Which Continent Has the Fastest Growing Population?
This is a question we are often asked, so we’d like to dedicate an entire blog post to its answer. The reality is that, although the global fertility rate has declined to 2.4 children per woman (from 4.9 when we were founded in 1968), there is a wide, albeit shrinking, disparity in fertility rates across world regions. And, of course, fertility is the number one indicator of a country’s rate of population growth.
Four of the world’s six major geographic regions (as designated by the United Nations Population Division) have a total fertility rate (TFR) below replacement rate (the number of children it takes to replace a woman and her partner—in low-mortality settings, replacement rate is 2.1, and in higher-mortality settings it can be more like 2.3). Europe has the lowest TFR, at 1.62 children per woman, followed by Northern America (1.76), Latin America and the Caribbean (1.96), and Asia (2.09). Oceania is a bit above replacement rate, at 2.30. By contrast, Africa’s TFR is 4.16—nearly two children per woman more than that of the next highest regional TFR. The TFR of sub-Saharan Africa (the African continent minus Northern Africa) is even higher, at 4.40 children per woman.
To complicate matters further, the TFR of countries within the African continent range even more widely, from 1.35 in Mauritius to 6.51 in Niger (see chart below). This demonstrates that world regions shouldn’t be considered monolithic—each region has social, political, economic, and environmental differences within countries.
Having said that, there are many shared challenges among the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including a large proportion of women with an unmet need for family planning/low contraceptive prevalence; high rates of poverty and infant mortality; and low levels of secondary education, especially among girls. These are the factors most commonly associated with high fertility and rapid population growth. Indeed, at the current population growth rate (2.52% per year), sub-Saharan Africa’s population will double in 28 years. In a region beset with so many resource and infrastructure challenges, a doubling of the population before mid-century is unimaginable.
It is imperative that the United States and other international donors increase family planning assistance to sub-Saharan Africa and all countries that have an unmet need for family planning (including our own—in the United States, 45% of pregnancies and one-third of births are unintended, amounting to about 1.6 million unintended births per year). The United States’ fair share of satisfying global unmet need is $1.74 billion, but for several years we have only been contributing around $600 million. It’s time for us to step up and fulfill the funding commitment we made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Doing so will lower fertility rates via voluntary access to contraception, slow population growth, and improve health and well-being of millions of people around the world.
|Country||TFR in 2020–2025|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||5.46|
|United Republic of Tanzania||4.63|
|Central African Republic||4.38|
|Sao Tome and Principe||4.08|
Source of demographic data:
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, custom data acquired via website.