Question Nqaba Science

Poverty and population growth

What is the relationship between poverty and population growth?

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Answer Internal Staff

It is widely acknowledged that economic prosperity results in lower fertility rates. There are many reasons for this relationship. For example, greater provision of healthcare means wider availability of contraceptives, which results in fewer unplanned pregnancies. Improved healthcare also improves the survival rates of children; while this may be thought to have the opposite effect, it actually improves the ability of parents to plan the size of their families, resulting in smaller families overall. Another reason for this relationship is the availability of a social safety net. In poor families, it often falls on the children to care for adults in their old age, creating an incentive to maintain large supportive families. The introduction of welfare provision mitigates this factor, allowing people to maintain smaller families without succumbing to extreme poverty or starvation. These are just a few of the reasons why such a relationship exists.

The reverse relationship, however, is much more contentious. Multiple views have been advanced with regard to the effect that population change has on poverty, with some arguing that increased populations hold back economic growth among developing economies with fewer resources, and others suggesting that change in population has no noticeable effect on this measure. A more sophisticated view comes from recent observations of declining populations in developed and developing economies. It is argued that as fertility decreases and populations fall, this creates a demographic shift in which, for a certain period of time, the ratio of working aged people to dependants (the very young or the very old) improves. This demographic shift temporarily improves the prosperity of an economy, but then ‘snaps back’ as the working population ages and fertility is stabilised, creating a period in which the ratio of dependants is less favourable to economic prosperity overall.