Population and poverty

Resource date: 2014

Population trends and dynamics can have an enormous effect on prospects for poverty reduction and sustainable development. Poverty is influenced by – and influences – population dynamics, including population growth, age structure, and rural-urban distribution. All of this has a critical impact on a country’s development prospects and prospects for raising living standards for the poor. Investments in better health, including reproductive health, are essential for individual security and for reducing mortality and morbidity, which in turn improve a country’s productivity and development prospects.

Reproductive health and poverty reduction

Access to sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, can affect population dynamics through voluntary fertility reduction and reductions in infant and maternal mortality. Improved reproductive health also helps individuals, particularly young women, break out of intergenerational cycles of poverty. When women and couples are empowered to plan whether and when to have children, women are better enabled to complete their education; women’s autonomy within their households is increased; and their earning power is improved. This strengthens their economic security and well-being and that of their families. Cumulatively, this contributes to development progress and poverty reduction.

In addition to improving general health and well-being, analysis shows that meeting the reproductive health and contraceptive needs of all women in the developing world more than pays for itself. For every dollar invested in contraception, the cost of pregnancy-related care is reduced by $1.43. The lifetime opportunity cost related to adolescent pregnancy – a measure of the annual income a young mother misses out on over her lifetime – ranges from 1 per cent of annual gross domestic product in a large country such as China to 30 per cent of annual gross domestic product in a small economy such as Uganda. If adolescent girls in Brazil and India were able to wait until their early twenties to have children, the increased economic productivity would equal more than $3.5 billion and $7.7 billion, respectively.

The power of young people

A country’s economic growth is often shaped by overarching demographic trends. Developing countries with large youth populations and declining fertility rates could see their economies soar, provided they invest heavily in young people’s education and health and protect their rights, according to The State of World Population 2014. Potential economic gains could be realized through a 'demographic dividend,' which can occur when a country’s working age population grows larger relative to dependent populations, the report shows.

Family planning is important an important part of this process because many countries have large youth populations that will almost ensure continued rapid poulation growth unless fertility declines, which is what offers the possibility of the demographic dividend.

Where rapid population growth far outpaces economic development, countries will have a difficult time investing in the human capital needed to secure the well-being of its people and to stimulate further economic growth. This issue is especially acute for the least developed countries, many of which are facing a doubling, or even a tripling of their populations by 2050.  

A doubling of the population in the least developed countries means that between now and 2050 the working-age population will increase by about 15 million persons per year, on average, and that the labor force will increase by 33 thousand persons per day. Every day over this period about 33,000 young men and women will enter the labor force and will be looking for productive and remunerative employment that allows them to escape poverty, stay out of poverty, or simply live a better life than their parents did. In the least developed countries, about 80 per cent of the work force is unemployed, underemployed or are only vulnerably employed. The extent to which they can contribute economically will have huge impacts on their countries’ futures, as well as on their own lives.

Human capital critically depends on investment in education beyond the primary level, but even more fundamentally it begins with investment in health, including sexual and reproductive health. This is particularly true when considering entry points to unleash the economic potential of women and girls.

Read more

State of World Population 2014: The Power of 1.8 Billion
Adding it Up 2012: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services
Impacts of Population Dynamics, Reproductive Health and Gender on Poverty

Population Dynamics in the LDCs: Challenges and Opportunities for Development and Poverty Reduction
Population Situation Analysis
Growth, Productive Employment and Decent Work in the Least Developed Countries