Mexico is currently the world’s 11th most populous country. While it has not always held this position, Mexico has been among the world’s population leaders for the last two thousand years. Worldmapper.org provides data on the estimated population occupying the areas of current countries for various years starting in the year one, when India (62 million) and China (60 million) had more than half of world’s total population of 231 million. No other country had more than eight million. Mexico ranked 17th with an estimated two million inhabitants. According to available data eight countries have always been more populous than Mexico: China, India, Bangladesh, Russia, Pakistan, Japan and Indonesia.
The next data point is the year 1500, when Mexico ranked 13th with an estimated population of seven million. This estimate seems reasonable, though some feel that Mexico’s population might have been as large as 15 million which would have made Mexico the third most populous country on the planet behind only China and India. Between year 1 and 1500, Mexico surpassed Turkey, Spain, Egypt, Iran, and the Ukraine; but was passed by Germany.
Mexico’s total population plunged after the Spanish arrived bringing small pox, other diseases and major social disruption. By 1600, Mexico’s population was down to 2.5 million, but it was still the most populous country in the New World, according to data provided by gapminder.org. It ranked 22nd tied with Austria and behind such countries as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sudan, and Yugoslavia.
In 1700 Mexico’s population was 4.5 million, ranking it 18th. By 1820 the USA had moved past Mexico’s population of 6.6 million to become the most populous country in the New World. Mexico maintained its 19th ranking until 1870 when Brazil surpassed Mexico’s population of 9.2 million to become the most populous country in Latin America. It is interesting that there were relatively few changes in the ranks of the top 20 countries during the 170 year period between 1700 and 1870, except for the USA which went from 40th to 4th.
Since 1870 Mexico’s population has surpassed that of nine different European countries. By 1900 Mexico had 11.7 million inhabitants moving it past Czechoslovakia and Turkey into the 18th spot. (Note that Gapminder population figures are higher than the Mexican census figures, perhaps because they attempted to correct for census under-counting; for the purposes of this analysis we use the Gapminder figures.) Mexico maintained its 18th rank until 1950 when its population of 28.5 million edged it past Spain and war torn Poland into 16th place. In 1970 its population reached 52.8 million putting Mexico in 14th place ahead of France and the Ukraine. By 1980 Mexico’s population of 68.3 million pushed it past Italy and Britain into 12th place. A decade later its population of 84.9 million moved Mexico past Germany into the 11th spot, where it has remained.
What will happen in future decades? Mexico’s position will change, but only slightly. In 2020, Mexico’s population may reach 125 million moving it past Japan into 10th place (Population forecasts for 2020 to 2050 are from the U.S. Bureau of Census). By 2030, Mexico, with a population of about 135 million, will have passed Russia, but fallen behind Ethiopia and the Philippines, putting it back in the 11th spot.
Mexico’s estimated population of 144 million in 2050 will place it 12th behind the Congo (World Population Prospects: the 2010 Revision). According to the United Nations, by 2100 Mexico’s population will decrease to 127 million moving it to the 20th spot, behind Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Iraq, Zambia, Niger, Malawi, and Sudan. Obviously, the accuracy of such a long term forecasts is very speculative. For example, given global climate change and possible food scarcities, some doubt if the sub-Saharan African countries can grow as rapidly during the last half of the 21st century as projected by the United Nations.