Demographic Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa


Sergey Ivanov


The demographic transition is a global phenomenon but sub-Saharan Africa is several decades late. The quantitative characteristics of the region are well known, but they are insufficient to explain the lags even though sub-Saharan Africa is rightly taken as a synonym of a least developed region. The author revisits – within the African context – the concept of fundamental restructuring of reproductive behavior in response to improvements in child survival. Improved survival makes the outcome of reproductive behavior predictable and therefore makes rational family planning. Family planning assumes the form of insurance and replacement strategies, which have different fertility outcomes. In sub-Saharan Africa the threshold of saturation of child survival beyond which fertility starts to decline appear to be higher than elsewhere. Besides, as fertility does not respond automatically to improved survival, there are no rigid proportions that would have determined fertility outcome of a given decline of child mortality. Instead, there are always universal socioeconomic mechanisms that translate improvements in child survival into fertility reduction and these mechanisms function in tend in culture- or country-specific ways. Education is the main translator: its universal valuation coupled with substantive price tag leads to quantity–quality conflict; the opportunity cost of working time lost to childrearing is higher among better educated women; formal education is the most effective and the most durable instrument of diffusion of the modern way of life, which necessarily includes small family size. African nets of values and mechanisms of their transmission weaken these channels. The demographics of Africa operate with billions, and they are so specific that they often carry cognitive rejection. The demographics are scary; by itself this is a sufficient reason for denial. In addition, there is a longstanding political and intellectual tradition to deny or minimize the differences that separate Africa from other regions. Finally, apart from a narrow circle of scholars who concentrate on the issues of population growth and development, there is an overwhelming alignment with anti-malthusianism which is considered as a presumption rather than outcome of scientific debate. In fact, specific features of population reproduction in Africa, its enormous demographic potential coupled with economic stagnation should move to the forefront of research and quest for appropriate policy responses.


Child mortality, Demographic transition, Least developed countries, Education Population, Projection Reproductive behavior, Sub-Saharan countries, United Nations




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