Population dynamics and policies

Resource date: 2014

Author: UNFPA

Population trends and dynamics play a powerful role in development, and must therefore be factored into planning and policy decisions. Population size and structure impact a country’s economy as well as its ability to provide social protections and access to health care, education, housing, sanitation, water, food and energy. Because population dynamics vary widely – from countries trying to provide opportunities for enormous youth populations to those coping with low fertility and ageing – policies dealing with population issues must be tailored to their specific needs.

However, it is essential that these policies be grounded in a fundamental respect for human rights. Population dynamics are the cumulative result of individual choices and opportunities – and UNFPA has learned that real progress results when these choices and opportunities are enlarged rather than restricted.

It is essential that these policies be grounded in a fundamental respect for human rights.

This is especially true when dealing with the protection of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people, a sensitive area, and one with enormous implications for population dynamics. The International Conference on Population and Development, the Millennium Development Goals, and the upcoming post-2015 development agenda all call for unrestricted and universal access to sexual and reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning. Because women and girls bear children, sexual and reproductive health is also an integral element of gender equality, which is a proven driver of economic and social progress.

International agreements also call for higher investment in education beyond the primary level, with special consideration for the women and girls who are often left behind.

Together, these measures will improve the lives of all people, helping to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, reducing unwanted and adolescent pregnancies, and curbing the spread of diseases including HIV. At the same time, these human rights-based policies will help countries address the range of their demographic concerns. For example, in countries with high fertility levels and an unmet need for contraception, universal access to sexual and reproductive health services can help women plan and space their pregnancies, with a cascade of positive impacts for individuals, communities and the country as a whole. Decreasing fertility, coupled with investments in young people, can help countries realize a ‘demographic dividend’, a driver of economic growth.

Similarly, human rights-based policies can assist countries grappling with large migration flows or rapid urbanization. Well-managed migration – internal or external  can have many benefits. Evidence suggests that efforts to limit urban population growth, for example by restricting internal migration, have had limited success, if any.

Data collection, analysis

Rights-based policies should be complemented by efforts to anticipate and plan for population changes. To this end, countries need to collect disaggregated population data on a regular basis and use this data for planning at the national, local, rural and urban levels.

Demographic data, together with data on environmental conditions, is essential to developing effective policies on housing, infrastructure, utilities and urban planning. Together with data on social and economic conditions and vulnerabilities, population data can inform investments in social services such as health care and education. Without such data, countries cannot hope to understand or meet the needs of their ever-changing populations.

What is UNFPA’s role?

Through censuses and surveys, UNFPA supports the collection demographic information around the world. Then, using evidence-based analysis, UNFPA engages in policy discussions at the global, regional and national levels. This engagement often takes place in the context of Population Situation Analyses, common country assessments and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework.

UNFPA supports countries in their efforts to formulate people-centred development strategies, goals and targets that account for and address population dynamics.


World Population Policies Database

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