Agricultural Population Growth Marginal as Nonagricultural Population Soars

Sophie Wenzlau | Feb 19, 2014

The global agricultural population—defined as individuals dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry for their livelihood—accounted for 37.6 percent of the world’s total population in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available.1 This is a decrease of 12 percent from 1980, when the world’s agricultural and nonagricultural populations were roughly the same size.2 Although the agricultural population shrunk as a share of total population between 1980 and 2011, it grew numerically from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people during this period, principally in Africa and Asia.3 (See Figure 1.)

Agricultural Population Figure 1

Between 1980 and 2011, the nonagricultural population grew by a staggering 94.4 percent, from 2.2 billion to 4.4 billion people—a rate approximately five times greater than that of agricultural population growth.4 In both cases growth was driven by the massive increase in the world’s total population, which more than doubled between 1961 and 2011 from 3.1 billion to 7 billion people.

It should be noted that the distinction between these population groups is not the same as the rural-urban divide. Rural populations are not exclusively agricultural, nor are urban populations exclusively nonagricultural. For instance, the rural population of Africa in 2011 was 622.8 million while the agricultural population was 520.3 million.6

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