Attacking poverty directly-as a matter of human rights, to accelerate
development and to reduce inequality within and among
nations-has become an urgent global priority. World leaders have
agreed on a variety of new initiatives, including the United
Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This year's State
of World Population report is a contribution to the discussion and
a guide to action.
The number of people (3 billion)
living on $2 a day or less (1)
is the same as additions to world population since 1960.
Of course, the relationship is not direct, but population
cannot be ignored in the discussion about poverty and
how to end it.
- Fertility and population growth are highest in
the poorest countries. The least-developed countries
will most likely triple their populations by 2050, from
600 million in 1995 to 1.8 billion (2).
- Population age structures have an impact on development: a high
proportion of young dependents hold back economic growth.
- Urban growth is fastest among poor populations. Many of the
new urban migrants are very poor, driven by environmental
collapse or economic hopes or hardship.
Development has often bypassed the poorest people, and has
even increased their disadvantages. The poor need direct action to
bring them into the development process and create the conditions
for them to escape from poverty.
The world economic situation
poses challenges to progress towards the MDGs.
Overall, in the 1990s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
grew by 1.6 per cent a year in developing countries. But these
slow gains were unevenly distributed. The per capita GDP
growth of the poorest countries in the 1990s was slower than
in the 1980s.
Lower-middle-income countries also had poorer economic
performance in the 1990s than the 1980s. Transitional and
developing economies in Europe and Central Asia actually
declined in the 1990s. In 1999-2000 GDP growth per capita in
low-income countries in this region was 2.2 per cent per year.
Similar rates held regionally in Latin America and the
Caribbean, South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa.
Sub-Saharan African per capita economic performance grew
by only 0.6 per cent. While extreme income poverty declined
in the 1990s, much of that was due to progress in a few countries
The new decade started with even greater uncertainty.
Recent global reductions in trade, a spreading economic contraction
and new banking and finance crises as in Brazil and
Argentina are posing challenges to economic growth.
Economic growth alone may not be enough to ensure
progress towards the MDGs. Whatever gains are made need
to be directed to reduce poverty. See source
The world's nations agreed as long ago as 1994 that population
and development work is central to this purpose. The 1994 International
Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)
addressed population and reproductive health concerns within
a broad development framework, stressing the need to incorporate
diverse population issues-including growth, location, age
distribution and movement, and their evolving dynamics-in
addressing issues of sustainable development.
The ICPD adopted important goals,
including better reproductive health, universal education
and gender equality, all within the context of human
rights (3). Work
towards these goals fits seamlessly into the MDGs, and
reinforces progress towards them.
Work towards population goals helps reduce poverty in several
ways. Two of the most important:
- Slower population growth has encouraged overall
economic growth in developing countries (4).
Since 1970, developing countries with lower fertility
and slower population growth have seen higher productivity,
more savings and more productive investment. Incomes,
the usual measure of poverty, have risen across the
- Incomes do not tell the whole story. Successful developing countries
have also invested in universal health care, including
reproductive health, and education. They have moved to reduce
gender inequality and remove obstacles to women's particpation
in the wider society. These social investments promote human
rights. They improve human well-being, help close the gaps
between the poor and the better off, and reduce the disadvantages
under which poor people labour. Poor people themselves
measure the quality of their lives in this broader way.
Chapter 2 looks at ways to describe and measure poverty.
THE DEMOGRAPHIC WINDOW Social investments help reach the
goal of slower population growth. Improving health care, education
and opportunities for women is a matter of human rights; it
empowers women, and it also results in smaller families overall.
Within a generation this downturn in fertility opens a demographic
window, a period in which a large group of working-age people
is supporting relatively fewer older and younger dependents.
The demographic window is a unique opportunity for countries to
invest in economic growth. The window opens only once and not
for long. Within another generation it closes again, as populations
age and dependency increases once more.
Taking advantage of the demographic window has accounted
for a third of the annual economic growth of the East Asian
"tigers". Mexico, Brazil and some other countries have also taken
advantage of their demographic window. Others have been less
successful. The poorest countries are a long way from opening
the demographic window, but investment now will safeguard the
future. Investment will also protect the present. It will save
women's lives, and protect their families. It will empower them
to take control of their lives.
Evidence also suggests that the economic gains from declining
fertility change the distribution of wealth to the benefit of the poor.
The "macro" effects of population on development are discussed
in Chapter 3.