their own kind better. Inequality is constantly increasing, as the United Nations have stressed in reports. The term refers to individuals’ comparative disadvantage or complete deprivation of rights and benefits. Its different forms can be summed up into two specimens: intergenerational and intragenerational inequalities. The term intergenerational inequality describes those gaps in enjoying environmental and socio-economic rights among different generations. Possibly, the major iniquity is that future generations will live on a planet far more deteriorated than the one enjoyed in previous and current times.

The second concept instead refers to those disparities existing within the same generations between different individuals due to gender, social classes, race, culture, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin. Almost all these inequalities result from human activity and organization, with its array of dominations, privileges, and prejudices. Colonial history and past and current racial, cultural, and gender discriminations and subsequent exclusions from equal participation in political, social, cultural, and economic life are among the major root causes. Such inequalities are often behind the necessity to migrate for those people looking elsewhere for that dignity denied to them within national borders. International migration has indeed also constantly grown for the past decades. However, although both public attention toward migration and governance techniques of border control are steadily expanding everywhere, the public measures to address inequality are definitely lagging behind, missing the radix of the problem. The hope that education per se would make this world wiser proved sadly wrong. More literacy alone seems irrelevant; it is the type of education people receive that can truly matter. The role of new generations, and their mentalities, is crucial in this concern. The planet will have to look forward to a “Better World Population Day,” hopefully coming soon.

Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Written by Marcelo Motta, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Environment

The homogenous or globalized civilizational model is indeed a risk

 At no other time of the planet evolution was the human population so big. Predictions point to ten billion inhabitants in three decades, and numerous reflections come from this realization. The most heart-touching one that strikes our human condition is precisely how, in what way, and with how much quality will all these beings live? Many layers of our beliefs will have to be discussed and revised to reflect on an answer. Thinking that there is only one way to live and that quality of life must follow the precepts of modern Western civilization is perhaps the crassest mistake that can be made. Diversity must be the best argument against that view. It is impossible to use the word “humanity” to define a homogenous human population over the planet or even to reduce it to the dimension of the species “homo sapiens.” We are much more complex, diverse, and therefore richer than into which modern definitions can fit us. We could talk about “humanities” or societies or “genres de vie” as defined by geographer LaBlache.

Humanity is as complex and varied as the lifestyles found in it. There is no homogeneity nor a single formula to live by on the planet. Thinking about homogeneity is what the modern project proposes: international organizations, division in national states, economic systems, forms of social reproduction based on production and business, etc. Perhaps the greatest concern that the numbers of population growth cause is the paradox between the unquestionable improvements that medicine has brought and the profound alteration of the lifestyles around the globe toward conditions of misery, hunger, and poverty. What do we propose as “humanity.”? Who is included in that concept? Absolutely everyone or those who agree with our culture’s lifestyles and cultivate the same values? Ultimately, we are discussing ethics and respect for the several ways to live and deeply questioning our civilizational model. We should question whether, at the same time that we propose better quality of life to all, we are leaving a great part of society out of these desired conditions of quality of life. Because, to summarize, we propose and practice an excluding civilizational model and this concern about growth population it is not a true concern about population, but about the maintenance of the civilizational model.

Boston College (United States of America)

Written by Alejandro Olayo-Méndez, S.J., Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work

Human mobility will be reactivated in a context of restrictions and Xenophobia

Migration is not a new phenomenon. Throughout human history, people have moved to other places for multiple reasons. The decision to migrate is often a compound decision and not based on a single motive. Sometimes people move because of work, family, and study. Other times, people leave their countries for compelling and understandable reasons such as hunger, lack of opportunities to earn a dignified livelihood, social violence, or climate shocks. The majority of people often move internally, within their own country. The ones that move internationally often do so to neighboring countries or regions. The International Organization for Migration estimates that there will be around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, equating to 3.6 percent of the global population. This means that most people continue to live in the countries where they were born —only one in 30 people are migrants.

The estimated number of international migrants has increased over the past five decades. The total estimated 281 million people living in a country other than their countries of birth in 2020 was 128 million more than in 1990 and over three times the estimated number in 1970. At the same time, the global population slightly doubled from 1970 to 2020. Thus, as the world population continues growing, human mobility will accompany that growth. The role of labor markets and restrictions will be two dynamics that will impact this growth.

The expected population decline in the global north means that labor markets could present labor opportunities, especially in the services and manual labor sectors. Recent immigrants often fill these sectors. In 2020, the top destination countries were the United States of America, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom. However, the top emigration countries are not in the lowest bracket in the Development Index but are generally from middle-income countries. This shows that embarking on migration journeys requires resources to travel and to access regular channels to migrate. Thus, as the world population grows, strong labor markets will continue attracting migrants. The challenge will refer to the conditions and facilities where migrant workers will fill those vacancies.

The COVID-19 pandemic involved not only a global health crisis but also included changes and limitations to the freedom of movement of people worldwide, which has massively impacted human mobility globally. As countries start to reopen, restrictions have remained in place, and access to visas or regular means to migrate continues to vary and favor the movement of the so-called high-skilled migrants. The rise of nationalist feelings has created hostile environments and fostered more restrictions on entering destination countries regularly. Nevertheless, migrants continue arriving in destination countries through regular and irregular channels. These trends will make societies more diverse, but the challenge here will be how migrant populations integrate into new countries.

The World Migration Report 2022, published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), offers more in-depth information to understand the relationship and challenges between human mobility and population growth.

Sophia University (Japan)

Written by Yuka Minagawa, Associate Professor of Sociology

 Population aging and lessons from Japan

Substantial mortality reductions have occurred worldwide over the past few decades, as witnessed in improvements in life expectancy (LE). Total LE at birth globally increased from 64.2 to 72.6 years between 1990 and 2019 (United Nations, 2019). Fueled by lowered fertility, the world population aged 65 and older is expeditiously growing, a phenomenon that is known as population aging. According to the United Nations (2019), 15.9% of the world population will be older than 65 years in 2050, changing from 9.1% in 2019. Increases in longevity and the size of the older population have made it critical to assess not just how long people are expected to live but also how these additional years of life are lived. Japan has been leading the world regarding the speed of population aging. The proportion of the population 65 years and older changed from 7% to 14% within 24 years, compared to 115 years in France, 72 years in the United States, and 40 years in Germany. In 2021, 28.9% of the Japanese population was older than 65, which is expected to reach 38.4% in 2065 (Cabinet Office of Japan, 2021). The pace of population aging has been further accelerated by reductions in the total fertility rate (TFR), which has long been below the replacement level and was 1.33 in 2020 (Cabinet Office of Japan, 2021).

With low fertility and low mortality equilibrium, the Japanese government has focused on maintaining the physical, psychological, and social well-being of older individuals by promoting the idea of successful aging. The well-being of the older population is directly related to social policy in Japan, including pension provision and future care expenditures. Various programs and measures at governmental and non-governmental levels are targeted at promoting the well-being of older people, such as introducing the long-term care insurance (LTCI) policy in 2000, providing post-retirement employment opportunities via Silver Human Resource Centers (SHRC), and developing senior citizens’ clubs nationwide. These initiatives aim to help older adults stay socially involved, and there is strong evidence of the health benefits of active social participation at advanced ages.

The world faces several demographic challenges, and population aging is clearly one of them. Population aging is a universal phenomenon, and its impact has become increasingly evident in all dimensions of our daily lives. While more developed countries have experienced the aging process relatively early, it poses significant challenges for developing nations, where governments are less prepared to address the needs of their rapidly graying populations. It is, therefore, essential to solicit cooperation among international development agencies and donors and provide developing countries with the knowledge necessary to face the population aging issue. From this viewpoint, Japan’s experiences offer valuable insights to the world on dealing with the challenges of population aging. World Population Day reminds us of the progress we have achieved, the challenges we are currently facing, and the ways to address these challenges through international collaboration.