Thoughts on Population Replacement

Black-Baby-Boy-Haircut

Ask nearly any Ghanaian how many siblings (from the same mother and father) they have and you shouldn’t be surprised if they say three or four.  One lady I employed had 10 siblings!  And her father was not a farmer; he was an accountant.  Many people also have step-siblings which drives the number higher.

According to the UN, in 2012 births per woman:

  • Ghana: 3.9
  • Ethiopia: 4.6
  • Kenya: 4.5
  • Nigeria: 6.0
  • South Africa: 2.4

One of the most frequent statistics cited when the media report on Africa is the expected population explosion.  For instance, The Economist forecasts that the population of Africa could be as high as 2.7 billion by 2050 or an expected quarter of the world’s population.  Often times, this statistics is coupled with how Africa is the last remaining continent that is growing relatively fast — around 5-7 percent across the continent — so you would not be incorrect to assume that

(larger population) x (greater wealth per capita) = (large emerging middle class)

You can imagine a corporate planner daydreaming over how many more cars, LCD TVs, and refrigerators she can sell to the emerging middle class of Africans.

While this logic seems valid, it assumes that the economy is growing fast enough to create jobs to employ all these young people.  This is definitely not true.  In Ghana and many other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, the main sectors employing people are agriculture and trading.

As in many countries, young people are fleeing the countryside to the cities because farming is low-paying and seems to depend on the whims of the gods/God. “Trading” usually refers to someone importing goods from a low-cost producer, e.g. China, then selling them in an African country for a higher price.

Some countries are lucky enough to have natural resources to support their economies but mining and petroleum drilling tend to be high equipment/low labor sectors.  These companies tend to involve foreign companies who employ their own foreign teams and leave the hard, unskilled labor to the locals.

Thus, Ghana’s and many other SSA countries’ youth are under-employed doing unskilled work in the cities.  They are doing construction, selling foodstuffs in the street, or driving taxis and tro-tros.  Wages tend to be poor — but still an improvement over being a farmer.

When I dare to give my opinion, I sometimes remark that perhaps Ghanaians should try to limit the number of children they have to three.  When the lights go out as they frequently do –don’t have sex.  Learn the joys of conversation or go for a walk.

According to The Economist, the births per women in Africa is 5.1. A country only needs 2.1 births per woman to maintain its population.  Fewer children means parents can devote more of their resources to paying for food, school fees, transportation, healthcare, and “pulling strings” to get your kid a job.  But, I usually hold my tongue because Ghanaians believe bringing life into the world is a blessing.  More children mean more blessings.

Descent of Man

In contrast to Africa, this year births per woman in Asia has already plummeted to levels that only maintain the size of the population.  But in East Asia, e.g. China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, births per woman are below replacement of 2.1.

Births per woman:

  • China: 1.7
  • Japan: 1.4
  • South Korea: 1.3

Factors contributing to lower fertility rate include greater access to contraception, a more educated female workforce, dense urban centers, and higher cost of living.

I find this a bit distressing.  Having lived in Ghana for a while now, I feel somewhat “African” because I aspire to have a larger family but people who resemble my ethnic background are having smaller and smaller families.  Heck, even Africans who have more education or are better off are also having fewer children.

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