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Beyond Six Billion: Forecasting the World's Population

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Is rapid world population growth actually coming to an end? As population growth and its consequences have become front-page issues, projections of slowing growth from such institutions as the United Nations and the World Bank have been called into question.

Beyond Six Billion asks what such projections really say, why they say it, whether they can be trusted, and whether they can be improved. The book includes analysis of how well past U.N. and World Bank projections have panned out, what errors have occurred, and why they have happened.

Focusing on fertility as one key to accurate projections, the committee examines the transition from high, constant fertility to low fertility levels and discusses whether developing countries will eventually attain the very low levels of births now observed in the industrialized world. Other keys to accurate projections, predictions of lengthening life span and of the impact of international migration on specific countries, are also explored in detail.

How good are our methods of population forecasting? How can we cope with the inevitable uncertainty? What population trends can we anticipate? Beyond Six Billion illuminates not only the forces that shape population growth but also the accuracy of the methods we use to quantify these forces and the uncertainty surrounding projections.

The Committee on Population was established by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1983 to bring the knowledge and methods of the population sciences to bear on major issues of science and public policy. The committee's work includes both basic studies of fertility, health and mortality, and migration; and applied studies aimed at improving programs for the public health and welfare in the United States and in developing countries. The committee also fosters communication among researchers in different disciplines and countries and policy makers in government, international agencies, and private organizations. The work of the committee is made possible by funding from several government agencies and private foundations.

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Editorial Reviews

The panel evaluates forecasts that the Earth's population will continue to grow, but at a slower pace. Focusing on fertility as one key to accurate projections, it examines the transition from high, constant fertility to low fertility, and whether nonindustrialized countries will eventually attain the low levels of birth now seen in industrialized countries. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309069908
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 9/8/2000
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Table of Contents

Executive Summary 1
Current World Projections 2
Accuracy of Past Projections 3
Fertility 5
Mortality 7
International Migration 8
The Uncertainty of Projections 9
Implications 11
1 Introduction 15
Overview of World Projections 17
Forces Driving Population Growth 24
How Population Projections Are Made 29
All Projections Suffer from Uncertainty 32
Guide to the Report 34
References 35
2 The Accuracy of Past Projections 37
Projected Population Size 38
Correlates of Projection Errors 40
Projected Age Structures 45
Projected Component Rates 46
Conclusions 50
References 52
3 Transitional Fertility 53
Fertility Change in Developing Regions 53
Reasons for Fertility Decline 56
Current Methods of Projecting Fertility 63
Fertility Transition in the 21st Century 68
Conclusions 75
References 78
4 Posttransition Fertility 83
Fertility Levels and Past Trends 84
Projected Fertility Trends 87
Interpreting Fertility Trends 91
Explaining Fertility Trends 97
Possible Policy Responses 101
Future Technological Developments 104
Conclusions 106
References 108
5 Mortality 114
Current Levels of Life Expectancy 115
Mortality Transition 117
Mortality Projections 127
Future Trends in Life Expectancy 135
Conclusions 146
References 150
6 International Migration 156
Current Levels and Trends 157
Future Migration Trends 168
Projecting Migration 174
Improving Migration Projections 177
Conclusions 182
References 185
7 The Uncertainty of Population Forecasts 188
The Scenario Approach and Its Problems 190
Thinking About Forecast Errors 194
Three Approaches to Constructing Predictive Distributions 200
New Estimates of Uncertainty Based on Ex Post Analysis 206
Conclusions 214
References 216
Biographical Sketches 218
Index 225
A Computer Software Packages for Projecting Population 237
B Accuracy of Population Projections from the 1970s to the 1990s 254
C Predicting the Pace of Fertility Decline 303
D The Effect of Projection Error in Life Expectancy 315
E Simulating Migration Projections 318
F Estimating Expected Errors from Past Errors 326
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