Does a Larger Population Mean More Poverty?


According to demographic studies, the world is estimated to have a population of 7.675 billion people by 2020, with Africa being the region where the biggest growth is expected. Some expect that with this growth will come more poverty and hunger worldwide. For this reason, countries in Africa and Asia are looking to implement strategies to counteract the challenges that a bigger population will bring.

These dire predictions of poverty as a result of population growth recall the theories of Robert Malthus in 1798, who believed that population growth generates negative effects due to the shortage of resources. If we accept this theory as true, we could conclude that the clearest solution is to stop the estimated growth from occurring. However, history has disproven Malthus and shown us otherwise.

In the 1960´s, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew established an aggressive campaign of population control by forbidding couples to have more than 2 children. Today, the country is suffering the consequences of this harsh regulation. The population of Singaporean citizens is in decline, and, despite recent attempts to promote families with more than 4 children, the situation is irreversible.

Europe is another example of the dangers of population decline. There are several studies that show that in order to maintain a culture, a birthrate of 2.11 children per family is required. However, the average rate in Europe is no larger than 1.9. It is estimated that in some countries in Europe over half the population will come from foreign countries, which could mean a loss of their culture and sovereignty.

Many countries are facing the problem of an inverted population pyramid, a phenomenon that is more and more common not only in developed but also in developing nations. According to the “World Population Ageing 2009” Report, it is projected that in 2045 there will be a bigger population of people aged 60 years or older than young people. In 1950, there were 12 potential workers for each person over 65 years old; in 2009, this number decreased to 9 workers; according to recent studies, it is expected that by 2050 this number will be only 4 workers.

We can deduce from these statistics that focusing only on the size of the population is not a solution to prevent poverty. Solving the problem requires further analysis to create policies that contemplate other strategies to fight poverty and hunger instead of population size, such as more investment for basic services and infrastructure to promote economic development. In this way, countries might be better prepared to receive their population increase as a potential for development.

By: Jessica Baptista, Director at WYA Latin America