Population dynamics: A challenge and an opportunity for poor countries

Mother with child in the village of Kabunyata, Uganda.

The Earth currently has more than 7.5 billion inhabitants. By 2050 the world popu­la­tion will probably have grown to 9.7 billion people. Although this means that, in percentage terms, the rate of growth is not as high as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, the number of people living in the world is still growing by about 81 million a year.

Children and young people under the age of 25 make up 43 per cent of the global popu­la­tion. At the same time, human­kind is ageing increasingly. The number of over-60-year-olds world­wide will grow from 840 million today to more than two billion in 2050. However, if we look at one region or one coun­try in isolation, then we see that behind the major global trends very different develop­ments are taking place in terms of birth rates, mortality, age structure and migratory movements.

Population dynamics is already having a major influence on de­vel­op­ment processes. Taking into account the demo­graphic realities in the individual coun­tries and regions is a huge challenge. At the same time, however, there are also opportunities for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment over the next few decades.

Poor coun­tries in particular are continuing to experience very high rates of popu­la­tion growth. This can hamper their de­vel­op­ment because their govern­ments are faced with the difficult task of meeting the increased demand for schools, health facilities and other infra­structure, fighting human pov­er­ty and also providing food for all. Added to all that, such coun­tries must cope with increased consumption of natural resources.

However, the popu­la­tion dynamics in a coun­try – above all changes in the age structure as fertility rates fall – also mean opportunities. One such opportunity is the point when large numbers of children and young people become working adults who have fewer children than their parents. When this happens then a well-educated, healthy young popu­la­tion can be one of the key factors for economic growth and prosperity.

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