CGD in the News

Beyond 7 Billion: Bending the Population Curve (Los Angeles Times)

December 4, 2012

Visiting fellow John May is featured in a piece by the Los Angeles Times on how to address rapid population growth.

From the article:

Hunger. Environmental degradation. Political instability. These were among the consequences of rapid global population growth documented in a five-part series in The Times in July. Now, Opinion has invited leading scholars to consider what, if anything, people and governments can do to address the issue. In the brief essays that follow, Malcolm Potts from UC Berkeley sets up the situation we are facing, and population experts from around the globe explain some of the approaches they've seen work — and the reasons others have not. The series, by Times staff writer Kenneth R. Weiss and staff photographer Rick Loomis, can be found at

Support from the top

By John F. May

In order for family planning efforts to be truly effective, they need a strong commitment from top leaders in the country. In Africa, where population pressures are particularly acute, many leaders have been reluctant to address the issue squarely. They have claimed, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Africa is underpopulated and that high fertility rates and larger populations make countries stronger. Some African leaders have expressed resentment for what they see as Western intrusion into their sovereignty.

Other African leaders, however, have embraced the need for action, and their countries are the better for it. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for instance, is keenly aware of the implications of rapid population growth for the development prospects of his country. As a result, he has rekindled efforts to bring fertility levels down, with fair success so far. In the process, the Rwandan people — particularly women and children — have reaped significant health benefits.

The experience of East Asia has demonstrated that faster demographic transitions, including rapid declines in fertility, bring a demographic dividend: a period of fast economic growth. This economic growth occurs because declining fertility levels result in more productive people relative to dependents in a given population.

The demographic dividend could be a transformative tool for African countries too. But first, African leaders will have to embrace sound population policies. Without support from the top, family planning efforts in Africa will continue to struggle. It is the responsibility of African leaders to help their countries benefit from the demographic dividend.

Read it here.

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