11,000 Years Ago: Farming Sparks a Boom
Farming villages first appeared in the Near East during the Neolithic period, about 11,000 years ago, and soon afterwards in many other parts of the world. They marked the beginning of a transition from the nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle to a settled existence based on cultivating plants and herding animals. That transition helped catapult the world’s population from perhaps 6 million on the eve of the invention of agriculture to 7 billion today. Archaeologist Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel has surveyed cemeteries across Europe associated with early settlements and found that with the advent of farming came an increase in the skeletons of juveniles. Bocquet-Appel argues this is a sign of increased female fertility caused by a decrease in the interval between births, which probably resulted from both the new sedentary life and higher-calorie diets. This period marks the most fundamental demographic shift in human history.
Present: Global Population Peaks
Industrialized societies are experiencing a decline in fertility rates that exceeds the drop in mortality rates. Many developing nations are seeing even sharper fertility drops. As a result, the global population may plateau by 2100. There will still be billions of people to sustain technology, but culture and economics may see major changes.