The Flaws in Population Data

Accurate world population data is immensely important in assessing the impact of people on the sustainability of the planet’s resources

Brian Sturgess
20 October 2017

According to World Economics there were an estimated 7.467 billion humans living on the planet in 2017. The Chart below shows that this number is expected to climb to reach 11.2 billion by 2100. 

This mass of people is a consequence of the acceleration in the rate of growth of global population after 1820. Before 1800 the growth in world population growth rate was below 1% per annum.  As shown in the Chart this increased sharply over the following century and a half reaching a peak rate of 2.1% in 1862. This rate of growth has already slowed down since then and is estimated to have fallen to an annual rate of 0.1% by 2100, just above replacement. Studies suggest that there will be a stock of around 10-11 billion humans by the end of the century.

Total global population size, however, is only an estimate based on the aggregation of the demographic data of individual countries. Unfortunately, it is at the national level that uncertainty about population data is greatest. Knowledge of a territory’s population size, structure, distribution and growth rates is essential for many purposes: planning, housing, education, and the availability of food and water resources and sewage. But for many countries there are grave doubts about the accuracy of population estimates based on both surveys and censuses. 

Measuring the size of the population of Nigeria, for example, is problematic. In a census carried out in 2012, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, measured the population at around 166.2 million people. Estimates of Nigeria’s population in 2016 currently range from over 178.5 million to the United Nation’s projection of 186 million. This contrasts with an estimated population size of 45.2 millio


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