The human population unbound

Shutterstock.com

Article Highlights

  • The human population has quadrupled over the past century.

    Tweet This

  • The world's population explosion is in reality a health explosion.

    Tweet This

  • The current century will not be a demographic repeat of the past one.

    Tweet This

Over the past 100 years, global demographic changes have been more than just historic — they have been so sweeping and profound as to rank almost on the scale of an evolutionary leap. What we have witnessed is nothing less than a departure from the demographic rhythms that previously characterized human existence. Across the world we have seen humanity unshackled from practically all the patterns and limits that bound us before, save for reproduction and death itself.

Humans since 1914 have undergone a global population explosion, a health explosion, a fertility revolution, and an urbanization revolution — with further, equally monumental changes currently in the works, promising to transform the world’s population profile in likewise previously unimaginable respects over the century to come.

By very approximate orders of magnitude, it is believed that around 100 billion people have ever been born, with around 90 billion of these souls born before 1914. For that first 90 billion, life was almost always rural — and very short. Until the outbreak of World War I, global population growth was perilously contingent — the race between deaths and births, desperately close. From the dawn of our species until the 20th century, human numbers increased painfully slowly. Although uncertainty is obviously inherent in such calculations, we can nonetheless suggest that human numbers could not have grown on average by more than three one-hundredths of 1 percent per century over the 50,000 years preceding 1900. For almost all of history — and pre-history — “population balance” was enforced by recurrent and disastrous setbacks, including the regular disappearance of clans, nations, and even entire civilizations.

Then, over the course of the 20th century, the human population suddenly quadrupled — from very roughly 1.5–1.6 billion around 1900 to about 6.1 billion in 2000 (a much more solid figure, given the universality of population censuses nowadays). During the century, the tempo of world population growth accelerated by something like two orders of magnitude over the previous epochal pace, and human numbers virtually everywhere surged on an unprecedented scale.

The full text of this article was originally published by Current History .

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Nicholas
Eberstadt

What's new on AEI

Defeating ISIS: AEI experts weigh-in before the president’s address on Wednesday
image Degrading, defeating, and destroying the Islamic State
image Wealth Building Home Loan: Building wealth through homeownership and retirement savings
image The $3 iPhone
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 15
    MON
  • 16
    TUE
  • 17
    WED
  • 18
    THU
  • 19
    FRI
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The Constitution as political theory

Please join us for the third-annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as James Ceasar, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, explores some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political theory, focusing on themes that have been largely unexamined in current scholarship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 8:10 a.m. – Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
Third international conference on housing risk: New risk measures and their applications

We invite you to join us for this year’s international conference on housing risk — cosponsored by the Collateral Risk Network and AEI International Center on Housing Risk — which will focus on new mortgage and collateral risk measures and their applications.

Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner on resetting America’s economic foundation

Please join us as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his five-point policy vision to reset America’s economy.

Friday, September 19, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Reforming Medicare: What does the public think?

Please join us as a panel of distinguished experts explore the implications of the report and the consumer role in shaping the future of Medicare.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.