Falling fertility rates in Africa

A mother breastfeeding her youngest child in Hayelom, Tigray, in Ethiopia, one of the countries showing falling birth figures.
Photo: © FAO/IFAD/WFP/Petterik Wiggers

How falling fertility rates are fostering development

Scientists are demanding that the topic of population growth be given more attention in foreign policy and development cooperation debates, since falling birth figures can have a crucial impact on development.

Scientists at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, Germany, pointed out in June 2019 that falling birth figures could have a positive impact on the development of countries. They demand that this topic not be eclipsed, despite the desire to have children and the number of births within a family being a very sensitive topic. In their opinion, the issue will become one affecting society as a whole as well as politics if it can influence the development of entire societies.

The scientists recommend an open, clear and pragmatic discussion of the challenges associated with high population growth in order to identify means and possibilities to reduce it in a democratic and humane way. This is the basis for improving living conditions in the affected states, they say.

Achieving a demographic bonus

Nowhere else in the world is the population growing as fast as it is in Africa – by 2050, the number of people living on the continent will have almost doubled. Even today, many states in Africa are unable to provide their citizens with adequate food, health services and education, and sufficient numbers of jobs. They are trapped in a vicious circle of high population growth and persistent poverty. In order to escape this trap, fertility rates first need to fall. This would reduce the pressure to provide for such a large number of people while also changing the age structure of the population.

Fewer children being born means that once the last big cohorts reach working age, a disproportionally large number of workers with only a small number of children and old people to provide for will be available to the economy. This demographic bonus can then be converted into a development boost, provided that young people can find employment. In the Asian tiger states a dynamic was thereby triggered that helped broad swathes of the population to achieve a higher standard of living. In other words, they reaped a demographic dividend.

Some countries already have low fertility rates

Most African countries are a long way from achieving an age structure that would yield a demographic bonus. Nevertheless, there are some that already have low fertility rates while others are currently experiencing a rapid decline in the number of children being born. In their study Africa‘s Demographic Trailblazers: How Falling Fertility Rates Are Accelerating Development, the researchers examined seven of these countries and explain what circumstances have led directly or indirectly to a decline in fertility rates.

The experiences of Tunisia, Morocco, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal show that fertility rates decline if states manage to develop an effective overall concept that leads to progress in the areas of education, health and job creation. Better access to family planning methods and more equality between women and men are part of this overall package, too.

(Berlin-Institut/ile)

For more information:

Study of the Berlin Institute

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