We talk about migration issues from Syria and the Middle-East. We talk about the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union, opening the doors of Europe to millions of Turks. Nevertheless, the real migration will originate in Africa.
It is the continent that has maintained high birth rates, despite predictions that they will become lower.
Back in 1980 only 477 million people lived in Africa. Compare that to the 1.2 billion today and you see it has almost tripled in the years from 1980 to 2018
How many people live in Africa today? Not even 1.3 billion. And by 2050? Well, 1.3 billion more. A total of 2.5 billion people would live in Africa. Although population growth in Europe is purely due to immigration, Africa’s population will double thanks to its high fertility rates. What will the consequences be?
Does it sound shocking that the population in Africa will double in just over three decades? Back in 1980 only 477 million people lived in Africa. Compare that to the 1.2 billion today and you see it has almost tripled in the years from 1980 to 2018.
In that same time, Germany has gone from 78 million to 82 million. The prediction is that Africa will reach 3.4 billion by the end of the century.
The African share of the total population will rise from 17% to 40% in this century
The prediction for 2100 is even more impressive. The expectation is for Africa to grow by 3.2 billion people. That number is growth only – meaning the total population would be 4.5 billion. The total global population is expected to grow by only 3.8 billion by 2100.
This means the total population is expected to be the current 7.6 billion, plus 3.8, forming a total of 11.4 billion. The African share of the total population will rise from 17% to 40% in this century.
Africa’s fertility rate is a whopping 4.7, versus a global average of 2.5. In the EU this is a meagre 1.5! This means the average African woman gives birth to 4.7 children; and this is the source of their population growth.
The Case of Niger
Niger has a GDP per capita of only a dollar a day. Their fertility rate, either due to or despite, is above 7. Despite the country only having a population of 20 million today, by 2050 they are expected to have 72 million.
The projection for 2100 puts them at 209 million already. Yet, this projection has the assumption that the fertility rate of Niger will drop to 2.5 children by 2100. Nevertheless the fertility rate has remained stable for the last 60 years. Probably it has been more than 60 years, but we only have the data up to 1960.
The projection for 2100 with an unchanging fertility rate puts Niger at 960 million people. Yes, you read that right. The expectation is that Niger would go from 20 million today, to almost a billion in just over 80 years.
It must be said that these predictions are also due to an expected drop in child mortality, and an increase in life expectancy. Child mortality and fertility rates go hand in hand of course, as parents want to prevent the risk of having all their children die in childhood.
The counter-move is to simply have multiple children. The same goes for poverty, where parents have multiple children as their safety net for old age. By that logic, the 960 million in Niger alone by 2100 that is mentioned in the Guardian article seems rather unbelievable.
The prediction of 72 million by 2050 however, takes all those variables into account already. It is a trustworthy prediction made by the UN themselves.
Why Doesn’t the Fertility Rate Drop?
The world has experienced a drop in fertility from an average of 5 to an average of 2.5 since 1960. We attributed most of this to an increase in wealth and a reduction of child mortality. As we became richer, children were no longer needed as a safety net.
Furthermore, since children were likely to survive, there were fewer reason to have many. Africa is a bit different. Despite getting richer it is still poor. But it is poor while having access to newly discovered medicines and receiving aid in the form of food from the Western world.
So while still being poor, they live longer and die less often in childhood. Not only do more Africans survive into old-age, more of them reach the age of reproduction and launch the next generation.
Not all of Africa is poor however, and even the poor parts are less poor than they were before. So what explains the high fertility rates?
Explanations vary from a cultural appreciation of a large family, to a reluctance to use contraceptives. The most striking reason is perhaps that of uncertainty. European parents traded off quality versus quantity. Yes, they could have more children, but they rather focused on two. That way, those two could afford to attend good schools and be taken care of.
In Africa, that trade-off may not exist. Educational systems have not caught up to the baby boom. The future from an economic sense is uncertain and governments are unreliable in many countries. All in all, it means African might have too little trust in the future. They have no faith in the social safety net supposedly provided by the government and society as a whole, so they continue to prefer creating their own safety net in the form of children.
This might mean Africa is in a catch-22. A catch-22, for those that don’t know, is a reference to the novel going by the same name. In the novel, the protagonist wanted to leave the army, but he could only leave the army if he could prove he was insane. Since he wanted to leave the army, he proved that he wasn’t insane, because every sane person wants to leave the war.
And Africa? Africa wants to reduce its fertility rate. But in order to reduce its fertility rate it must acquire stability and trust. Yet, due to the continuously booming population, the governments cannot keep up. Unemployment decreases stability.
The population growth puts pressure on house-prices and land-prices. The school system cannot cope with the large amounts of students. Overall, the system breaks under the pressure. And, as women see that the system is breaking, they continue to have a high number of children.
The predictions above by the UN are under the assumption that the fertility rate will drop. Even with these reduced rates the population will double by 2050. But will these rates really drop if Africa is caught in a catch-22? So far the data shows that drops in Africa’s fertility rates are stagnating, and overall the reductions have been much slower than expected.
A Brighter Future Abroad
Since 2010 a million Sub-Saharan Africans have moved to Europe. President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, has already warned that millions more will come within the next five years if Europe does not take action.
Most people are well aware that even though life in Africa has improved, it’s still not great. And definitely not as comfortable as Europe. That is also the reason Africans give for wanting to move to Europe. Europe opened up a new route for people smuggling when it bombed Libya. The country is still in a state of semi-anarchy, which is perfect for slave-traders and people-smugglers.
What should Europe expect over the upcoming decades, with such a massive population boom on its southern border? The UN seems to welcome the development as an opportunity to counter Europe’s decline in population. The report by the United Nations investigates the possibility of filling the gaps in Europe’s population with ‘replacement migration’ from areas that do experience population growth; notably Africa.
The outcome can be anywhere from ”Fortress Europe” to ”Eurafrica”. The first option seems unlikely as it is deemed morally unacceptable, while the second option will mean the end of the European welfare states and culture.
According to Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, “The migratory phenomenon we are facing will be historic”. We can agree on that but we need to act on it to secure the future of Europe.