In the next few decades, for the first time in centuries, the world’s population is forecast to decrease.

Currently, the world’s population sits at around 7.8 billion people, but experts believe that number will peak in 2064, before going down.

In a groundbreaking study published by The Lancet, the Earth’s population will top out at approximately 9.7 billion, and by 2100, will drop to 8.8 billion.

The study’s lead author and Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) , Stein Emil Vollset, explained the findings.

Vollset told IFLScience: “The last time that global population declined was in the mid 14th century, due to the Black Plague.

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“If our forecast is correct, it will be the first time population decline is driven by fertility decline, as opposed to events such as a pandemic or famine.”

Remarkably, the study also found that the population of specific countries could decrease by up to 50 per cent – included in that category are countries such as Italy, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Japan.

Vollset explained that much of this is to do with increased access to contraception and gender equality.

He said: “There are two key factors: improvements in access to modern contraception and the education of girls and women.

“These factors drive the fertility rate – the average number of children a woman delivers over her lifetime which is the largest determinant of population.

“The global total fertility rate is predicted to steadily decline, from 2.37 in 2017 to 1.66 in 2100, well below the minimum rate (2.1 live births per woman) considered necessary to maintain population numbers.”

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