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Population Growth in Low vs. High Income Countries

Ambassador Mark Green

Approximately 240 babies are born each and every minute in lower income countries, compared to 25 per minute in those with higher incomes. Overall, the world’s population growth has been declining in recent years.

A report published by the Wilson Center’s Maternal Health Initiative suggests that overall birth rate declines are the product of a number of factors, including increased access to contraception and reproductive healthcare, an increase in women seeking higher education, women’s empowerment in the workforce, lower rates of child mortality globally, increased cost of raising children, and overall gender equality.

But growth isn’t slowing everywhere: certain parts of the world—including areas where those factors aren’t always present—are facing exponential population increases.

The 10 countries with the fastest growing populations by birth are all in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria, whose median age is eighteen, doesn’t even make that list even though its population is on track to more than double by mid-century. For comparison, the median age in Japan is 48 years old.

Ironically, many higher-income countries are challenged by declining birth rates. After decades of the Chinese Communist Party’s strict one-child policy, the Chinese government is now incentivizing women to have more children, in part through distributing tax and housing credits, educational benefits, and cash to married women. Estonia has also implemented a cash incentive system, with the more children a mother has, the more money she will receive from the government.

Conversely, in those countries where increasing population growth is often seen as a development challenge, leaders have embarked on significant new investments in access to family planning and girls’ education. For example, the government of Botswana reports that starting in the 1970s, it was able to lower its birth rate from 7 to 2.89 with free and available family services, and expanded access to education for girls.

This blog was compiled with the assistance of Carlotta Murrin.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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