Population Connection statement on the new IHME fertility projections

Written by Olivia Nater | Published: March 21, 2024


New fertility projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) published in The Lancet are being portrayed by some outlets as a shocking impending crash in the number of births worldwide. The study shows no such thing, however.

Using sophisticated models, the authors projected that the global fertility rate (the number of births per woman) will likely decline from their estimate of today’s rate (2.23) to 1.83 by 2050, and to around 1.59 by the end of the century. A study by the same team published in 2020 calculated that trends in fertility, mortality, and migration would likely lead to a global population peak of 9.7 billion in 2064, followed by a slow decline to 8.8 billion in 2100. While lower than UN figures, which project over 10 billion people by the end of the century, 8.8 billion still exceeds our current population size, so hardly constitutes a “crash.”

The study points out the socioeconomic challenges presented by very low fertility rates, but it also highlights the fact that some of the poorest countries (most of them in sub-Saharan Africa) will continue to experience very high fertility and rapid population growth for a long time to come.

In the Sahel region, for example, which has the world’s highest fertility rates, population growth is rapidly exacerbating food and water insecurity. The IHME study rightly calls for increasing investment in removing barriers to female education and family planning to accelerate fertility declines.

Marian Starkey, VP for Communications, says,

“Like all population projections, the new IHME ones should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s impossible to know the childbearing patterns of people 75 years from now. Instead of panicking over declining birth rates, we should be celebrating them, as they are a result of women gaining more choices over their bodies and lives.

“Population aging, an inevitable result of low fertility, can indeed present challenges to economic growth. Fortunately, there are many viable policy responses to aging that could reduce its effect on economies.

“And we can’t discount the environmental benefits of lower population growth. If we care about creating a sustainable future for generations to come, ending population growth through investments in health and education is crucial.”


Contact Marian Starkey: mstarkey@popconnect.org | 202-974-7735