• Hans Rosling says we shouldn't be pessimistic about global population growth. (SBS)
Relax, Hans says it's all going to be okay.
By
Ben Winsor

13 Jul 2016 - 5:23 PM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2016 - 5:32 PM

Hans Rosling is a Swedish doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker. 

He's a statistics whizz who's been dubbed as a Jedi master of data visualisation and science communication - they're skills which are clearly on show in his hour-long special, Don't Panic: The Truth About Population.

As you might guess, one of Dr Rosling's passions is allaying fears about the global population explosion, which certainly looks dramatic on a graph.

In just his lifetime, global population has grown from roughly 3 billion to over 7 billion today. The exponential growth appears as though it will continue unless something drastic is done to stop it.

But while that's sparked panic among some demographers, politicians and environmentalists - Dr Rosling is calmly reassuring. 

Don't Panic: The Truth About Population (Full Episode)

"We undeniably face great challenges, but the good news is that the future may not be quite as gloomy and that mankind is already doing better than you think," he says.

Hans Rosling says global population will level off at about 11 billion by 2100. He gives four main reasons for his confidence.

1) As lifespan gets longer, fertility rates fall

Dr Rosling says that in 1963 the average global fertility rate sat at about 5.0 (ie. couples would have 5 children, on average). He says that even at that time, there was a clear disparity between fertility rates in developed countries and fertility rates in developing countries. 

In an undeniably cool animation, he shows that as average lifespan in a country increases along with economic development, fertility rates decrease. Economic growth in developing countries over the last 50 years now means that the global fertility rate sits at just 2.5, a much more sustainable level.

“Even in India the most common family size is two children today,” he says.

2) Women’s education means fewer children

Dr Rosling says that as levels of women's education rise around the world, fertility rates decline and marriages occur later in life. This will have a significant impact on population growth. 

One young Bangladeshi girl tells her father she'll wait until she's 25 until she marries, unlike her mother who married as a teenager. “I’ll finish my education and get a job,” she says.

3) We're getting used to low child mortality

Before the industrial revolution, Dr Rosling says, all families lived with the constant fear of losing one or more children. While on average parents would have six children, they could expect four of them to die young. 

By the 1960s medicine and nutrition had improved, meaning what while the average family was now having five children, it was likely that only one would die. 

Now children in developed countries have a much lower mortality rate, primarily as a result or vaccines, antibiotics and better socio-economic conditions. This has seen fertility rates drop to around 2 children. 

This is evidence that as survival becomes the norm, fertility rates will adjust to take this into account.

4) We’ve reached peak child

Dr Rosling says that demographics show that as a planet, we've reached 'peak child'. He says that there are currently 2 billion children on the planet and that demographers do not expect that number to rise. 

The total population numbers, however, will continue to rise out to 2100. As the 2 billion children currently alive today grow older, live longer and reproduce at a stable rate, the total population number is expected to grow to 11 billion, by which time it will have largely leveled off.

For more on how the population can keep growing after we have reached peak child, and on what it means for the environment and natural resources, watch the full show completely free right on SBS On Demand.

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