China, India and the United States currently are the world’s three most populous nations. By 2060, they will rank in second, first and fourth place, respectively. We wonder: Which country will have taken the current place of the United States to have the world’s third-largest population in 2060?
A. Indonesia is … not correct.
As of 2016, Indonesia – with a population of 261 million – ranks as the world’s fourth-most populous country. It is also the world’s third-largest democracy (after India and the United States).
In addition, it is the largest Muslim-majority democracy in the world, ahead of Pakistan, with its 193 million people. About 87% of Indonesians today are Muslim, which translates to about 227 million Muslims.
Indonesia’s population is expected to grow by 65 million people – or about 25% — over the next 43 years, to reach a total of about 326 million people. Even so, in the global population ranking, the country is expected to drop to sixth place in 2060.
Currently, Indonesia also holds the distinction of being the country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. (This will not be the case in 2060.)
Pakistan, where the Muslim share of the overall population is even greater (97%), is currently home to the next-largest Muslim population in absolute numbers.
Hindu-majority India has the third-largest Muslim population of any country, ranking ahead of Bangladesh’s Muslim community. In India, 14% of the population are Muslim, equal to 172 million people (as of the 2011 census).
B. Pakistan is … not correct.
Pakistan, which currently is the world’s sixth-most populous country, is projected to increase its population by 140 million – or 73% — between 2016 and 2060. Overall, the number of people in Pakistan will rise from 193 million to about 333 million by 2060, according to the UN Population Division.
Pakistan’s population is expected to have overtaken Indonesia’s by 2057, according to current projections. It will be the world’s fifth-most-populous country in 2060. It will also replace Indonesia as the world’s most populous majority-Muslim country.
C. Bangladesh is … not correct.
Bangladesh, one of the world’s most impoverished countries (with a per capita annual income of just $1,190), currently has 163 million people. Its population will grow by 39 million people (or 24%) to reach a total of nearly 202 million people by 2060. Bangladesh’s global population rank would actually move down from eighth place currently to tenth place.
Like Indonesia, Bangladesh has an 87% Muslim population, although its largest minority religion is Hinduism, not Christianity, as in Indonesia’s case.
The population of India, Bangladesh’s neighbor, is forecast to increase from 1.3 billion to 1.7 billion in 2060. India is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country in 2022 – five years from now.
The U.S. population, meanwhile, will drop to fourth place, growing from 325 million to 404 million.
D. Nigeria is … correct.
According to official 2015 projections from the UN Population Division, Nigeria’s population is expected to grow two and a half times over the next 43 years — from a current level of 187 million to 473 million by 2060, or by 153%.
From 2049 onward, Nigeria would rank as the world’s third-most-populous country, up three spots from seventh currently.
However, demographic projections in Nigeria have come under immense criticism from experts in recent years. They question the validity of current figures, which cannot be verified and may be incorrect by a wide margin.
One problem is that, according to UNICEF, about 70% of the children born annually in Nigeria are not registered at birth, which removes a method of corroborating estimates or censuses. Another is that multiple Nigerian censuses have been canceled, suspended or rigged in the past.
Unscrupulous local or regional officials – as in other developing nations with weak institutions and high levels of corruption – have an incentive to manipulate population totals, especially when the census is the primary determinant of distributing public funds from the central government.
Between 2016 and 2060, Africa’s population as a whole is expected to grow in size by a similar percentage to Nigeria – from 1.2 billion to 2.9 billion, or by 142%, slightly less than Nigeria’s projected 153%.
However, such projections depend heavily on the assumptions made about the populations not just of Nigeria, but also of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and other large African countries.
Challenges with government administration, civil conflicts and evolving public health risks, as well as the exponential differences in projections resulting from slight changes in fertility rates, are all factors that could change the projected numbers.