Population & Economic Growth

A presumption that has become the staple of development literature, of the environmentalists’ thoughts, of the UN Population Fund and of the score of national population control establishments, is that when population grows vigorously it inhibits economic development and degrades the quality of life. The anti-natalists feel currently joyfully satisfied with the evidence that the female fertility rates have declined by “about one-third or more in many less-developed countries between the ‘60s and ‘80s,,,closing half-way or so to “zero-population” growth..., and in the developed countries the most ideal fertility rate of 2 had been achieved by 1986.” What they ignore is that corresponding to the decline of population growth the economies of these countries have also witnessed a downfall.

For reasons whatsoever, all or most of these learned men and women cannot [or  do not] wish to observe the striking phenomena of remarkable economic strides along with dramatic population growth. Soon after World War II, Hong Kong was poor. Between 1951 and 1987, its population “increased by 2.78 times” — close to 6 million people living in 400 square miles or density of 14,000 persons per square mile. The same small enclave was the largest exporter in the underdeveloped world even as back as 1969. Hong Kong is not the only example. Similar has been the story of all rapidly growing economies whose growth is found positively related to high population growth.

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We see that the population is growing faster in the Third World, as compared to Western countries. But contrary to the perception that the Third World is economically doomed, the World Bank reports that “from 1966 to 1980, real gross national product per person grew in the developing world at an average rate of 3.4 percent — a faster rate than population growth in many of those countries, the average of growth in per capita output during the same period was 3.1 percent.

The UNDP Human Development Report (1990) provides some useful statistics about 130 countries, ranking from Niger, the poorest, to Japan, the richest. Of all these countries, 23 excelled Pakistan in respect of population density, yet their overwhelming majority was socially and economically much better. Only countries like Burundi, India, Rwanda and Bangladesh appeared lagging behind Pakistan in one or two aspects, mainly because of social and political reasons rather than pure demographic factors.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.