7 Billionth Child Arrives: World’s Biggest Population Milestones (Photos)

As the number of people in the world reaches 7 billion, see eight huge population milestones.

Huang Jiexian, Imaginechina / Corbis (left); NYPL

Huang Jiexian, Imaginechina / Corbis (left); NYPL

Sometime in the next few days the number of people in the world will reach 7 billion, most likely with a child born in India. The Daily Beast looks at eight huge population milestones over the past two centuries.

The countdown is almost over: sometime in the next few days earth’s 7 billionth person will open his or her eyes for the first time. And it’s no surprise that demographers predict that baby will be born—around Oct. 31—in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where about 200 million (PDF) people already live. For decades, developing countries in Asia—including India—and Africa have outstripped the developed world in population growth, with about 97 percent of current gains occurring in less-developed countries, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Much of the population explosion has and will continue to occur in urban areas. Since the 19th century the period between each billionth person has gotten shorter and shorter—although population estimates show that the number of years between each billion will increase over the next century.

The story of Baby 7 Billion is preceded by decades of unprecedented population growth. From the year 0 to 1750, the world’s population increased by 160 percent, while from 1805 to 2011 it grew by 600 percent. The Daily Beast looks at the major population milestones since the world’s population reached 1 billion, in 1805.

-Clark Merrefield

NYPL

1805

1 billion

Just a few years after Thomas Malthus predicted the demise of humans by overpopulation and subsequent famine, disease, and war, the 1 billionth person was born. The components of Malthus’s trifecta of human destruction never abated, but the rise of the industrial revolution ushered in improvements in general health and welfare that more than offset loss of life from causes other than old age. Since Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (PDF) was published in 1798, the number of people on the third rock from the sun has grown many times over—with no plagues, famines, or wars big enough to wipe us out.

NYPL

1900

1.65 billion

The dawn of the 20th century marked the beginning of a 100-year baby boom. Most of the current population explosion is happening in Asia and India, but in 1900, the United States was still filling out its borders, and in a portent of things to come, demographers noticed that a good deal of that expansion was happening in cities. “The United States forms a striking example of this development,” political scientist Edmund J. James wrote in 1899. “Owing to the enormous extent of its unoccupied and unsettled territory, and the rapid rate at which it has occupied the wilderness, we should have expected to find simply this tendency to diffusion, but parallel with it has gone a tendency to concentrate in cities.”

Bettmann / Corbis

1927

2 billion

In the interim between two world wars, the Western world, and in particular the United States, experienced an era of prosperity. And an emerging middle class gave many people access to good food and health care that before was available only to the very wealthy. Still, just a few years later, the Great Depression reversed many of the economic gains of the roaring ‘20s. For a few years it looked as if Malthusian principles might make a comeback.

Genevieve Naylo / Corbis

1959

3 billion

The world economy recovered after the Great Depression, thanks in part to the industrialization and mass production brought on by World War II, and Malthus was once again rebuked. It took more than a century to get from 1 billion people to 2 billion people, but just 32 years to add another billion. What was going on? The answer is a steady and even high birth rate in some regions, and still-improving health and welfare leading to a death rate of around 15 per 1,000 after World War II. Babies were staying alive—infant mortality was down—and people were living longer, especially as developing countries gained access to food technologies previously available only in developed nations.

Jerry Cooke / Corbis

1974

4 billion

Fifteen years and another billion—the time between billions was getting shorter. Not only that, the time it took for the population to double was decreasing. It took just 47 years, less than half a century, for the world population go from 2 billion to 4 billion, while it took 123 years between 1 billion and 2 billion, and a whopping 1,650 years between 250 million and 500 million.

Stephanie Maze / Corbis

1987

5 billion

When the world population hit the 5-billion mark, some demographers were still insisting, perhaps rightly so, that the globe could not support even that many people. “Today's estimated world population of five billion—an estimate that is probably conservative—is double what it should be in terms of global resources and the need to protect the environment,” University of Southern California demographer Kingsley Davis told the Syracuse Post-Standard at the time. Just as it has done for Baby 7 Billion, the United Nations at the time predicted the 5 billionth baby would be born in the developing world. The symbolic 5 billionth baby, Matej Gaspar, was born in Yugoslavia in July.

1999

6 billion

The cultural atmosphere that surrounded the 6 billion milestone in 1999 is most akin to the 2 billion milestone in 1927—developed economies were booming thanks in part to the rise in access and popularity of the Internet, and optimism was running high. “All you can see is growing wealth around the world, increased caloric intake, increased life expectancy, increased per capita wealth,” the Cato Institute’s Jerry Taylor told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “A century ago, human life expectancy was about 30 years. Now it's 60 or 70 years. People are not starving to death. They are getting better food and they are living longer.” The political, financial, religious, and physical conflicts of the 2000s would provide a stark contrast to that optimism, yet the next billion people were born—growth unabated.

Huang Jiexian, Imaginechina / Corbis

2011

7 billion

Twenty years ago, about 90 percent of the world’s population increase was happening in the developing world. Today, that number is at 97 percent (PDF), at a pace of 78 million per year. Concerned demographers can finally take solace in that, if population projections from the United Nations are correct, the years between the next billionth person will only rise from this point—14 years to 8 billion in 2025, another 18 years to 9 billion, and another 40 years to 10 billion. So, what’s the best way to ensure the health and wealth of the newest people in the developing world? “Investing in youth, their reproductive health and gender equality can help put countries on a path to accelerated economic growth and equitable development,” according to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund.