Experts have long predicted that the global population would swell to more than 10 billion people by the end of this century. Now, it looks like those predictions may be wrong.

One of the doomsday scenarios about the earth's future involves a population explosion which quickly exhausts the world's natural resources. For a long time, such a scenario enjoyed the support of demographic research. But according to Joseph Chamie, Director of the United Nations Population Division, fertility rates that is, the number of children born to each woman, on average have plummeted over the last 35 years.

"We have a decline from about five children (per woman) on average in 1965, to about half that today - about 2.7," he said. "This is a remarkable decline, and it's something we should view as good news. People men and women have greater control over the number and spacing of their children."

Mr. Chamie says fertility rates in developed nations, such as Western Europe and North America, have long hovered around 1.5 children per woman. So these numbers reflect a seismic shift in the developing world. In India alone, there may be 600 million fewer people than predicted by the year 2100.

According to the International Women's Health Coalition, women in developing nations, by "taking control of their bodies," have been the key to this dramatic change.

This week, demographers from around the world are meeting here at the United Nations to reassess the outlook, and possibly lower this century's population estimate by about one billion people.