What is leading to Africa’s baby boom

The continent will witness arrival of 2 billion babies between 2015 and 2050

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Monday 25 August 2014

Africa is the second-largest and second most populous continent on this planet with an estimated population in 2013 of 1.033 billion people. Its population will double in just 35 years to 2.4 billion in 2050, and is, therefore, projected to eventually hit 4.2 billion by 2100.

Thus, by 2100, three-fourth of the world's growth is expected to happen in Africa, to account for one-third of the world's population, show the population projections released by the United Nations Population Division in June 2013  and the 2014 World Population Data Sheet released by Population Research Bureau.

What drives this projected population boom?

According to the new UNICEF report,  released this month, almost 2 billion babies will be born in Africa between 2015 and 2050 and the two main driving forces behind this surge in births and children are:

  • Continued high fertility rates
  • Rising numbers of women of reproductive age

More number of younger women in the reproductive age group

Each African woman on average will have 4.7 children in 2010-2015 — far above the global average of 2.5. Africa’s population surge has swelled its ranks of women of reproductive age (15–49), from 54 million in 1950 to 280 million in 2015; going by current trends, this figure will further increase to 407 million in 2030 and to 607 million in 2050.

By mid-century, the number of women of reproductive age in Africa will more than double, in contrast to Asia, where number of women of reproductive age are shrinking.


Higher fertility rates

Fertility rates in Africa, too, remain much above the global average, shows the UNICEF report. Africa’s average fertility rate is in decline, and has been for decades. But its rate of decline is slow and the continent’s fertility rates remain far higher than anywhere else in the world.

In total, 15 African countries will have an average fertility rate of five children or more per woman in 2015 due to several factors, including poverty and unmet need for family planning.


The 2014 World Population Data Sheet also shows this disturbing population scenario and warns that Sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates are among the highest in the world, will account for the majority of the increase. It shows that women in Sub-Saharan Africa currently average 5.2 children during their lifetime, compared to averages of 1.6 in Europe and 1.9 in North America.

The 10 countries worldwide with the highest fertility are all in Sub-Saharan Africa. (See List of countries with highest fertility rates in 2014 World Population Data Sheet)

An important paper, “Proximate determinants of fertility in sub-Saharan Africa and their possible use in fertility projections” points to the uneven and intermittent support of family planning programmes over the past decades in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to high birth rates, the region’s population is also quite young, with 43 per cent of the population below age 15.

So, more number of younger women with high fertility rates will give birth to more babies.

Niger, the Sub-Saharan African country with high birth rate

In Niger, the birth rate is as high as 7.6 children per woman.  And even if we assume that this rate will decline steadily over the coming decades, the population of Niger is still expected to nearly quadruple by 2050, according to Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based non-profit group.
In Burkina Faso and other West African countries, women still desire large families showed PRB's Family Planning Worldwide 2013 Data Sheet

Longer life expectancy, better child survival rates and access to healthcare

In the past, population growth in many African countries was slowed by high rates of HIV/AIDS and infant mortality. But recent improvements in access to healthcare across the continent means low infant mortality rates and also that people are living longer, according to the 2014 PRB study on world population.

Watch Video:  Jeff Jordan, PRB's president, presents the 2014 World Population Data Sheet's main findings about world population, infant and maternal health, poverty, and the environment.


Improved child survival rate with access to healthcare facilities being among the main reasons for the unprecedented growth in African children has been reiterated in the UNICEF report. A child born in Africa today has a much higher chance of reaching her or his fifth birthday than children born almost a quarter of a decade ago. In 1990, almost one in every six African children died before attaining the age of five years; in 2012, the latest year for which estimates are available, that ratio fell to one in every 11 children born.

Sub-Saharan Africa will see natural increase in the population

The 2014 UNICEF report acknowledges constant efforts of national and international partners who prioritised child survival interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. (A note of caution : However, Sub Saharan Africa, where on average, one in every nine children dies before the age of five, still has the world`s highest rate of child mortality).

According to Carl Haub, the co-author of the 2014 population projection report by the US-based Population Reference Bureau, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is rising faster than the rest of the world because modern medicine and healthcare on the continent means more babies. are surviving birth complications, and fewer adults are dying from preventable diseases.” But the number of children being conceived is not dropping, or is very slow, and he says that “population growth rates would naturally rise if birth rates stay as they are”.

With high rates of natural increase, in excess of two per cent, by the close of the century the population of Africa's 33 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is expected to reach 2.2 billion, or slightly more than a fifth of the world's population at that time, notes Joseph Chamie of the New York-based Center for Migration Studies and a former director of the UN Population Division, in his paper, Africa's Demographic Multiplication: What will influence the future growth of Africa’s population— and why does this matter to the world as a whole? commissioned by the Washington-based Globalist Research Center.

But despite this, in West and Central Africa, declining under-five mortality rates have been offset by increasing number of births, leaving the absolute number of under-five deaths static or increasing in absolute terms.

More conflicts, more poverty, more children

UNICEF analysis also shows a definite relationship between poverty and war as previously documented in this paper. The UNICEF report expresses concern that conflict and fragility continue to undermine human rights and social and economic progress in a number of African countries and notes that three in 10 of Africa’s children are living in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. It may be noted that of the 34 countries classified by the World Bank in 2014 as having fragile and conflict-affected contexts, 20 are African and around one-fourth of the continent's population resides in these 20 countries.

Six of the countries with fertility levels over five children per women are classified as fragile and conflict-affected states. These are:

  • Burundi,
  • Chad,
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Somalia

    States of high concern, call for more attention

    It may be noted that two-thirds of fragile states, including Nigeria, are in sub-Saharan Africa, West Asia and North Africa.

    Nigeria, set for one of the biggest population booms in world history, demands special attention.

    UNICEF in its 2014 report calls for special attention to Nigeria, which already has the greatest number of births in the continent, and is expected to increase its population by a factor of eight in just two or three generations. As China's population shrinks and India plateaus, Nigeria will reach nearly 1 billion people by 2100 and come close to surpassing China. It also calls for particular attention and investment in Niger, Mali and other smaller African nations with high fertility rates and large relative projected increases in child and total population in the world. (See ‘By 2015, Nigeria will account for one-fifth of all births in Africa’)


    Therefore, investing in girls and women, especially in reproductive health, education, and preventing child marriage is key to managing Africa’s demographic transition is an important message that UNICEF gives in this report. The importance of investing in and empowering girls and young women as an imperative to slow adolescent fertility rates, and build an Africa fit for all, is the focus of “State of the World Population report 2013” also. These observations call for the African nations to come together to drive the population control agenda and initiate policy actions targeted at families, communities and governments and help the African woman gain the right to decide “the number of children she wants to bear and the family size she wants”.

    In fact, the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development in Africa beyond 2014, consisting of 88 commitments, serves as a major reference for population and development policies and programmes beyond 2014 and has already set out concrete actions and Africa’s priorities on population in the development agenda post 2015.

    (PS: Watch out for the forthcoming “World Population and Human Capital in the Twenty-First Century” which summarizes past trends in fertility, mortality, migration, and education, identifies key determining factors and sets the assumptions that are subsequently translated into alternative scenario projections to 2100.)

Generation 2030 Africa

Youth policy and the future of African development

World urbanization prospects - 2014 Revision (Highlights)

Fragile State Index 2014

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