Suddenly we do not have enough humans and it may be a good thing.

Thomas Robert Malthus; is the name of the man responsible for what has now become known as Malthusian doomsday forecasts.

Malthus theorized that two things were true and therefore one outcome was inevitable – populations grew geometrically while food production grew linearly so the logical and unavoidable outcome was mass starvation for mankind in a matter of years.

While his predictions made some sense, they never came to pass. The world is currently facing a deadlier and frankly unacknowledged prospect; population collapse.

250 years on and the industrial revolution has seen the world’s wealth increase exponentially. Along with it, the human population has also exploded.

Studies now show however that for the first time since the Black Death, the population of the world could take a terrible hit by the end of this century.

As opposed to an increase in deaths as would be expected if the Malthusian forecasts were true, the hit is expected due to a worldwide plummet in births.

The average number of births per woman is dropping rapidly and while this has become a familiar and largely accepted trend, the consequences of it are likely to be like none seen before.

AI and the optimism it has birthed to assuage the fear of these consequences aside, what is now called the baby bust looms over the world, warning of an impending calamity of numbers.


Contrary to widespread assumption, Africa’s birth rates are also dropping rapidly. “Women these days are birth misers. It is sad. During our time it was a blessing to give birth and to do so abundantly. It is the way of our people but this generation is lost. You are lost following cultures you know nothing of…” says in part Peres Adhola, a fisherman’s wife in Kamariga in Uyoma, Siaya County, Kenya.

She is a mother of 7 and wishes she had had more, even though she would not be described as wealthy by any standard. Many villages in Kenya are home to families like that of Peres where parents have as many as 20 children, sometimes in a polygamous setting and other times not.

It is such settings that are sparking conversations and igniting conferences about Africa and its population growth all over the world.

How do you find employment for, feed, provide healthcare, educate and house such a huge population that is projected to grow to 3.4 billion people by the 22nd century?

Populists in the Western world are currently harbouring growing fears of a refugee or immigrant crisis birthed by an influx of millions of Africans escaping poverty and conflicts from their own countries.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are concerned about what an extra two billion would do to the earth and climate change reversal efforts if the projections regarding Africa’s population are true.

These fears would be warranted if there wasn’t a wealth of research which suggests that in fact, the opposite is true. Birth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are dropping fast.

According to a report by the United Nations, most countries which have experienced a sharp decline in population growth are in the African continent.

By 2100 when the Malthusian surge should be occurring, the birth rate would have dropped to just 2.1 live births per woman in Sub-Saharan Africa. 2.1 is the ‘replacement rate’ and chances of the fertility rate dropping below this are very much alive.

Economic implications of a replacement rate or less

Experts in population studies often associate demographic transitions with the socioeconomic growth of countries and/ or continents. What this implies is that the gradual but steady decline in fertility rates in Sub-Saharn Africa could presage an opportunity for economic prosperity.

microsimulation model developed by Mahesh Karra, Joshua Wilde and David Canning showed that by simply lowering the fertility rate in Africa by one child per woman, the per capita income of any household would double by the year 2060.

This model suggests that when fertility rates drop, a larger portion of the workforce transitions into the modernized economy leading to a well-educated female population, lower fertility in subsequent female populations and a continued multiplier effect.

In high-income countries, the fertility rates have been constantly dropping and Africa now finds itself in this stage of demographic transition.

Analysts have suggested two reasons for this relationship; the quantity-quality trade-off and the lack of time to spend on child care. As income increases, parents prefer to offer their children quality as opposed to quantity. Quality education is costly and it is better to have fewer children who are exceptionally educated than many with average level education.

Also, as income appreciates, there is less time to be spent raising children. It is costly to do so and mothers therefore opt to devote more time to participating in the female labour force.

The economics of fertility, while an integral part of a country’s economic layout, is not the only determinant of whether a nation grows into the ranks of a developed nation. Other determining factors need to accompany this demographic change to make economic growth a reality.

Some factors that must come into play include; a willingness to trade with other nations, investments by governments in infrastructure, good governance, prioritizing the education sector and fostering a market-based economy.

The close to 30 times gap between rich nations and their poor counterparts requires more than the injection (doubled income per capita) that lowered fertility rates would bring into an economy according to the microsimulation discussed above.

The population bomb theories of Paul Ehrlich and Malthus have failed to hold up and their fixed cake fallacy simply holds no water, especially in the face of scale economies.

An article by Wolfgang Fengler published in Brookings looks to Africa’s children as the solution for the world’s demographic decline. As African parents continuously choose to invest more in fewer children, these populations will be empowered to be skilled in highly sought-after services and hopefully inspire a jobs dividend. Africa can truly benefit economically from a global demographic imbalance such as this.

Weder Soares Dos Santos