Fer­til­ity in Africa still high

Pretoria News - - OPINION - GILLES PISON

IN AFRICA, women have 4.5 chil­dren on av­er­age, while in Asia the fig­ure is 2.1 chil­dren, in Latin Amer­ica 2.0, in North Amer­ica 1.9 and in Europe 1.6. On av­er­age across the world, women had 2.5 chil­dren in 2017.

The high fer­til­ity rate is driv­ing rapid pop­u­la­tion growth in Africa. Un­der the UN’s “medium sce­nario”, Africa’s pop­u­la­tion will be four times big­ger than it is now by the end of the cen­tury.

Fer­til­ity has ac­tu­ally been de­clin­ing in African coun­tries over re­cent decades. Forty years ago, women had 6.5 chil­dren on av­er­age. But the tran­si­tion is slower than in Asia and Latin Amer­ica 30 to 40 years ago. North­ern Africa and south­ern Africa are ex­cep­tions: fer­til­ity has fallen rapidly and is now rel­a­tively low.

Africa’s econ­omy is grow­ing but has not yet reached the level at­tained by Asian and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries when their fer­til­ity be­gan to de­cline. De­clin­ing fer­til­ity is seen as a con­se­quence of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Women’s ed­u­ca­tion is a key fac­tor in this process. Those who have been to school have fewer chil­dren than those who have not. Sev­eral decades ago, Asian and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries in­vested heav­ily in ed­u­ca­tion for all.

Ed­u­ca­tion is im­prov­ing in many African coun­tries, for women es­pe­cially, but – apart from north­ern and south­ern Africa – it’s still be­low the lev­els reached by Asian and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries when the fer­til­ity de­cline be­gan in those re­gions.

In Africa, chil­dren are of­ten raised by adults other than their par­ents, such as grand­par­ents, un­cles and aunts, who cover the costs of feed­ing and cloth­ing them and send­ing them to school. If hav­ing an­other child en­tails no ex­tra cost be­cause he or she will be cared for by some­one else, then there is less in­cen­tive to limit fam­ily size.

Fer­til­ity’s slow de­cline in African coun­tries is not linked to a re­jec­tion of fam­ily plan­ning. Ed­u­cated and ur­ban pop­u­la­tions use it. Most ru­ral fam­i­lies would pre­fer to have fewer chil­dren too, and to space them fur­ther apart.

Na­tional birth con­trol pro­grammes ex­ist but are in­ef­fec­tive be­cause they lack re­sources and, above all, be­cause their or­gan­is­ers and the per­son­nel re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing them are un­en­thu­si­as­tic and not very mo­ti­vated.

Rwanda, Ethiopia and Malawi are rare ex­cep­tions. In th­ese coun­tries, au­thor­i­ties strongly en­cour­age small fam­i­lies. Rwanda has one of Africa’s fastest rates of fer­til­ity de­cline, fall­ing more than 20% in a decade (from 5.4 chil­dren a wo­man in the early 2000s to 4.2 in the early 2010s).

But in most of the other coun­tries, the au­thor­i­ties are not con­vinced of the ad­van­tages of birth con­trol for their coun­try, even at the high­est level of govern­ment. This is not the of­fi­cial line com­mu­ni­cated to in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, though. Again, in Asia and Latin Amer­ica in the 1960s and 1970s, politi­cians, artists, re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and opin­ion lead­ers all worked to pro­mote the small fam­ily.

To per­suade African gov­ern­ments that birth con­trol is im­por­tant, in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions use the ar­gu­ment of the “de­mo­graphic div­i­dend”.

Over time, the rel­a­tive size of dif­fer­ent age groups in a pop­u­la­tion may change, which can cre­ate eco­nomic ben­e­fits and dis­ad­van­tages. But Africa’s pat­tern may pre­vent the con­ti­nent from re­al­is­ing some of th­ese ben­e­fits.

When fer­til­ity falls rapidly in a coun­try, the pro­por­tion of chil­dren de­creases sharply while the share of older adults ini­tially re­mains quite low.

As a con­se­quence, the share of the work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion in­creases con­sid­er­ably. It gives the coun­try a chance to de­velop its econ­omy and ben­e­fit from the “de­mo­graphic div­i­dend”. But this favourable sit­u­a­tion is only tem­po­rary. Sev­eral decades later, the el­derly group is much big­ger.

Some Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing China, have ex­ploited this op­por­tu­nity. It is es­ti­mated that the de­mo­graphic div­i­dend ac­counts for between 10% and 30% of their eco­nomic growth.

Coun­tries in Latin Amer­ica, on the other hand, have gen­er­ally not ben­e­fited be­cause they did not cre­ate enough jobs to em­ploy the ad­di­tional num­bers of work­ing-age peo­ple.

But while Asia and Latin Amer­ica have moved to­wards smaller fam­i­lies, it was not in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a de­mo­graphic div­i­dend – the con­cept had yet to be in­vented. Gov­ern­ments de­ployed birth con­trol poli­cies to limit pop­u­la­tion growth that was con­sid­ered too rapid for suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment.

Africa does not sat­isfy the con­di­tions to have a de­mo­graphic div­i­dend. Fer­til­ity is fall­ing too slowly.

In the un­likely event of a fu­ture de­mo­graphic div­i­dend, it will not oc­cur be­fore sev­eral decades at least.

There is no rea­son why Africans should not adopt the small fam­ily norm over the long term as oth­ers have done be­fore them. But the path to achiev­ing this could be dif­fer­ent in Africa, with con­se­quences for its fu­ture pop­u­la­tion.

Depend­ing on whether the econ­omy, women’s ed­u­ca­tion, and birth con­trol poli­cies con­tinue to de­velop and at which rate, fer­til­ity will de­cline more or less rapidly and in 2100 Africa will have three to six times as many peo­ple as to­day.

Pison is a pro­fes­sor of nat­u­ral his­tory at the Sor­bonne in Paris. This ar­ti­cle is reprinted from The Con­ver­sa­tion (www. the­con­ver­sa­tion.com)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.