When I was merely middle-aged, to illustrate the relative size of China we used to say that 1 in 6 people was a Chinese peasant. We can’t say that now, for two reasons. First, these days we’d more likely say “a Chinese farmer” (even though 2/3 of China’s population is urban, so “a Chinese office or factory worker” would be more accurate if less catchy). Second, the number has changed to 1.4 in 8, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
All to say, it’s hard to keep up on several fronts. It’s even harder for me to grasp, after all my decades of thinking of China as the world’s population leader, that India is now the country with the most people. On the scale we’re talking about it’s just by a hair, mind you: India edged out China by a mere 295,631, or a city of about the same size as Saskatoon or Windsor. Pfft.
I think we’re supposed to take the precision of these estimates with a grain of salt. It’s an interesting choice, presenting a population estimate with a number that looks nothing like an estimate–1,428,627,663 in the case of India–as opposed, say, to 1.4 billion, but I’m sure they have their reasons.
Clicking on the country name shows the live count, presumably based on a model of births, deaths, and net migration, rather than on a legion of real-time census-takers in the field.
Ari! Meera just had twins.
Adjust your count for the block.
As I watched, India’s counter increased steadily–by 1 person every second or two–but China’s counter was broken, not increasing at all. Odd.
A few tens of seconds later I checked China again. Maybe the site just needed more time to load? I frowned. It looked mostly unchanged, of course, but . . . that last digit: the 3. Hadn’t it been a 4 the first time? As I frowned at China’s number, the last digit changed to a 2. Yikes! Their population was falling as I watched: according to the live counter, by 1 person every 45 seconds or so.
Population growth rates don’t have to seem high to have a big impact over time. When I clicked-in, India’s person-per-second-or-so population growth was already more than a million higher than the static number in the table. Likewise, slow-but-steady depopulation will catch our attention eventually. Opinions vary on the implications: some folks are practically apocalyptic; some see serious but manageable problems; some are quite cheery. Some, like the Government of the Netherlands, have websites (in English? yes) that talk about managing the effects of what they expect: an overall 10% drop in population by 2040.
Now, I’m sure I’d read something somewhere to the effect that China’s population has peaked, or heard it on the news. OK, I’m not sure I had, but I’m not sure I hadn’t. It seems very likely. After all, I’ve been hearing for years that Japan’s population is falling, so it’s not like the concept is new.
But it sure didn’t have the same impact as watching that population counter count down.