We’ve all heard the aphorism ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics.’ Statistics are an invaluable tool for understanding and responding appropriately to the world, but when the numbers say one thing and the headlines say another, it’s a cause for concern. TOP takes a dive into World Population Prospects 2022.
The world’s population has grown more than anticipated in the past three years.
That should have been the headline when the United Nations released its latest revision of world population data (World Population Prospects 2022) on 11 July. Instead, the headline was that global population would peak in 2086 at 10.4 billion, about 15 years earlier and half a billion fewer than projected in 2019.
Is this fake news? Why should greater-than-anticipated growth yield lower future growth projections? Let’s look at the data they have given us. Apologies if this article is a bit nerdy, but the UN projections play an important role in government planning throughout the world. Any criticism of them needs to be thoroughly justified.
Figure 1 shows the world population as it was estimated in each revision of World Population Prospects (WPP) from 2010 to 2022. The pink line connects each revision’s estimate of the current population, i.e. the mid-2010 population as estimated by WPP2010 connected to the mid-2012 population as estimated by WPP2012 etc. Using this rolling-current estimate avoids any bias in the UN’s model that might be influencing the slope of the projected line.
In blue dashed lines are the projected growth anticipated in each of those revisions. With the exception of 2019, where recent past estimates closely matched what was expected in 2017, each new revision has concluded that growth since the last update was greater than they anticipated.
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