How does Mexico compare with the world’s most populous countries? Available information suggests that in 1500, before the Spaniards arrived, the population of the area that is now Mexico was roughly 15 to 20 million (McCaa 1997). At that time Mexico may have been the third most populous country behind only China and India. However, by 1600 the population had crashed to about 1.6 million, one of the most dramatic population collapses in human history. Mexico did not regain its pre-Columbian population level until about 1900. But the population declined by about 6% during the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920.
A recently published UN study, World Population Prospects, The 2012 Revision, enables us to compare Mexico’s population with that of other countries for 1950, 2013, 2050 and 2100. Slow but steady growth brought Mexico’s population up to 28 million by 1950, ranking Mexico 16th just ahead of Spain and right behind the Ukraine. Very rapid growth peaking in the 1970s increased Mexico’s population to about 120 million by 2013. [The UN report quotes Mexico’s 2013 population as 122 million, whereas Mexico’s CONAPO (National Population Commission) estimates the current population is 118.4 million, the difference perhaps due to differing assumptions about international migration.]
This ranked Mexico 11th in the world just behind Japan, but ahead of the Philippines. [The 15 most populous countries in 2013 are China (1,386m), India (1,252m), USA (320m), Indonesia (250m), Brazil (200m), Pakistan (182m), Nigeria (174m), Russia (143m), Japan (127m), Mexico (122m), Philippines (98m), Ethiopia 94m), Vietnam (92m) and Germany (83m)]
By 2020, Mexico will pass Japan to become 10th, the highest it will ever rank except for during the pre-Columbian era.
The UN study forecasts that the Mexican population will grow to 156 million by 2050. This is considerably higher that the Mexico’s National Population Commission (CONAPO) forecast, which uses higher rates of out-migration. In 2050 Mexico will be back in 11th place, having jumped ahead of Russia, but having been passed by Ethiopia and the Philippines. According to the UN study by 2050 India will have passed China, and Nigeria will have replaced the USA as the 3rd most populous.
By 2100 Mexico’s population will be down to 140 million, putting it in 16th place behind Nigeria and five other very rapidly growing African countries: Tanzania, Congo, Uganda, Niger and Kenya. Interestingly, between 2050 and 2100 all of the 31 largest countries are expected to lose population except the USA, the Philippines, and 12 African countries. The world’s total population will have essentially leveled off by 2100 at about 10.9 billion with African countries continuing to grow while European and Asian countries experience population declines. Of course many unexpected demographic changes may occur between now and 2100.
According to the study, Mexico’s life expectancy at birth will be 90.0 years in 2100, above the USA’s level of 88.8 years, but behind Canada at 91.2 years. Mexico’s total fertility rate is forecast by the UN at 1.99 children per women in 2100 which is considerably higher than rates forecast by Mexico’s CONAPO and other demographers.
Robert McCaa, Robert. 1997. “The Peopling of Mexico from Origins to Revolution”, preliminary draft for Richard Steckel & Michael Haines (eds.), The Population History of North America, Cambridge University Press, 1997.