Last year Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan called on families to stop having more children than they can afford, but it appears no one listened. The Sub-Saharan nation is expected to become the world’s fourth most populous country by 2050, with 400 million people. That’s an addition of 11,000 people a day. The population of the African continent overall is expected to be 2 billion in 2050.
Nigeria’s economy, having grown an average of more than 7% over the past decade, is not only one of the largest in Africa but also one of the world’s fastest growing. But its exploding population—an increase of about 2.4% a year— isn’t quite the demographic dividend that past and present emerging markets have enjoyed like the East Asian “tigers” (pdf) (Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong), India, and parts of Latin America.
Nigeria’s available labor force has indeed expanded, but poverty reduction and job creation haven’t kept pace, the World Bank warned in a report (pdf) this month. Absolute poverty grew 60% last year, according to the government. In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, two thirds of residents live in slums. Some fear that growing ranks of uneducated, unemployed youth will breed instability, contributing to kidnapping, gang crime, and possibly an Islamist insurgency taking place in the north.
For a country to prosper from a population boom, fertility rates usually have to drop slightly. Then, when the proportion of working-age adults outnumbers children or the elderly (dependents for families and the government), productivity increases and economic growth helps fund needed services and infrastructure building.
But it won’t be easy to change Nigeria’s culture of large families where women typically have between five and 10 children. Previous attempts in the 1980s by the US to encourage Nigeria to lower fertility rates were met with suspicion.In 2012, president Jonathan said it may be time for “birth control legislation.” But after facing a wave of criticism, the government has done little more than distribute free contraceptives.