Who Really Is the World's 7 Billionth Person?

Illustration for article titled Who Really Is the World's 7 Billionth Person?

The world's 7 billionth person was a tiny little girl named Danica May Camacho who is born today in Manila, the Philipines, and weighed just 5.5 pounds (she was one month premature).

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Oh, wait! It was actually this other little girl named Nargis who was born today in Uttar Pradesh in India.

Hold the phone! This Reuters report says the 7 billionth baby might be born October 31 in China.

What's that, U.S. Census Bureau? The 7 billionth baby won't be born until April? What the heck is going on here?

Will the real 7 billionth baby please stand up? Or at least give us a little baby fist pump? Turns out no one has any freaking idea who the 7 billionth human on the planet is. The celebrations in the Philippines and India today are merely symbolic—demographers don't know who actually deserves the crown. The 7 billionth human might have been born in August, or might still be in the womb.

The problem is that so many developing countries have poor demographic records. United Nations population estimates chief Gerhard Heilig says it's "nonsense" to imagine anyone could actually pinpoint who the 7 billionth baby because estimates come with a 1 to 2 percent margin of error. When you're talking about 7 billion that comes out to about 56 million people, and he says the birth in question could have happened six months ago or might be six months from now. So the U.N. picked October 31 somewhat arbitrarily. Also based on projections, the U.S. Census bureau picked five months from now. Six in one, half-a-dozen in the other, right? Well, geographically speaking maybe...

What they do know is that the world's population has exploded at a frightening rate. In just the past dozen years, we jumped from 6 to 7 billion, and demographers say we might hit 9 billion by 2050—and by the end of this century we might reach 10 billion. That's terrifying. People, please, stop having babies.

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Easier said than done, of course. But one solution could be to educate girls better. If girls in the most under-developed countries delay getting married and having kids just five years (until after adolescence), 224 million fewer children would be born by 2050, according to the Population Council, and that would reduce U.N. population growth projections for 2050 by 39 percent.

And the good news is the birth rate has slowed since the '60s when, it peaked at 2 percent. It's continuing to slow down, thank God, but it's still 2 percent or higher in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, which is beyond the rate of replacing peeps who die.

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More good news is (IMO) that the Indian and Filipina 7 billionth babies are girls! If just symbolically, it underscores the importance of education and empowerment for females around the world. Baby girl fist pump! [BBC; Image: Associated Press, Hindustan Times]


You can keep up with our Science Editor, Kristen Philipkoski, on Twitter, Facebook, and occasionally Google+

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DISCUSSION

SkipErnst
SkipErnst

I see them here already and surely there will be more, so here's my take on a side discussion.

The root problem I see with the there-are-too-many-people arguments that always come out of discussions about population growth is that it assumes more people is not a natural end result of a highly intelligence species. (It seems obvious to me that, from a purely natural viewpoint, intelligence equals greater longevity and higher survivability. I.e., it's normal.)

Instead the argument seems to return to how bad it is that there are so many humans instead of considering that this might be the way nature works. Of course, we only have Earth as our sample of worlds with intelligent species set so it's a little hard to estimate one result or another, but I would argue this is natural.

I've always assumed the end result will be a leveling-off point when we no longer have the ability to gather enough resources to sustain ourselves. Considering how quickly technology is progressing in every single field of scientific endeavor, I don't think this peak will occur for a long time.