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Table of Contents

  1. Topic pack - Development economics - introduction
  2. 4.1 Economic development (notes)
    1. Economic development - introduction
    2. Development - pause for thought
    3. Economic growth and economic development
    4. Sustainability
    5. The sources of economic growth and economic development
    6. Natural factors
    7. Importance of agriculture
    8. Externalities
    9. Case study - farming in Kenya
    10. Human factors
    11. Population
    12. Physical capital and technological factors
    13. Institutional factors
    14. The consequences of growth for Development
    15. Common characteristics of economically less developed countries
    16. Poverty cycle
    17. Diversity among economically less developed nations
    18. International development goals
    19. Millennium Development Goals
    20. Case Study - Millennium Development Goals
  3. 4.1 Economic development (questions)
  4. 4.2 Measuring Economic Development (notes)
  5. 4.2 Measuring development (questions)
  6. 4.3 The role of domestic factors in economic development (notes)
  7. 4.3 The role of domestic factors in economic development (questions)
  8. 4.4 The role of international trade (notes)
  9. 4.4 The role of international trade (questions)
  10. 4.5 The role of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) (notes)
  11. 4.5 The role of foreign direct investment (questions)
  12. 4.6 The role of foreign aid and multilaterial development assistance (notes)
  13. 4.6 The role of foreign aid and multilateral development assistance (questions)
  14. 4.7 The role of international debt (notes)
  15. 4.7 The role of international debt (questions)
  16. 4.8 The balance between markets and intervention (notes)
  17. 4.8 The balance between markets and intervention (questions)
  18. Print View

Population - Demographics

Population will be an important part of the development of many of the economies we are looking at.

Chart 1 Total population

There is also a static version of this chart available.

Chart 2 Population growth

There is also a static version of this chart available.


For further information on population and world population data, population pyramids and a world population clock, it may be worth looking at the World Population Information site provided by the US Census Bureau.

To see the trend in population growth watch this visualisation on the Gapminder site. You can select the specific countries that interest you on the right hand bar.

The net population increase figure (births - deaths + migration) will be an important factor as it is this that determines the growth rate of the population - the quantity of labour as a resource. In some developing economies, population growth is still around 4% per annum. In the short run, this will put pressure on education and employment but eventually social provision for the elderly will have to be financed. Population growth also impacts on the:

  • Supply of food - although little starvation exists in the developing world, malnutrition (see chart 3 below) is a major problem in many countries. It adds to the size of infant mortality.
  • Environment - food pressure puts pressure on land and takes valuable resources away from other sectors. Intensive methods require inputs that might damage the environment. GM crops are thought by some to be a major reducer of poverty whilst for others they threaten our very survival.

Chart 3 Child malnutrition - weight for age (% of under 5)

There is also a static version of this chart available.

Age is also an important consideration when looking at the population and its structure. We need to consider the dependency ratio - the proportion of those of working age to those who are dependent. The dependent population will include those of school age and those over the age of retirement. The dependent population will, by definition, need to be supported by those who are actively working but, in the longer term, economic development will be crucially determined by the quality of education and training received by the younger element of the dependent population. Often, however, in developing countries, children do not receive an appropriate education on account of the following:

(a) Inadequate education systems
(b) The need to keep children away from school to work on the land
(c) A lack of adequate jobs for those who have received a more formal education. The lack of jobs may lead to crime and increasing drug abuse, and an unwillingness to attend school in the first place.

For many young women, the only way to guarantee some form of security is to accept early marriage and child bearing.

Government and the birth rate - development implies better health, education etc. and a fast growing population makes this more difficult. So, should government try to influence the size of families? China tried this with its one child policy. Some of the problems associated with this form of population manipulation are not attractive.

Whatever the government decides to do, one fact is agreed upon by most, namely, that as an economy develops, so the number of conceptions per female declines. It therefore follows that policies designed to raise the living standards of the poor, e.g. redistributive fiscal policy, are likely to be the most effective way to reduce the rate of population increase - certainly more effective than just handing out contraceptives!

Chart 4 Fertility rate (births per woman)

There is also a static version of this chart available.

Chart 5 Contraception (% aged 15-49 using contraception)

There is also a static version of this chart available.

Education - health care and family planning can feature in government-sponsored programmes. As mentioned earlier fiscal (tax) incentives can be used to encourage families to have fewer children.

The role of women in society - if women can earn some money - say by a female only micro loan and then save this in a women-only bank, then they can gain some financial independence. This seems to be a successful way of reducing family sizes.

Migration - the pull of cities continues to cause large numbers to move to urban areas. Some argue that agricultural workers have low productivity and that they should be encouraged to move to cities and to take the higher productivity jobs to be found there. However, they create little, if anything, if all they drift into is unemployment, underemployment, poverty, crime and often prostitution.

Many of those who migrate to the cities do so on the expectation that eventually they will earn more than in the rural areas. Perhaps it might be best if some government funding went to the rural areas, so making life in those regions more closely resemble what the rural dwellers perceive urban life to be? This would take both money and time, as schools, hospitals, roads etc would be needed to offer a similar lifestyle to that which the urban dweller supposedly has access to.

The question of land ownership is also likely to be a crucial factor in preventing rural-urban migration, and policies which redistribute land from absentee landlords to landless peasants, although politically controversial, are likely to be a key factor in reducing the 'push' off the land and the 'pull' of the city.

Chart 6 Urban population as a % of total population

There is also a static version of this chart available.