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August 17, 2021
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Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Global Birth and Death Rates Unclear, With Many Countries Lacking Reliable Data
WASHINGTON, DC—COVID-19 is likely the cause of an increase in crude death rates in some countries around the world and a dip in life expectancy in the United States. And while the pandemic’s impact on fertility rates is still largely unknown, the global population is on course to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, a nearly 24% increase over 2020. Those are some of the key findings of PRB’s 2021 World Population Data Sheet, which was released today, with PRB’s demographic experts warning that it’s still too early to assess the impact of COVID-19 on population trends because of a lack of reliable data from many countries.
The United States, Russia and Italy were among the countries recording higher crude death rates in 2020 versus 2019. But constraints on vital statistics registration systems have contributed to an undercounting of COVID-19 deaths in many countries, while also making it difficult to assess whether reproductive decisions influenced by the pandemic might be affecting fertility. Provisional 2020 data indicate that life expectancy at birth in the United States dropped for both sexes—from 81.4 to 80.2 years for women, from 76.3 to 74.5 for men—a trend largely driven by COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Published annually since 1962, PRB’s World Population Data Sheet provides demographic indicators for more than 200 countries and territories, including birth and death rates, life expectancy and other critical population indicators. The 2021 Data Sheet offers an in-depth look at fertility patterns and trends and their potential to impact our world.
“For nearly 60 years, PRB’s World Population Data Sheet has been the most trusted source for reliable and meticulously researched information about the demographic trends that are shaping the future of our planet and our society,” PRB President and CEO Jeffrey Jordan said. “The 2021 Data Sheet tells us that while COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we live and work in the short-term, it will be years before we have a full understanding of the pandemic’s longer-term impact on populations.”
PRB demographers found that over the past three decades the proportion of births to women ages 35 and older has increased significantly in Europe and Oceania, risen modestly in Asia and the Americas and seen little change in Africa. During this same period, the proportion of births among adolescent girls ages 15-19 remained flat in Africa and declined in other regions. Pregnancy and childbearing can prevent girls from completing their education or working outside the home compared with their peers.
Other key findings in PRB’s 2021 Data Sheet:
- India is projected to have the greatest absolute increase in population size of any country between 2021 and 2050, rising nearly 246 million to 1.64 billion.
- The global total fertility rate (TFR)—lifetime number of births per woman—is 2.3, still above the replacement-level TFR of approximately 2.1 births per woman, but down from a TFR of 3.2 in 1990.
- Niger has the highest TFR (7.0), followed by Somalia (6.9) and Chad (6.4). Some of the lowest TFRs are in South Korea (0.8), Taiwan (1.0) and Ukraine (1.1).
- Global life expectancy at birth is 75 years for women and 71 years for men.
- China, Thailand and Ukraine are among 39 countries and territories projected to have smaller populations by 2050.
- Sub-Saharan Africa has the youngest population of any sub-region with 42% of its population under age 15, compared with 14% in Southern Europe.
- Western and Southern Europe have the largest share of people ages 65 years and older (21%), while sub-Saharan Africa has the smallest share (3%). In the United States, the share of people who are ages 65 and older (17%) nearly equals the share of people who are younger than age 15 (18%).
- Globally, the total fertility rate dropped from 3.2 in 1990 to 2.3 in 2020. But wide variations can be found across regions, ranging from 4.7 in sub-Saharan Africa to 1.3 in East Asia and Southern Europe.
- Between 1990 and 2020, the proportion of births to women ages 35 and older increased in Europe (from 8% to 24%), Oceania (from 13% to 23%), the Americas (from 11% to 16%), and Asia (from 9% to 12%). It changed little in Africa, from 17% to 16%.
- The proportion of births among adolescent girls (ages 15-19) in Africa remained flat at 15% between 1990 and 2020. During the same period, it declined in the Americas (from 16% to 12%), Asia (from 11% to 5%), Europe (from 9% to 3%) and Oceania (from 8% to 6%).
Click here to download PRB’s 2021 World Population Data Sheet.
About Population Reference Bureau (PRB)
Contact: Liselle Yorke, 202-939-5463
PRB promotes and supports evidence-based policies, practices, and decision-making to improve the health and well-being of people throughout the world. Find out more at www.prb.org. Follow us on Twitter @PRBdata.