Edit 18 Noveber 2015
Some people have asked me what is wrong with using Nigeria as an example or the type of reasoning used in Soininvaara’s post. The problem is that it uses the same type of reasoning that led people in the 1970s to believe that there will be a population bomb. People looked at the fertility levels at the time, assumed they would stay constant and predicted how long it would take for the world population to double, triple, quadruple etc. However, this assumption has been proven to be invalid (fertility rates decrease when people are better off) and even UN does not provide the “constant fertility rates scenario” in its projections anymore. The mechanisms that affect population growth are complex and when projecting population growth, we must make complex assumptions based on those mechanisms. Nigeria is not a very good example of the most prevalent fertility trajectories in Sub Saharan Africa, since its fertility levels have decreased less than in most other countries of the area and thus give the wrong impression that when projecting population growth we could assume the current rates stay constant for long periods of time.
A Finnish Green Party Politician Osmo Soininvaara recently stated that the world population bomb is not over like some people claim (see here in Finnish). He based his argument in showing that in Sub Saharan Africa fertility rates (the average number of children per woman) are still high. He argued that people in for example Nigeria keep having lots of children, because religious leaders tell them to. He also noted that people in Nigeria have children in order to have someone to take care of them when they are old.
I agree with the latter point and anyone who doubts can watch Hans Rosling explain why ending poverty will lead to lower fertility rates.
When it comes to other views Soininvaara has about Sub Saharan Africa (SSA), I am not sure he thought his argument through.
First, he based his argument on the fertility rates of one country (Nigeria), which seems to be an exception rather than a rule when each SSA country is examined individually. Most countries show a downward trend in their fertility rates (see below). Moreover, basing one’s argument on one country only is hardly convincing giving the huge variation in fertility rates in the region: from 1.44 in Mauritius to 7.56 in Niger.
All Sub-Saharan African Counties (click for a better graph).
According to World Economic Forum (WEF), the most promising economies in SSA are found in Mauritius, South Africa, Rwanda, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Seychelles, Zambia, Gabon and Lesotho. WEF’s ranking includes measures of education, health care and infrastructure in addition to more traditional economic measures. Fertility rates have decreased markedly in all these countries, six out of ten being at around three children per woman or less, emphasising the importance of fighting poverty and providing health care and education in order to reduce fertility rates.
Top ten economies in the region (click for a better graph).
According to UN population projections, it is true that the world’s population will keep growing for some time still and the fastest growth is in Sub Saharan Africa. The smallest changes in fertility may cause big differences in population size a few decades later, so projecting population is a very difficult task, like the graph below, put together by the most prominent professionals in the field, shows.
Instead of throwing out arguments about Nigerians or anyone else not being able to “achieve” lower fertility rates due to following the instructions of their religious leaders, it would be more useful to think why fertility rates differ so drastically around the world. The important thing is to figure out how we could ensure a better future for everyone in terms of economic prosperity, health care, education and social safety nets.