This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is Africa the Next China?

This week's Economist has a special report on economic growth in Africa. The cover headline of "Africa Rising" tells you their perspective, which is very positive. Africa has enormous resources...and a lot of people. 

The World Bank—not known for boosterism—said in a report this year that “Africa could be on the brink of an economic take-off, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago,” though its officials think major poverty reduction will require higher growth than today’s—a long-term average of 7% or more.
There is another point of comparison with Asia: demography. Africa’s population is set to double, from 1 billion to 2 billion, over the next 40 years. As Africa’s population grows in size, it will also alter in shape. The median age is now 20, compared with 30 in Asia and 40 in Europe. With fertility rates dropping, that median will rise as today’s mass of young people moves into its most productive years. The ratio of people of working age to those younger and older—the dependency ratio—will improve. This “demographic dividend” was crucial to the growth of East Asian economies a generation ago. It offers a huge opportunity to Africa today.
It could be a huge opportunity, but it has to be remembered that a huge drop in fertility--below replacement level--was necessary in East Asia to assist economic development there. There are very few signs yet in Africa that we are close to that level. The article sort of comes to its senses about this a little later on:
Africa’s demographic dividend, too, is far from guaranteed. A growing population and a bulge of working-age citizens proved a blessing in Asia. But population growth always has its costs. All those extra people must be fed, educated and given opportunities. If illiberal policies obstruct growth and discourage firms from hiring, Africa’s extra millions may soon be jobless and disgruntled. Some may even take up arms—a sure recipe for disaster, both human and economic.
An abundance of young people is like gearing on a balance sheet: it makes good situations better and bad ones worse. It is worrying that some of Africa’s fastest-growing populations are in economies not performing well at the moment; and fertility rates are not declining as uniformly, or as swiftly, as they did in Asia.
It is probably not accurate to say that a growing population proved a blessing in Asia. It was only the rapid growth of the working age population--at a time when the child population was declining and the older population had not yet increased--that was beneficial in Asia. This will be true in Africa, as well. The only real demographic hope in Africa is a rapid and sustained drop in fertility. It is out of this fertility drop that Africa could rise.

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