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New projections from the United Nations’ Department of Social and Economic Affairs show that the global population is expected to reach 8 billion on Nov. 15 — though population growth is at its slowest in decades, with rates dipping under 1 percent in 2020.

Released Monday, the agency’s “World Population Prospects” report projects that India will surpass China as the most populous country in the world by 2023 — a change, in part, because of China’s aging population and history of restricting births.

India introduced national family planning programs in 1952. Although these programs may seem less successful in slashing birthrates compared with China’s one-child policy, the South Asian nation now has a population that ranges in age, whereas China has a disproportionately elderly population.

“The distribution really matters,” said John Wilmoth, director of the population division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “It’s a slower reduction in growth that leads to a less abrupt change in age distribution. In the end, it may be to India’s advantage.”

According to India’s local census, the country’s population was 1.21 billion in 2011. The government had deferred the 2021 census because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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In the near term, the population of 61 countries across the world is projected to decrease by 1 percent or more between now and 2050, with the rest of the world either flat or with a growing population.

However, gains in population are strikingly unequal, with just eight countries accounting for more than half of global population growth before 2050 — these include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.

Longer-term projections from the United Nations show that later in the century, more countries are expected to see their population growth peak, before declining.

Other recent studies conducted by the United Nations have shown that by the end of the century, Africa will be the only continent to experience population growth, with 13 of the world’s 20 biggest urban areas expected to be based there.

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With recent reductions in fertility, countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to be dominated by a large share of working-age people between 25 and 64 years old.

This shift, coined the “demographic dividend,” shows that countries are likely to experience accelerated economic growth per capita, though increasing numbers of aging residents could pose problems for places where access to health care is sparse, as the burden will fall on working-age citizens to take up the bulk of senior care.

“Rapid population growth makes eradicating poverty, combating hunger and malnutrition, and increasing the coverage of health and education systems more difficult,” said Liu Zhenmin, U.N. undersecretary general for Economic and Social Affairs. “Conversely, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to health, education and gender equality, will contribute to reducing fertility levels and slowing global population growth.”

The coronavirus also plays a part in the stagnant population growth.

From January 2020 to December 2021, 14.9 million people died of covid-related issues, according to the World Health Organization. Global life expectancy at birth dropped to age 71 from 72.8. Covid had also potentially produced short-term reductions in pregnancies and births. And with more restrictions on cross-border activity, rates of migration have also plummeted — a key driver for population growth in developed countries.

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