National Geographic
October 31, 2011

Seven Billion

Sometime on Monday, the world population is expected to hit 7 billion people.

Gary: Seven billion by today. We are not talking about how much money the nation owes or the number of friends on Facebook. We are talking about people! One mother somewhere will give birth to a child, who will be the 7 billionth person living in our world. And we have been growing fast.

In 1804, we hit 1 billion. By 1974, we were at 4 billion. And just twenty years later, the world population was past 6 billion.

“We’ve doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 7 billion now, and the world has not gotten any bigger. The continents are the same size, the oceans are the same size, and there’s no longer any ‘away’ to throw stuff away to.”

Gary: So, all this talk about the population growing, got a lot of people thinking. Is there anyone out there who has the most common characteristics of all 7 billion of us? Who would be considered the quote “average person”? Well, a team at National Geographic searched population data to create a profile of earth’s most typical person.

“We thought, how are we going to make the face of the most typical human?”

Gary: To do that, they sorted through pictures and used computer programs and found 9 million people had the most in common, and then they overlayed the faces of 190,000 of them to create this image.

You might call him the “average Joe”…but Joe isn’t exactly a Chinese name. Home to more than 1.3 billion people, the country of China has the largest population. Compare that to the 300 million or so who live here in America, that is about 4 to 1.

“He is Han Chinese, so his ethnicity is Han. He is 28-years-old. He is Christian. He speaks Mandarin. He does not have a car. He does not have a bank account. I think the reaction here among our staff was, ‘Hey, I think I’ve seen this guy.’”

Gary: Have you seen him too? Well, with help, a search pointed to Queens, New York. His name is Mu Li. He arrived five months ago from China and is working as a reporter for China’s state newspaper.

Mu Li: I have a common face, a common background. Suddenly you realize, ‘Wow! You are the most typical person in the world!

Gary: But he fits other criteria as well. He is right-handed, works in a service industry, lives in a city, owns a cell phone, doesn’t own a car; all some of the most common characteristics.

And when asked if he looked like the National Geographic picture?

Mu: Yes.

Gary: But as great of a milestone as this is, it is not great for most people on earth.

“There are a billion people already living with essentially no renewable water supplies.”

Gary: One person in seven on the planet lives without enough daily calories. Those people are primarily children. And that is because the poor have more children, so this affects countries that are very poor where there is a very high population growth rate.

Mu may not be the typical person for long. Earth’s population could reach 8 billion in 2026. By then, the most typical human will be from India.


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