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There are 90 million more people on Earth than previously thought

There have been many news headlines about an article in the Lancet, "Population and fertility by age and sex for 195 countries and territories, 1950–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017."

The news reports on this paper are hyperbolic - quite unwarranted. Why have they picked up on this article, which contributes less than others to the Lancet's special issue on "global burden of disease"? Just an excuse to trot out the 'birth dearth' scaremongering stories, I guess.

The paper itself presents no more than a methodological tweek on how global population data are collated. It's relation to "global burden of disease" is just to ask "how do we calculate the denominator?"
The only real news (which I gleaned from a table, not commented on in the paper) is that Global Population in 2017 was probably even bigger than UN's last estimate, by maybe 90 million! [1] Yet all that gets reported is concern about too few births!

So why not a headline like "There are 90 million more people on Earth than previously thought"?

No, they have to pick up on the entirely un-newsworthy fact that nearly half the world's countries have 'below replacement' birth rates. The problem is, many of the others are far more above replacement than the low-fertility countries are below it.

Even then they misreport it.

Science Daily

Science Daily says, "Ninety-one nations are not producing enough children to maintain their current populations." This is almost certainly incorrect. If you've got a relatively young age profile, then at replacement rate fertility you're still producing many more babies than needed to maintain the current population. The population will grow by momentum (filling up the age cohorts) before levelling off. So this is a factually incorrect statement.


BBC headline is, "Remarkable' decline in fertility rates".
What the data in that paper makes clear is that the uncertainty around global fertility rate means that we can't say for sure whether fertility has declined at all over the past decade. Why do they keep referring to the decline of 40 years ago, and pretend it's 'remarkable', without showing the slightest concern for that decline stalling more recently?

UK's Channel 4

UK's Channel 4 says "There has been a dramatic global decline in the number of children being born, researchers have revealed." Well, these researchers revealed nothing, but one of their charts showed (as the UN data had done before them) that the past 5 years have recorded the highest number of births in Earth's history. So even the "remarkable decline in fertility rates" has not translated into a decline in number of births, dramatic or otherwise, due to the vast increase in number of mothers.

Don't you just love the media?


In the pdf file, it's the second table, starting on p 2025, which is the population table. Top line, right hand side - global population 7,640,466,000 (give or take 250 million). UN's 2017 World Population Prospects lists it as 7,550,262,000. That's 90 million less.

Out of interest, past UN estimates for the year 2017 are (in thousands):

2017: 7550262

2015: 7515284

2012: 7484325

2010: 7435809

Unfortunately the Lancet publication presents multi-page tables with the caption at the bottom, and insufficient labelling of the column headings to actually know what the data in the table represent until you've scrolled down to the caption.

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