WEF: Why Population Growth Matters

The world is now filled with more than 7 billion people. Projects for future population growth range from 10.6 bilion to 8.1 billion by 2050. The number of people by that time will have a significant impact on future population growth rates and the world as a whole. A World Economic Forum report says that striking a middle ground of 9 billion people in 2050 is needed to ensure optimal global development.

Reducing fertility rates in high-fertility countries, “will trigger changes in the age structure of their populations that are beneficial for development,” says the report. It lays out five reasons why fertility is an important issue: 1) feeding more people will require changes in how to ensure food security; 2) more people will increase the impact of climate change; 3) high fertility rates in developing countries will stunt poverty reduction; 4) some countries may struggle with the pressure of accelerated urbanization under an increasing population; 5) women’s health is at greater risk in places with higher fertility rates.

The authors recommend that countries and donors support the ability for families to choose when they want to have kids. Doing so requires meeting the family planning needs of over 200 million women around the world. That will require an additional $3.6 billion to meet the high demand for family planning services and products.

Ensuring women’s reproductive rights will cause shift developing countries from populations that are predominantely made up of young people to societies with a greater proportion of working-age individuals. That also means that the same people will receive more of the national resources leading to increased investments in education and health. Finally, the report makes the rights case for reproductive health.

In every population, the low-income segment of society has higher unmet needs for family planning than any other group. Low-income women and their children are more likely to face, therefore, the higher health risks associated with pregnancies that are too closely spaced or of high order. If the existing unmet need for modern contraception could be satisfied, unintended pregnancies could be cut by 70% and nearly 100,000 maternal deaths could be averted annually.

The authors conclude by summing up the global gains through reducing fertility rates by supporting reproductive health. They write:

In sum, declining fertility leads to fewer children per person of working age and ushers in a period where the economy can reap a demographic dividend, provided workers are productively employed. Such a demographic dividend has already contributed to the economic growth of many developing countries, but high-fertility countries have yet to reach the period in which that dividend may accrue. Lowering their fertility will facilitate their efforts to combat poverty, improve educational levels, generate sufficient jobs for young people and spur economic growth. Having fewer children allows families to invest more in each child. Improvements in child nutrition, health and education can be achieved more easily when there are fewer children in the family to compete for the resources and services available. Reductions in fertility have the potential of starting a virtuous circle whereby countries and families with fewer children can invest more in them and therefore build a better qualified workforce, which, in turn, will be more productive than the previous generation and will want to have fewer children in order to be able to invest more in each of them.