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Do developing countries have too many children?

Posted on 07 January 2010

“People in Africa have too many children” an argument I frequently hear when talking about population.  Despite my strong disagreement with this statement, many people bring it up in one form or another when talking about climate change and population issues.

The fact of the matter is, they do not have too many children when taken in context. I will use Africa as an example, but this argument can be used against any such claim.

Look around you today and you’ll see many examples of families with several children. The average number of children in the UK used to be much higher (National Statistics, 2010).  It is a well known fact that the number of children people have across the world correlates with healthcare and sex education.

If I lived in poverty, travelling 5 hours a day to find water, scrapping through, day by day trying to survive, no schools, no hospitals – I would be called ‘optimistic’ if I thought my children would survive.  In the absence of sick pay, maternity benefits and all the comforts developed countries take for granted, I would look to my children to help the family. Quite frankly the more of them to work the land and provide security the better.  Some of them would probably die, and I’d grow weary with the heavy emotional burden, that I had not been able to beat poverty and drought, to allow them all to succeed.  So in it’s basic form, one reason people have a larger number of children in the developing world is simple a matter of survival.  Much like it was in my grandparent’s day, children frequently died of diseases like tuberculosis and polio.  Life was harder – but no where near as hard as most of the world.

The ecological footprint of each country is another angle.  Footfrints are much smaller in developing countries than those that are developed.  Independent think-tank NEF estimate it takes around 2-5 planets to support developed countries (NEF, 2010). Most under-developed countries use less than one planet.  It’s easy to see that with only a small number of children ecological footprints for families in developed countries would still be larger than those in under-developed world.  If anything, it is us that should be making bold moves like China to restrict population growth, especially if we can’t control our over-consumption.

Still believe there is not enough to go around?  Then just think of all the food we chuck away on a daily basis and think of the food mountains we keep for our security while the rest of the world starves.  The population of developing countries is not the problem my friend.  We are.


Population Action – Average Number of Births per woman in Africa (UN)

NEFs Happy Planet Index 2.0

National Statistics – Total Fertility Rate in England and Wales

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This post was written by:

- who has written 33 posts on Green Guys Global.

Gareth is an active Environmentalist with a background in Environmental Science, Performance Analysis and Development Management. Gareth frequently raises funds for the charity WaterAid, by participating in extreme events, like trekking to Everest Base Camp and surviving in the arctic. Gareth is planning to go back to the arctic in 2011 to undertake some climate experiments on the winter permafrost of Hudson Bay, one of the Earth's potential climatic tipping points. As the Green Festival Man, he annually demonstrates practical ways to reduce your carbon footprint at music festivals, and lives by the mantra 'Be the change you want to see in the world'.

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