Human population: What the number reveals about life on Earth

Interesting Engineering explores the size of the current world population and what this means for our past, present, and future.
Sade Agard
Earth's human population
Earth's human population.

DrCarrrven/iStock 

  • Nearly seven percent of all humans who have ever lived on Earth are represented by the eight billion mark in the world population (2022).
  • Over the past 50 years, the global population growth rate has decreased from about two percent to less than one percent annually.
  • Global population growth will eventually come to an end as the number of deaths approaches the number of births.

The world population is the total number of people living on Earth at any given time. Understanding the size and composition of the global population is essential for a wide range of purposes.

This includes planning for the future, understanding social and economic trends, and addressing environmental challenges. 

In this article, Interesting Engineering (IE) explores the size of the current world population and discusses some of the critical factors that influence population growth and change.

We'll also look at estimates of the future size of the world's population.

How many people are in the world?

As of November 2022, the estimated world population is about eight billion. It is challenging to know the exact number of people in the world at any given time because the population size in any given country is constantly changing due to births, deaths, and migration. 

However, population estimates are regularly calculated by organizations such as the United Nations. They use data from national governments and other reliable sources to make projections about global human population trends.

What is the 'Global Population Growth Rate?'

The global population growth rate is the rate at which the Earth's population increases or decreases over a given period. The population growth rate is typically measured as a percentage change in population size over a specific period, such as a year or decade.

As of 2022, the global population growth rate was estimated to be around 0.84 percent per year. In other words, Earth's population is increasing by approximately 0.84 percent each year. 

That said, over the past 50 years, the global population growth rate has decreased from about 2 percent to less than 1.0 percent annually. This is due to various factors, including but not limited to declining fertility rates and higher mortality rates from an aging population. 

Human population: What the number reveals about life on Earth
Global Population Growth Rate Per Year: 1950-2100

Some studies suggest that we can also blame the Covid-19 virus for this phenomenon. In many countries, people report they plan to postpone having children or have fewer children as a result of the pandemic.

This may have played a role in slashing the global growth rate to less than one percent- the lowest Earth has seen since the Second World War. 

In particular, China's population fell in 2022 for the first time in 60 years, with one official describing the country as entering an "era of negative population growth."

While China's strong zero-Covid policy of limiting coronavirus may have expedited its own population decline, it is also believed that China's rigorous one-child policy (imposed in the 1980s; which was lifted in 2016), which limited the number of children a couple could have, contributed.

Although the Chinese government is now working to encourage people to have more children, with subsidies and tax breaks, the earlier discouraging of having more than one child combined with the rising costs of modern living, has led to resistance among couples.

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However, Earth's population is still expected to grow in the coming years. Although at a slower global population growth rate than in the past.

What are the future global population projections?

There are various projections about the future extent of the global population. But it is difficult to make accurate predictions because population growth is influenced by many factors like fertility rates, mortality rates, and migration patterns, which can change over time. 

According to the United Nations' most recent population projections, the world's population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and 10.4 billion by 2100. These projections are based on assumptions about future trends in fertility, mortality, and migration patterns.

It is worth noting that these projections are subject to uncertainty and could be revised based on future developments. 

Other organizations and researchers have made different projections about the future size of the global population. Some predictions suggest that the world's population could peak at around 9 billion in the second half of the 21st century and then begin to decline due to declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy. 

Global population growth will eventually come to an end as the number of deaths approaches the number of births.

How long have humans been on Earth?

For simplicity, here we will refer to 'modern humans', also known as homo sapiens. It is believed that by around 300,000 years ago, the earliest modern humans, known as Homo sapiens, diverged from their (hominid) ancestors.

Around 200,000 -100,000 years ago, the earliest modern humans started to leave Africa.

These early modern humans were hunter-gatherers who lived in small groups and relied on their environment for survival. 

Throughout history, humans have developed and adapted to various environments and spread across the globe. Humans have developed complex societies and cultures and have made significant advances in science, technology, and other fields. 

How long had 'non-modern' humans been on Earth?

Human population: What the number reveals about life on Earth
Artist's illustration of Neanderthals

It is worth noting that humans were not the only species of the genus homo (Latin for man or human) living on Earth. In fact, scientists believe the first species of the genus homo evolved some 6-7 million years ago. 

We were at least the ninth Homo species, joining habiliserectusrudolfensisheidelbergensisfloresiensisneanderthalensisnaledi, and luzonensis. There are also a number of other likely hominin species, although it is unclear exactly where they belong. These include Homo antecessor, Homo naledi, and Homo longi.

Still, with more and more fossil discoveries, assuming being ninth on the list maybe not final. After all, humans' evolutionary history is a fascinating yet complex topic. We are all still learning!

How many people have ever lived on Earth?

It is estimated that the cumulative number of people who have ever stepped foot on Earth is around 106 billion. This estimate is based on population growth patterns and other historical and demographic data. 

Some other estimates place the number of humans to ever live on this Earth between 45 billion and 125 billion. But most estimates fall between 90 billion and 110 billion humans. 

As records of human history are incomplete and the people who lived in the far distant past, before around 3400 BC, did not leave any written records, determining the exact number of people to ever live on the Earth has its challenges. 

How many people are born each day?

Knowing the exact number of people born each day is complicated because population data is often collected and reported at a national or regional level rather than on a daily basis. 

However, it is estimated that around 385,000 babies are born each day globally. This number can vary from day to day and from region to region, depending on various factors. Additionally, not all births are registered.

In the 50 years between 2020 and 2070, this number is expected to remain steady. The number is expected to decrease to about 356,000 between 2070 and 2100.

How many people die per year?

It is also difficult to give a precise number for how many people die annually, as the number of deaths can vary significantly from year to year and place to place. But according to information from Our World Data, there was an estimated 67.1 million deaths worldwide in 2022.

This number includes deaths from all causes, including natural causes (such as illness or old age) and external causes (such as accidents or violence). 

The number of deaths can be affected by various factors, including population size, lifestyle and behavioral characteristics, access to healthcare, and environmental conditions. Some populations may have higher mortality rates due to differences in these and other factors.

Additionally, like births, not all deaths are registered. 

Earth's human population: Concluding notes

In conclusion, the population of Earth is a constantly changing and dynamic figure, influenced by a range of factors such as fertility rates, mortality rates, and migration patterns.

As of November 2022, the estimated world population is eight billion people. While the global population is expected to continue growing in the coming years, the population growth rate has been declining in recent decades due to increasing life expectancy and declining fertility rates.

Analyzing the size and arrangement of the human population is vital for planning the future and addressing both global and local challenges, such as resource scarcity and environmental degradation. 

While there are different projections about the future size of the global population, it is difficult to make accurate predictions due to the many variables that can impact population growth and change.