World Population Day 2019

Written by Marian Starkey | Published: July 3, 2019

July 11, 2019, marks 30 years of observing World Population Day.

Since the first World Population Day, in 1989, a lot has changed. Global population had just reached the 5 billion milestone two years earlier. China’s draconian one-child policy was in full force. The HIV/AIDS crisis was in its early years, and treatments were in the very early stages of discovery, meaning that life expectancies of those infected were tragically low. The Berlin Wall wouldn’t fall for another four months. George H. W. Bush became the president of the United States earlier that year, and when he did, he maintained the block on funding to UNFPA that Ronald Reagan imposed during his administration, and similarly kept the Global Gag Rule in place (okay, so that part isn’t very different from today, under Donald Trump).

Let’s take a look at what’s changed at the global level, demographically speaking, since the first World Population Day:[i]

  • Population has grown by 2.5 billion people—95% of that growth has occurred in less developed countries[ii].
  • The total fertility rate (TFR) has declined by one entire birth (from 3.44 to 2.47 live births per woman).
  • The teen birth rate has declined by 38%.
  • The population growth rate has declined by 40%.
  • The annual number of births has increased by 665,538.
  • The annual number of deaths has increased by nearly 9 million. (This is due to an increase in the number of people at older ages, among whom mortality rates are highest.)
  • The median age has increased from 24 to 31.
  • The infant mortality rate has declined by 56%.
  • The under-five mortality rate has declined by 59%.
  • Life expectancy at birth has risen by 8.5 years.
  • The total dependency ratio[iii] has declined from 95 to 74.

The theme of World Population Day 2019 is fulfilling the commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. In the 25 years since ICPD, there has been enormous progress in expanding access to reproductive health, including modern contraception. But the ICPD Programme of Action, agreed upon by 179 country signatories, has still not been realized in its entirety, neither by national governments nor by the international donor community.

The Programme of Action called on international donors to contribute 0.7% of their gross national incomes (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), with an increased share going to population and development programming. The United States has never even come close to that target level, fluctuating between 0.09% and 0.23% over the past 25 years, and coming in at 0.17% in 2018.

In other words, based on the U.S. 2018 GNI of $20.7 trillion, we should be contributing $145 billion to ODA. Instead, we’re contributing less than a quarter of that amount: $34 billion. And of that total $34 billion in ODA, we provided only 1.77% to family planning and reproductive health programs ($607.5 million).

Meanwhile, 214 million women in less developed countries have an unmet need for family planning, and approximately 300,000 women in the developing world[iv] die each year due to pregnancy-related causes. At the global level, 44% of pregnancies and 23% of births are unintended—that’s more than 32 million unintended births each year[v].

If the international community can help convince China to end its coercive one-child policy; develop effective prevention and treatment drugs for HIV/AIDS within a generation; and negotiate itself out of the Cold War, it can certainly meet the family planning needs of 214 million women. Of course, all these achievements occurred before Trump took office.

This World Population Day, let’s vow to fulfill the commitments made in Cairo in 1994, beginning with a serious investment in international family planning assistance, and let’s work to prevent — through voluntary, rights-based fertility decline — the addition of another 2 billion people over the next 30 years


[i] All data: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition.

[ii] According to the UN, less developed countries are those in Africa, Asia (except Japan), Latin America and the Caribbean, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

[iii] The total dependency ratio is the number of people ages 0-19 and 65+ per 100 people ages 20-64. It’s a simple measure of an economy’s ability to support dependent age groups (the young and the retired).

[iv] Almost all (99%) of the 303,000 maternal deaths each year occur in developing countries.

[v] According to the 2019 World Population Prospects, there are an estimated 140,256 births each year for the period 2015–2020.