Population, poverty and economic development

Steven W. Sinding


Economists, demographers and other social scientists have long debated the relationship between demographic change and economic outcomes. In recent years, general agreement has emerged to the effect that improving economic conditions for individuals generally lead to lower birth rates. But, there is much less agreement about the proposition that lower birth rates contribute to economic development and help individuals and families to escape from poverty. The paper examines recent evidence on this aspect of the debate, concludes that the burden of evidence now increasingly supports a positive conclusion, examines recent trends in demographic change and economic development and argues that the countries representing the last development frontier, those of Sub-Saharan Africa, would be well advised to incorporate policies and programmes to reduce high fertility in their economic development strategies.


  • One contribution of 14 to a Theme Issue ‘The impact of population growth on tomorrow's world’.

  • 1 In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that as the then USAID Agency Director for Population, concerned about the Reagan Administration's statement at Mexico City, I had commissioned the NRC study in the full expectation that it would reaffirm the findings of an earlier NRC report (1971) to the effect that ‘high fertility and rapid population growth have serious adverse social and economic effects’. Had I been a more careful student of demographic-economic research at that time, I might have made a different decision.

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