Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020) 75
POPULATION GROWTH CHALLENGES IN SUB-SAHARAN
AFRICA: ARE THEY JUST DEMOGRAPHIC?
Ana Pires de Carvalho
Matemática e Demógrafa
Investigadora do Centro de Análise de Políticas,
Universidade Eduardo Mondlane – Moçambique
carvalho.anapires@gmail.com
DOI: https://doi.org/10.34628/t9x8-6077
Recebido: 12.10.2020
Aprovado: 07.02.2021
Population growth challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 75-99
Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020) 77
Abstract: The dominant demographic force in sub-Saharan region for the
next few decades will be the continued population growth as fertility decline in
this region has been, and will probably be, very slow. The pace of growth of the
adult population will be higher than that of younger age groups. This continued
growth poses challenges to the countries’ socio-economic development and the
study that follows elaborates on the various development issues and stresses the
importance of immediate action, before the demographic dividend becomes a
lost opportunity. It attempts to give an overall view of the issues related to popu-
lation dynamics and development, and points out the most important and some-
times complex linkages. This analysis suggests that Malthusianism may not only
be a vision of the future, but some countries may already be experiencing some of
its features. The stakes are high and urgent action is needed.
Resumo: A força demográfica dominante na região da África sub-Saariana
nas próximas décadas será de continuação de crescimento populacional pois o
declínio da fecundidade nesta região tem sido e provavelmente continuará a ser
muito lento. O ritmo de crescimento da população adulta será superior ao dos
grupos mais jovens. Este crescimento contínuo coloca desafios ao desenvolvi-
mento socio-económico dos países e o estudo que se segue elabora sobre os vá-
rios aspectos de desenvolvimento e sublinha a importância de uma acção ime-
diata antes que o dividendo demográfico se torne uma oportunidade perdida.
Pretende dar uma visão geral das questões relacionadas com dinâmicas popu-
lacionais e desenvolvimento e chama à atenção das relações mais importantes e
por vezes complexas. Esta análise sugere que o Malthusianismo talvez não seja
apenas uma visão do futuro, mas alguns países talvez já estejam a experimentar
alguns dos seus aspectos. Os desafios são grandes é necessária uma acção urgen-
te.
Ana Pires de Carvalho
78 Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020)
POPULATION GROWTH CHALLENGES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: ARE
THEY JUST DEMOGRAPHIC?
Sub-Sharan Africa’s population in 2020 is estimated at 1.1 billion and is grow-
ing at 2.65 per cent per year (average 2015-2020), while in most of the rest of the
world’s regions population grows at a much slower place, less than 1% a year for
the same period. In sub-Saharan Africa fertility rates are staggeringly high but this
is not the only reason for population growth rates. The rapid decline in mortality
rates, particularly infant and child mortality, play a crucial role in the high growth
rate levels, as the declining of fertility levels happen at a much slower pace. Today’s
African women bear 4.72 children on average during their lifetime
1
.
The Berlin Institute for Population and Development
2
analysed the evo-
lution of 103 less developed countries and concluded that none of them has a
strong socioeconomic performance without a parallel decline in fertility levels.
In addition, the most prevalent and severe problems today occur in sub-Saharan
Africa, where the 27 countries with the largest development problems are the
ones that have highest fertility rates.
Rapid population growth contributes to poverty at the family level, by
straining the families’ budget, reducing available resources to feed, educate and
provide health care to each child.
3
Rapid population growth puts a lot of stress in
ecosystems, specifically on food production and consequently food security, land
and more generally, environment degradation and water supply.
4
Rapid popu-
lation growth impacts on economies in different ways, but the slow-down of the
increase in the income per capita is the most evident consequence. Moreover,
health and education systems become stressed and millions of young people
become unemployed, even outside the informal labour market. Cities are over-
populated both by natural increase and migration from rural areas. Furthermore,
governments, attempting to provide capital investments for their population,
will decrease the investment in infrastructure and industry. Rapid population
growth, associated with high fertility, represents a threat to the women and chil-
dren’s health and increasing mortality rates because women have babies too ear-
ly, too late and too many of them.
5
1
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Population Division, World
Population Prospects 2019, Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables.
2
Sippel, Lilli; Kiziak, Tanja; Woellert, Franziska and Klingholz, Reiner. 2011. Africa’s Demographic
Challenges: How a Young Population Can Make Development Possible.
3
Birdsall, Nancy. 1994. “Government, Population, and Poverty: Win-Win Tale.” In Population and
Development: Old Debates, New Conclusions”, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick (USA) and
Oxford (UK), 1994, Ch.9.
4
Alex Evans, 2009 “The Feeding of the Nine Billion, Global Food Security for the 21
st
Century”
Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, UK, pp. 6-10.
5
http://www.unicef.org/about/history/files/sourcebook_children_1990s_part3.pdf, p. 89, visited
5 March 2013.
Population growth challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 75-99
Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020) 79
While at the beginning of this century, economic growth in sub-Saharan
Africa was a promising one to bolster its economy, with annual GDP growth
close to 7%, the collapse of commodity prices and the world economic crisis
slowed down this GDP growth rate to 3% a year.
6
However, even with a sound
economic performance, rapid population growth hinders a fast development
progress.
The stakes are high. The study that follows elaborates on these issues and
stresses the importance of immediate action, before the demographic dividend
becomes a lost opportunity. It attempts to give an overall view of the issues relat-
ed to population dynamics and development, and point out the most important
and sometimes complex linkages.
This study is about sub-Saharan Africa. However, in this region there is a
wide diversity across regions and countries, diversity that is translated in dif-
ferent languages, population size, economic performance, natural resources and
others. For instance, countries’ population can vary from two hundred thousand
people (S. Tomé e Principe) to two hundred million (Nigeria),
7
GDP per capita
as low as 271 USD (Burundi) to 10 261 USD (Equatorial Guinea).
8
There will be
diverse socio-economic pathways, some countries will be able to upgrade to
middle income or even high-income status, while others will live in Malthusian
systems. Nevertheless, the main issues in demographic dynamics are similar in
a majority of sub-Saharan countries, and, even when per capita GDP is high,
asymmetries within most of these countries leave a large number of poor people
struggling to survive.
Covid-19’s effects on population structure dynamics are unknown, mostly
because it is still an ongoing pandemic and it is not yet clear what will happen
with the pandemic itself, even less with its effects. There will be direct effects on
population structure due to mortality increases, both by the virus itself and by
the decrease in the health services accessibility. This mortality effect on popula-
tion structure will be at least partially offset by the effects of the pandemic on
sexual and reproductive health leading to increased fertility, as sexual activity
might have increased and access to contraceptive use decreased.
9
Furthermore,
changes in migration may occur, induced by confinements or by widespread
hunger. Nevertheless, the dimension of these effects is not yet known and prob-
ably will continue so in the near future. In this sense, this study will not consider
this pandemic’s effects.
6
IMF 2016 Regional Economic Outlook: sub-Saharan Africa: Time for a Policy Reset. Washington DC.
7
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Population Division, World
Population Prospects 2019, Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables.
8
Google public data, based on World Bank data, visited 15/09/2020
9
Lindberg, L. D., Bell, D. L., & Kantor, L. M. (2020). The Sexual and Reproductive Health of
Adolescents and Young Adults During the COVID19 Pandemic. Perspectives on Sexual and
Reproductive Health. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1363/psrh.12151
Ana Pires de Carvalho
80 Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020)
THE NUMBERS: PAST AND FUTURE
As mentioned earlier, sub-Saharan Population in 2020 is estimated at 1.1
billion people and is growing at 2.65 per cent per year. If this rate of population
increase remains constant, by 2050 the population in the region would be 2.3 bil-
lion and at the end of the century, it would be 8.5 billion. In other words, a rate
of population growth of this magnitude would double the population in around
28 years and in 56 years it would be four times today’s population. By the end
of the century it would be eight times today’s population. However, decreases
in fertility for the past years suggest that rates of population increase will tend
to lower. Indeed, medium variant projections of population growth rate made
by UN-DESA, forecasts a steady decrease of the annual population growth rate
from now on, reaching around 1.8 percent in 2050 and 0,66 percent by 2100 (see
Figure 1)
10
.
Figure 1: Annual population growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa
in the past and projected to 2100, UN medium variant
Source: UNDESA 10
Considering this medium growth rate variant, the population in sub-Saha-
ran Africa 2050 will be approximately 2.1 billion and in 2100 it will be 3.8 billion,
much less than the population reached in case the growth rate is constant (see
Figure 2, Graph I)10. So far, UN projections for few decades ahead have been
rather accurate, while for long term they primarily serve as a scenario that may
occur under certain possible conditions that may not happen exactly as predict-
10
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Population Division, World
Population Prospects 2019, Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables.
Population growth challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 75-99
Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020) 81
ed11. In Figure 2, Graph II, the proportion of sub-Saharan Africa in Africa’s pop-
ulation across the years is presented. As can be seen, this proportion is increasing
significantly from 79% in 1950 to 88% in 2100, showing that Sub-Saharan Africa’s
population is growing at a higher pace than the rest of Africa’s population12.
Figure 2: Population past and projected in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, and
proportion of Sub-Saharan population in Africa’s
Source:UNDESA 12
It is also interesting to observe the evolution of the population’s share of
each of the six continents, from 1950 to 210012. As can be observed in Figure 3,
Africa’s population share of the world population increases significantly over
time. Indeed, there are four graphs representing the six continents population
share over a 50 year period. Graphs I and II, represent estimates for 1950 and
2000 and Graphs III and IV represent UN medium variant projections for 2050
and 2100.
11
Cleland, J. and Machiyama, K. (2016) “The Challenges Posed by Demographic Change in sub-
Saharan Africa: A Concise Overvieww” in Population and Development Review 43(2). October 2016.
12
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Population Division, World
Population Prospects 2019, Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables.
Ana Pires de Carvalho
82 Lusíada. Economia & Empresa. n.º 29 (2020)
Figure 3: Evolution of the population’s share in six continents
Source: UNDESA 13
WHY RAPID POPULATION INCREASE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Annual population growth in a region or in a country depends on the lev-
els of fertility, mortality and migration. More specifically, it is the difference be-
tween the number of births and the number of deaths in a given year, added or
subtracted by the number of migrants, although this last component has, in gen-
eral, a smaller impact on population growth than the other two components. The
population pyramid of a country with high persistent fertility, has the shape of
a triangle where the number of people at each age is smaller than the number of
the younger ones. This means that in general, there are more births in each year
than in the previous one and the number of people of a given age is higher than
the number of people of that age in the year before. The sub-Saharan Africa aver-
age total fertility rate of 4.72 earlier mentioned suggests that most countries in
sub-Saharan Africa have high fertility rates and that their age pyramids are just
as described. However, as population growth also depends on mortality rates, a
look at both aspects over the past and their projections to the future are essential
to understand the dynamics of population growth.
13
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Population Division, World
Population Prospects 2019, Volume 1: Comprehensive Tables.