Are there are more people alive today than have ever lived? Earth’s population reached seven billion in October. We need to figure out how that compares with the number of people who have lived before us. The problem is, how do you figure out how many people have ever lived, and where do you start?

The normal starting point is when Homo sapiens first walked the earth, about 50,000 years ago, so you have a starting point and an end figure, but it’s the time in between that’s the problem. In BBC News, Wesley Stephenson quotes demographer Wendy Baldwin as saying, "For 99% of that time there is no data.

"Today, life expectancy is about 75-80 (years) and for most of human history that was not the case. We have some estimates for the Middle Ages where life expectancy might have been 10-12, which means many people never made it out of childhood. Even if you had a lot of births, many of those never lived to actually bear children themselves."

And what about proto-humans like Neanderthals–and other people with no written records?

There are about seven billion people alive today and the Population Reference Bureau estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived, meaning that we are not even close to having more people alive than dead. In fact, there are 15 dead people for every living person. We passed the seven billion dead point way between 8,000 BC and 1 AD.

The media keeps fanning fears about overpopulation, but In the 20th Century, the world’s birth rate dropped from 40 births per 1,000 people a year to just 31 in 1995, and today it is only 23. Women all over the world are becoming more educated, and when that happens, they have fewer children.

But the world population will plummet in a few months, if the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in December, 2012 is true, and according to a new poll, 10% of the people in the US believe that the end is nigh– that’s almost one in every 4. Are they right to dread next December?

Over 16,000 people in more than 20 countries responded to the poll. The French are the least worried: Only 6% think it will happen, in contrast to 22% in Turkey.

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