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Can economic growth in Africa be fuelled by rapid increases in population?

I have just read an interesting blog by Wolfgang Fengler on one of the World Bank’s websites. He notes the fact that Africa’s population is rising rapidly and will soon pass the one billion mark. In fact the UN’s projections expect this to rise to 1.7 billion by 2050, although this is based on declining fertility, and Fengler believes that population could even reach 2 billion.

By 2050 Africa will contain over 20% of the total world population, given the current rate of expansion. Normally we would regard this as a major problem, although Fengler puts forward three reasons why this may not be true, and draws some of his conclusions from examples in Kenya.

Firstly, he argues that there is plenty of room for expansion in Africa. For example, there are on average 170 people per square km living in Europe but only 70 per sq km in sub-Saharan Africa at the present moment.

This photo was taken on a previous visit to Kahama, Tanzania. But can rapid population growth actually stimulate economic growth?

Secondly, he makes the point that previous population growth has been driven by increasing numbers of young children. However, future population growth will be driven by improved life expectancy and also the fact that although there is a wider base of young adults at the moment, the number of children per family is declining. In fact in Kenya the number of children per family was 8.1 in 1978 and this has fallen to 4.6 in 2008 and is expected to reach 2.4 in 2050. The number of adults is expected to triple from 21 million to about 60 million by 2050.

Finally, he argues that population growth and urbanisation go together, with economic growth being closely linked to urbanisation. He says that no country has ever reached high income levels with low urbanisation, and the move to the cities allows for increased innovation and economies of scale. He cites the fact that companies in Kenya even now are targeting the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ where there is growth in the lower and lower-middle income groups.

To read the full article click here.

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Posted in Africa, Development, economic growth, Population

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