It has been commonly stated in hereditarian circles that by increasing aid to Africa, then we would be merely helping their demographic explosion. In 2020, the average adolescent fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rate was 98 births per 1000 girls. Birthrates in most African countries are very high, and to some, the claim is that if we give aid to these countries then they will continue to have more children as they have the means to do so. Though high birthrates in SSA are “concentrated among vulnerable groups where progress is often poorest” (Neal et al, 2020). This worry however, has no basis in reality. In this article, I will provide a few studies looking at the relationship between economic aid and decreasing birthrates. This, then, refutes the (racist) worries of people like Steve Sailer who warn that by increasing aid to Africa we are then helping their population explosion. However, what is borne out by data in countries where this has occurred, if there are sufficient family planning methods, the birthrate will decrease—not increase—with monetary aid to poor African countries.
What is hunger?
Hunger is a feeling of discomfort or weakness; having a desire or craving for food or having pain that is caused by lack of food. There is malnutrition (a condition caused by a diet that has insufficient nutrients for normal functioning), undernourishment (where the food one does eat does not give enough kcal for normal functioning), and starvation (a state of the body caused by long-term lack of food or nutrients). Hunger is a self-reported notion, and so, we would then need to indirectly measure physical variables that are associated with being well-fed or not. Like measuring one’s blood for the lack of certain nutrients, measuring the foods they do eat and ascertaining the macro-nutrient content of what they eat, measuring their height and weight and comparing it to a representative sample, checking to see if there are micro-nutrient deficiencies (Conway, 2012).
But what causes hunger? Inequality/inequities and poverty cause hunger. Indeed, we have enough food to feed 10 billion people—the world produces enough food to feed 1.5 times the world population, but people making $2 a day cannot afford the food (Holt-Giminez et al, 2012) while 828 million people per day go hungry. About 14 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, 45 percent of child deaths around the world are due to hunger and it’s causes, and 700 children die per day due to dirty water, unhygienic water sources, and hunger. So we DO have the food to feed these people, what they DON’T have is the money to feed themselves and their families due to the pittance wages they receive. The year 2022 has been called “a year of unprecedented hunger” by the World Food Programme.
In The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world 2021 published in mid-2021 it was reported by the UN that an:
estimated that between 720 and 811 million people went hungry in 2020. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. Considering the middle of the projected range (768 million), 118 million more people were facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019 – or as many as 161 million, considering the upper bound of the range.
In 1974, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) began reporting on the number of people that faced hunger issues. They define hunger as:
an uncomfortable or painful physical sensation caused by insufficient consumption of dietary energy. It becomes chronic when the person does not consume a sufficient amount of calories (dietary energy) on a regular basis to lead a normal, active and healthy life. For decades, FAO has used the Prevalence of Undernourishment indicator to estimate the extent of hunger in the world, thus “hunger” may also be referred to as undernourishment.
Hunger is related to food insecurity, where food insecurity is when one is unable to procure items for nourishment due either to availability or lack of monies to procure foodstuffs that would lead to normal development. The FAO also has a measure of food insecurity prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) along with the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in a population based on the food insecurity experience scale (FIES) which estimates how prevalent food insecurity is in a population down to the household or individual level which is ascertained through interviews with the populace.
Now that I have defined hunger, how we indirectly measure hunger (with its physical correlates) and the troubling future we have with hunger across the world, we can now turn to the claim that aid to poor countries will increase their birthrates. This claim has been made a lot by many different groups, and it certainly is a logical claim to make, but what does the data say in countries where such an intervention did occur? Did their population increase even after aid was given to them? Or did their population decrease as they got aid? The answer to this question will be the answer to the question in Africa as we continue to reach the fabled year of 2050 when their population is expected to reach 5 times its present size by the year 2050 in one 1988 estimate (Yanagishita, 1988) to 4 projections based on different assumptions (Haub, 1997), to certain African countries increasing even past 2100 (Ezeh, Kissling, and Singer, 2020). Africa is quickly urbanizing (Veary et al, 2019), and since urbanization decreases fertility rates (Yi and Vaupel, 1989; White et al, 2008; Martine, Alves, and Cavenaghi, 2013; Lerch, 2019), I would hedge my bet that the population growth in Africa—if ample aid is provided since aid to developing countries decreases, not increases, a country’s population—will be far lower than predicted, nevermind the fact that the assumption would be that the population would increase linearly.
Food security and population growth
In his 2010 book One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?, Gordon Conway (2010) writes about the claim that aid to Africa will increase the African population. He cites a study stating that giving developing populations more food is a self-defeating policy since it will cause their population to increase. He writes:
Nevertheless, the fertility rate decline has not been universal. In many Sub-Saharan countries fertility rate declines have stalled at rates over 5.0 after gradually decreasing for several years.25 The reasons are complex, but a common feature appears to be the decreased funding for family planning programs. According to data from thirty-one countries, on average 30 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have an unmet need for modern family planning methods, a proportion that has not declined in the last decade.26 In nineteen of these countries, it is as high as nearly 50 percent. If fertility were to remain constant at current levels, the population of less-developed regions would increase to 9.8 billion in 2050 instead of the projected 7.9 billion.27
A popular misconception is that providing the developing countries with more food will serve to increase populations; in other words, it is a self-defeating policy.28 The more food women have, the more children they will have and the greater will be their children’s survival, leading to population growth, so goes the argument. However, the experience of the demographic transition described above suggests the opposite. As people become more prosperous, which includes being better fed and having lower child mortality, the fewer children women want. Providing they then have access to family planning methods, the fertility rates will drop and the population will cease to grow.29
Let’s take a look at these references in turn:
25 – Ezeh, A., Mberu, B., and Emina, J. 2009. Stall in fertility decline in Eastern African countries: regional analysis of patterns, determinants and implications. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:2991–3007.
In Kenya and Tanzania, fertility has declined for the most educated women and in certain other regions. In Uganda, while fertility levels remain at the pre-transition state, there is a decrease in fertility for specific demographics of women—the most educated and urbanized, along with those in the raster region of the country. In Zimbabwe, though fertility rates continue to fall, it isn’t falling for women with less than a secondary education and in certain regions. This is yet more data that speaks to the claim that as locals urbanize and get more educated, the fertility levels begin to decrease.
26 – Prata, N. 2009. Making family planning accessible in resource-poor settings. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:3093–3099.
Since 30 percent of women in SSA have an unmet need for family planning, by educating them on the need for family planning along with readily accessible contraceptives, ensuring that contraceptives become a permanent part of family planning, and taking action to remove barriers that hinder family planning, we can then help those 30 percent of women plan for families and therefore birth rates will decrease. It is therefore imperative that we roll out programs that would teach people how to plan for families and that would mean educating them on contraceptive use and, as I will explain below, give aid to them, since when people become more prosperous, the birth rate will decrease since they have more children since their death rates are so high.
28 – Hopfenberg, R. and Pimental, D. 2001. Human population numbers as a function of food supply. Environment, Development and Sustainability. 3:1–15.
The authors claim in this paper that experimental and correlational data state that as food production increases, so too will the population that is receiving that food, as they will then be unfettered by the ravenous issues that affect their death rates. They would then be able to have as many children as they want, so the story goes. However, as I will go into below, this is not what we have seen when aid and family planning have been to countries that so sorely needed it.
29 – Foster, A., and Rosenzwieg, M. 2006. Does economic growth reduce fertility? Rural India 1971–1999. Delhi: NCAER India Policy Forum. (pg 179-205)
Foster and Rosenzwieg showed that although female literacy rose to 81 percent in India from 1981-1999, they found no evidence that the increase in female literacy had an effect on decreasing the birthrate in India. The Green Revolution in India led to increased growth and the ability to diversify their occupations. This, in turn, made child-rearing more expensive which then led to a subsequent decrease in the birthrate. Their results do show that the decrease in fertility was driven by an increase in wages for Indian women. They, furthermore, found evidence that health centers (like hospitals) were associated with a decrease in fertility. Foster and Rosenzwieg, thus, “have clearly demonstrated that economic incentives have mattered greatly for the decline in rural fertility in India” (Desai, 2006).
29 – Gertler, P., and Molyneaux, J. 1994. How economic development and family planning programs combine to reduce Indonesian fertility. Demography 31:33–63.
Gertler and Molyneux show that the dramatic decrease in fertility in Indonesia between 1982 to 1987 was due to the increased use in contraceptives along with the increased demand of contraceptives. They found that improvements in women’s education along with an increase in wages for both men and women were responsible for 45 to 60 percent of the decline, and this was driven by contraceptive use. Further, 75 percent of the decline was due to contraceptive use, while 87 percent of the use in contraceptives was due to increased wages and education. They therefore showed that increasing education and wages were responsible for 65 percent of the fertility decline.
29 – Poston, D. Jr, and Gu, B. 1987. Socioeconomic development, family planning and fertility in China. Demography 24:531–551.
Poston and Gu showed that structural development had strong negative effects on fertility, and that family planning has a negative effect on fertility. Basically, SES factors led to a decrease in the birthrate in China. In urban Chinese areas, family planning is higher than in rural areas where fertility is higher, which then licenses the conclusion that family planning decreases birthrates (Poston, 2008). Limieng, Shatalova, and Kalabikhina (2022) show that the higher the per capita GDP, the lower the fertility rate is.
The studies reviewed here show that as people become more well-off, given that they have access to family planning methods, their population will then begin to decrease. There is though, as is the case with China, a fine line to walk through where the population will get too old and not enough younger people will be around, as is the case in Asia already (Goh, 2005). SSA lies at one end of the spectrum—increased fertility due to lack of family planning, low education, low contraceptive use, and low income—while Asian countries like China represent the other side of the spectrum—decreased fertility, higher contraceptive use, and a higher GDP which then leads to a decrease in fertility. Very clearly, there is a middle-ground where a population can be well-off and sustain a population when they have the resources to do so.
In an article for The Conversation, Akinyemi, Dungumaro, and Salaam write:
Why are birthrates so high in five African countries?
The major factors driving population growth in these countries include low contraceptive use, high adolescent fertility rates and a prevalence of polygamous marriages. There’s also the low education status of women, low to poor investment in children’s education, and factors related to religion and ideas.
The use of modern contraceptives is generally low across sub-Saharan Africa. The overall prevalence is 22%. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, however, the uptake of short-acting contraceptives is at 8.1%. In Nigeria, it is at 10.5%. The uptake in Ethiopia is 25%, in Tanzania it’s 27.1% and in Egypt 43%.
For long-acting family planning methods, apart from Egypt with over 20% uptake, the other four countries driving population growth in the region recorded very poor uptake. This low uptake will logically lead to a population explosion.
Some of the factors associated with high contraceptive use in Africa are women’s education, exposure to news and mass media, good economic status and urban residency.
Investing in women’s health, furthermore, leads to “strong intergenerational spillover effects” which then encourages economic development, which would then further decrease the birthrate (Bloom, Kuhn, and Pretnner, 2018). This is borne out in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Botswana where women had higher levels of education and subsequent decreases in child mortality (Ramirez, Tania and Stewart, 1997). There is also evidence that declining fertility explained a bit less than one-third of the decrease in poverty in rural India in the years 1987 and 1988 and 1993 and 1994 (Dupta and Dubey, 2003). Reducing infant and child mortality also decreases fertility and increases schooling (Kalemli-Ozcan, 2000).
When locales are food secure, then they will have a lower child mortality rate, ceteris paribus and malnutrition is a large driver of this relationship (Bain et al, 2019). Household food insecurity along with dietary diversity is associated with “stunting” (low height for one’s expected age) in SSA (Gassara et al, 2021). So the claim that aid—whether it’s monetary or foodstuffs—will increase the population exponentially is obviously false.
So for people like Steve Sailer who look at current demographic trends using the UN’s data, calling it “the world’s most important graph“, the literature shows that, as Africa urbanizes, becomes more educated, has access to family planning and contraceptives, that their population will decrease. So, by giving aid and education, the population in Africa won’t increase, it will actually DECREASE. We have the means to feed the world on the basis of the food we already produce, it is we just need to educate propel, provide aid to them in all shapes and forms, and then people will have fewer children when they are food secure and have access to contraceptives along with education about them.
Thus, the answer to the question “Will aid to Africa increase the African population?” is a big “No.”
you have assumed without any justification whatsoever that aid helps countries develop. it doesn’t. sometimes direct investment helps, sometimes it doesn’t. no country has ever developed from aid.
paul theroux lived in malawi and uganda, has traveled all over africa many times and written books about it. he says aid is PREVENTING africa from developing.
mo ibrahim agrees.