After America dominated the 20th century, a view formed that Asia would be the next to lead the world in economic and cultural influence. Africa may have something to say about that before the century is out.
The continent will claim three of the world's 10 most populous countries in 2050, according to projections released Tuesday by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington. The largest of those, Nigeria, will be just 1 million people shy of the U.S.'s size, with Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia entering the list. They replace Russia and Mexico, with the former's exit leaving Europe with no country on the top 10 list.
Key to the countries' growth? Babies. While the U.S. and other developed countries struggle to adapt their labor forces to an aging population, African countries are experiencing a baby boom. Niger, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Chad have the highest fertility rates in the world.
"The population gains are also due to a decline in mortality rates due to improvements in public health," said Peter Goldstein, vice president with the PRB, who oversaw production of its 2015 World Population Data Sheet. "Africa is going to be a key driver in population growth over the next few decades."
That may be one reason a majority of Africans surveyed by Pew Research Center believe today's children will be better off financially than their parents when they grow up.
Looking farther east, China is currently the world's most populous nation, though it's seen being lapped by India by 2050, according to PRB, a nonprofit group that analyzes and disseminates demographic data and research.
"China for several decades has been focused on driving down fertility rates," Goldstein said. "India's population is growing at a relatively moderate pace, but China's projected fertility rates will be below replacement level."