Global population grew to 7.4 billion in 2016, UN report finds

A UN agency says the world's population grew to 7.4 billion in 2016 from 7.3 billion last year, with a substantial youth bulge challenging political and social systems across the planet. The report focuses on the well-being of 10-year-old girls as indicators of development success or failure.

UN agency highlights opportunities for girls, report also shows Canada's population up to 36.3 million

The world's population grew to 7.4 billion in 2016, according to a newly released UN report. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

A UN agency says the world's population grew to 7.4 billion in 2016 from 7.3 billion last year, with a substantial youth bulge challenging political and social systems across the planet.

The report said the world's population grew 1.1 per cent to 7.433 billion from 7.349 billion the previous year, according to the United Nations Population Fund's 2016 State of the World Population report, released Thursday in Amman, Jordan.  About 26 per cent of the global population is under age 14.

Canada's population grew to 36.3 million from 35.9 million last year, with 16 per cent of the population under 24.

Daniel Baker, regional humanitarian co-ordinator and head of the fund's Jordan country office, highlighted the potential fallout — and gains — to be had by overcoming the world's clear gender inequality among global youth.

"Failing to invest in girls is nothing less than planned poverty. Unless we invest in girls, we're planning to have a poorer future," Baker said.

The report focuses on the well-being of 10-year-old girls as indicators of development success or failure. 

"Failing to invest in girls is nothing less than planned poverty. Unless we invest in girls, we're planning to have a poorer future," Baker said.

Refugee schoolchildren receive their new books on the first day of the new school year at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. Investing in girls' education is key to boosting economic development, the UN says. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

The report estimated that developing countries could generate or lose at least $21 billion US depending on their investments in the health and education of their 10-year-old girls today.

Empowering girls

"The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that policies promoting better health, education and labour-force participation for women—as well as being worthy ends in themselves—can contribute to healthier, better educated and more prosperous families and nations," the report reads.

The report says 89 per cent of the world's 125 million 10-year-olds live in developing countries where girls face obstacles to equal education, health care and safety.

"Relative to their brothers, these girls are less likely to stay in school, more likely to be engaged in child labour, more likely to be married before they turn 18, more likely to experience intimate partner violence, more likely to suffer from complications related to pregnancy and childbearing, and less likely to have a substantive say in household decisions, including about their schooling or health care," the report reads. 

Girls stand in line on the first day of school in the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan, Syria, on Sept. 24, 2016. The UN says the world is better off when girls have opportunities for success. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

"The implications of these patterns for such girls may be profound, with further impacts that extend to families, communities and even countries."

It recommends governments and non-governmental organizations invest in girls' education, and work to end child marriage and gender inequality.

"Today's 10-year-old girls have the power to shape the future and improve the health and prosperity of their countries. This power can be greatly magnified with investments in these girls' education, empowerment and well-being."

The UNFP's goodwill ambassador, Princess Basma Bint Talal, said the fate of the world's young girls rests in international commitment to equality.

"Let us remember that we are all responsible. Let us remember that our every word and deed, positive or negative, can affect the road she travels from this crossroads in her life. This is what will shape her role in society, which is to say our society, and our world."

With files from CBC News