How Many People Have Ever Lived and Died?

By on July 7, 2014 // Science // 2 Comments

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech via CC By 2.0

How many humans have ever lived on Planet Earth?

There’s a common myth about this. It states that the people alive today outnumber those who have ever lived and died throughout human history.

This is staggeringly incorrect.

The number of people alive today is roughly 7.2 billion. According to a report by the United Nations, this number will increase to 9.6 billion by 2050. And yet, this is still a far cry compared to the total number of people who have ever lived and died.

That number is estimated to be around 108 billion.

How Do We Know This?

That estimation doesn’t come out of thin air, but it’s also not necessarily accurate. In fact, it really can’t be accurate. We don’t have time machines; we can’t travel to the past and take a census, and unfortunately accurate population records only became a thing in the last few centuries.

Undeterred by this reality, Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau took a “semi-scientific approach” to guesstimating our total historical population in 1995, and again in 2011.

It’s an interesting read. Haub’s estimation begins at 50,000 B.C. with two individuals and traces the possible population growth from that period (in births per 1,000 people) through to 2011.

It’s not perfect, not at all, but the final number Haub arrives at is somewhere around 107.6 billion (and he admits that, if anything, the real number is probably higher). This leaves the number of people alive today representing about 6.5% of that total.

That’s a good chunk, but nowhere near what that common myth would have you believe.

Anyway, why am I bringing this up? Because this estimated data is very important for a question I’ll be tackling in my next post: If they’re real, and if so many people have lived and died on this planet, then where are all the ghosts?

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  • Craig from Shellharbour

    Cool.

  • sir_steveoh

    More bs, this is based on Habu,s number and is very off. This was based on no facts of the starting point number of 5,000,000 @ 8000 BCA, and is wrong!
    I would suggget at that time a number closer to a million at most. Does that ever change things–even using all if his criteria.
    Right away as a human environment specialist I see this and it just jumps out as in correct, and politically motivated.

    Fact is to remain moble most early people had small family groups. I further argue that until people live an agrarian life they did not have enoung food or shelter to have more then 2.1 children. Once they could as they stayed in one place to farm the greatest population decrease happen. People would die at 5 or 6 older then the infant mortality rate but not people who had much impact as they did not reach maturity and reproduce. A family might have had 10 kids in total, 3 we do not count as they are part of the infant mortality and die as infants, 3 did get to reproduce adding to population, and 4 died before they could reproduce.

    Therefore we had many people born and we had many more go past 3 years old, but we did not always live to reporduce, and if a women did she has a great chace of dying herself.

    So once people could have more children due to stability if home, they then faced much disease which killed them off before they repoduce and add to the population, thus keeping mankinds numbers low. And only in the resent past of the 19 th century onwards has population exploded.