As the 8 billionth person is born, here's how Africa will shape the future of the world's population

As the 8 billionth person is born, here’s how Africa will shape the future of the world’s population

by Esther William Dungumaro and James Emina, The Conversation

population growth

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public domain

In mid-November 2022, the eight billionth person will be born, according to the United Nations. In its analysis of this milestone, the UN makes two key observations. The first is that the world’s population has grown at its slowest rate since 1950. The growth rate has fallen below 1% in 2020, a trend that is expected to continue.

The second is that population growth has been due to the gradual increase in human lifespan through improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene, and medicine. It is also the result of persistently high levels of fertility in some countries. According to the UN, only eight countries are expected to be responsible for 50% of population growth over the next 30 years.

Five are in Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania. Demographers Akanni Akinyemi, Jacques Emina and Esther Dungumaro unpack these dynamics.

What is the significance of the eight billionth birth?

This raises concerns – scientists estimate the Earth’s maximum carrying capacity to be between nine billion and 10 billion people.

To appreciate these figures, it is necessary to understand the distribution and the demographic structure of the population. Where are these people in regions, countries, and rural and urban geographies?

There is a potential benefit to growing populations. This is called a demographic dividend. Population growth can be a blessing, boosting economic growth through changes in the age structure of a population. This is a possible prospect if people of working age enjoy good health, quality education, decent employment and a lower proportion of young dependents.

But realizing that dividend depends on a host of things. They include the structure of the population by age, level of education and skills, and living conditions, as well as the distribution of available resources.

The consequences of population growth are socio-economic, political and environmental. Some of them can be negative. Their course is determined by the characteristics of the population and its distribution.

Why are birth rates so high in five African countries?

The main factors driving population growth in these countries are the low use of contraceptives, high adolescent fertility rates and the prevalence of polygamous marriages. There is also the low level of education of women, low to low investment in the education of children and factors related to religion and ideas.

The use of modern contraceptives is generally low in sub-Saharan Africa. The overall prevalence is 22%. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, however, the use of short-acting contraceptives is 8.1%. In Nigeria, it is 10.5%. Adoption in Ethiopia is 25%, Tanzania 27.1% and Egypt 43%.

For long-acting family planning methods, with the exception of Egypt with over 20% uptake, the other four countries driving population growth in the region had very low uptake. This low uptake will logically lead to a demographic explosion.

Some of the factors associated with high contraceptive use in Africa are female education, exposure to news and media, good economic status, and urban residence.

The adolescent fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa, although showing a downward trend, is still relatively high. The adolescent fertility rate measures the number of births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. In sub-Saharan Africa, it averages 98 births per 1,000 girls.

There is a wide variation in this rate between the five countries: from 52 in Egypt and 62 in Ethiopia to 102 in Nigeria, 114 in Tanzania and 119 in the DRC.

Outside the continent, the adolescent fertility rate is 21 in Asia and the Pacific and 26 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In the United States, it is 15, five in France and 42 worldwide.

The teenage fertility rate has huge implications for population growth because of the number of years between the start of childbearing and the end of a woman’s childbearing age. A high fertility rate in this age group also has a negative influence on the health, economic and educational potential of women and their children.

Another factor of population growth in these five African countries is polygamous marriage. Women in polygamous union living in rural areas with low socioeconomic status are likely to have higher fertility rates than women in other areas.

Polygamy is illegal in the DRC. Nevertheless, it is common. About 36% of married women in Nigeria, a quarter of married women in rural Tanzania and 11% of those in Ethiopia are in polygamous marriages.

Finally, a woman’s level of education has a significant impact on fertility. For example, in Tanzania, women with no formal education have up to 3.3 more children than women with secondary or higher education.

Is population growth a major concern in these countries?


The scale of development of these countries is one of the main concerns.

The World Bank ranks the DRC among the five poorest nations in the world, with nearly 64% of the population living on less than US$2.15 a day. Among the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa, one in six is ​​in the DRC.

In Nigeria, about 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. The West African nation also faces problems of insecurity, poor infrastructure and high unemployment.

Steady population growth in these five countries will put additional pressure on already inadequate infrastructure and services.

Moreover, the age structure of the populations of these five countries reflects high levels of dependency. The population of inactive young people and that of the elderly are much higher than those of prime-age people (18 to 64) who are in paid employment.

There is also a potential shortage of highly skilled working-age people relative to the population of those who depend on them for survival in these five countries.

This is because these countries have a very young population. The median age ranges from 17 in DRC to 17.7 in Tanzania and 18.8 in Nigeria. There is also the prospect that many young people live in adverse socio-economic realities and poverty.

In most countries, population growth is the slowest since 1950. Why?

Most countries, notably in America, Asia, Europe, Oceania and North Africa, have completed the fertility transition. In other words, they experience levels of fertility below replacement level—fewer than two children are born per woman.

The main drivers of low fertility are increased use of modern contraceptives, rising age at first marriage, and higher numbers of educated women.

What should be the next steps for African countries with high fertility rates?

Government policies and programs must take population growth into account and align interventions with sustainable resource use and access.

Governments at regional, national and sub-national levels must also invest in infrastructure and education. They must create jobs if they want to benefit from a growing population. It is also necessary to continue investing in family planning.

The age structure of the population is also of concern. Expected population growth is likely to increase the concentration of young and prime-age people. With limited socio-economic opportunities for young people, countries are more likely to be subject to the forces of international migration.

The proportion of older people is also likely to increase in the five countries studied. This increases the need to invest in social security, infrastructure and innovative support for older people. Unfortunately, issues related to the elderly have not gained prominence on the continent.

Provided by The Conversation

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