Opinion

Population decline boon for services

Population decline boon for services
  • While a young population is productive, innovative and drives consumption of goods and services from industries, an ageing one is a burden on the economy as its demands for support rises, productivity declines.

  • But experts warn that the Third World cheap labour pool for the developed world will dry up as the developing world populations catch up with declining growth rates.

This year’s Form One intake for both girls and boys hit the million mark, an exciting milestone as it’s an indicator of achieving the 100 per cent transition and access from primary to secondary school.

FREE EDUCATION

That is an important number underpinning government commitment to the policy of Leaving No Child Behind in providing the United Nations targets of 12 years of universal basic education (eight years primary and four years secondary) for all children.

One of the most enduring legacies of retired President Mwai Kibaki’s administration (2003-2013) is the rolling out of free and compulsory primary education in his first year in office. The most talked-about number then was the one million children who turned up to primary schools across the country.

In his election campaigns in 2002, candidate Kibaki had pledged that his government would ensure universal free primary education if elected and, it seems, families took that literally and sent all children to school in January!

One of the most dramatic outcomes of consistent progressive policies like universal free basic education was reflected in the preliminary results for last year’s population census released in November. While they show Kenya’s population increased by nine million from 38 million in 2009 to 47.5 million in the past decade, notably, the annual population growth rate fell to 2.2 per cent during that period, the steepest of the previous four decades.

Significantly, 2009 was the year the one million cohort that joined Standard One in 2003 transited to Form One.

SOCIAL ADVANCEMENT

The population growth rate stood at a high of 3.4 per cent between 1969 and 1979, remaining constant at 2.9 per cent between the three decades of 1979-2009 before the steep plunge to 2.2 per cent in 2009-2019.

Apparently, the drop caught some by surprise after the 2019 census failed to project the expected steep upward trend like before, leading to claims of “miscounting”. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics is expected to release the full analysis of the sharp decline in August.

However, experts attribute falling population numbers globally to increased access to education by women, coupled with rapid urbanisation.

In The Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, statistician Darrell Bricker and anthropologist John Ibbitson say women will have the most decisive impact on the direction of the global population trend — including in the fast-urbanising developing world.

The two write in the book published last year: “Once women move to urban centres, children become a liability rather than an asset as in rural areas. Each baby becomes just an extra mouth to feed. Economic pressures in the urban centres mean women have to make choices between babies and other preferences for personal, career and social advancement.”

TUBAL LIGATIONS

Relocation from rural to urban settings “liberates” women from the pressures of the extended family, the clan and the Mosque or the Church to produce babies as culturally dutiful spouses and base their decisions on other considerations.

In South America, women connive with doctors to recommend a caesarean section and then demand tubal ligations while at it without the husband’s suspicion, the authors say.

In Kenya, the free basic education policy means girls stay in the school system longer than in previous decades. This delays the onset of sexual and child-bearing experience while opening prospects in life that may delay the onset of marriage and motherhood.

The Empty Planet says the decline is good and bad.

In the case of Kenya, an economic growth rate of above 5.5 per cent is almost triple the population growth rate of 2.2 and, hence, good for enhanced capacity for the economy to fund better service delivery standards for citizens.

On the flip side, however, declining birth rates will lead to an unenviable trend where unproductive senior citizens outnumber the youth.

MIGRANT LABOUR

While a young population is productive, innovative and drives consumption of goods and services from industries, an ageing one is a burden on the economy as its demands for support rises, productivity declines — as is the case with Japan and many Western industrial nations, which now depend on green cards and migrant labour to run industries and public services. But the authors warn that the Third World cheap labour pool for the developed world will dry up as the developing world populations catch up with declining growth rates.

This calls on policy leaders to start making adjustments on the current economic planning and development models, which are based on outdated demographic profiles that may not hold in another few decades.

Mr Kwinga is a political scientist.