Opinion: Daily Journal

Some Fun Population Facts

RALEIGH – The latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau are out, and getting a lot of attention. Here in North Carolina, the news is that, once again, we are among the fastest-growing states in the nation. North Carolina residents now exceed 9 million. The Southeast as a whole is a major growth region, encompassing five of the fastest-growing states.

As we begin a pivotal year of political debate and policy discussion, there’ll be plenty of time to delve deeply into complex issues. Today, I thought it might be fun simply to dwell a bit on what some of the new population numbers mean in a larger national and international context. To whit:

• North Carolina now has about as many residents as does the country of Sweden. Notable countries with smaller populations include Austria, Somalia, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and Israel.

• North Carolina remains the 10th most-populous state. To overtake the ninth-ranked state, Georgia, will take some doing, as it has 9.5 million residents and is also growing rapidly. Still, look at it this way. The population of North Carolina is now about 90 percent of the population of Michigan (10 million), more than three-quarters of the population of Ohio (11.5 million), and nearly three-quarters of the population of Pennsylvania (12.4 million). That’s really quite remarkable.

• Not too far into the future, it is likely that there will be about as many people in the Carolinas (13.5 million in 2007 and exploding) as in all of New England (14.3 million and barely growing at all).

• The U.S. population, currently at 303 million, is roughly 5 percent of the world’s total. Each of the five most-populous nations on Earth forms the largest single concentration of believers of their respective majority faiths (or non-faiths). China has 1.3 billion people, of which about 60 percent classify themselves as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic. India has 1.1 billion people, of which about 80 percent are Hindus. A little over half of America’s 303 million are Protestant Christians. Indonesia has 232 million, of which 85 percent are Muslims. And Brazil has 185 million, of which 74 percent are Catholic Christians.

• By the way, Christianity is the most widespread religion in the world, at 33 percent of the population. Islam is about 20 percent, Hinduism and the non-religious category (agnostic, atheist, seculars) are each at about 14 percent, and Buddhism, animism, and Chinese traditional religions (including Taoism) are each at about 6 percent.

• China ranks first in population only because of the way India was partitioned as it gained full independence from the United Kingdom after World War II. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh together add up to nearly 1.5 billion.

• While Asia is by far the most-populated continent, its share of the world’s population was probably larger in the 18th and 19th centuries than it is today. By 2050, Asia’s share is projected to fall a little, Europe’s share will plummet, and Africa’s share will rise. That’s one reason why Africa’s plight is so tragic, and African freedom so vital to a prosperous, peaceful, and hopeful future.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.