Population growth and economic development has been a recurrent theme of discussion among development economists for several years. More than two centuries ago, the famous economist Reverend Thomas Malthus argued that population growth would depress living standards in the long run. He put forward a theory of the relationship between population growth and development that is influential today. The theory simply stated “given that there is a fixed quantity of land, population growth will eventually reduce the amount of resources that each individual can consume, ultimately resulting disease, starvation and war.
Malthus was then seen as the father of birth control movement as he proposed the only way to avoid such a crisis was to resort to ‘moral restraint’. However, he failed to see the improvement in technological facilities that would significantly increase agricultural productivity as well as a reduction in the toll of infectious diseases in the current world today. Many development economists today see his essential insight into the threat of population growth to development as influential and informative to international development policy agendas.
The following discussion summarizes four main arguments in favor of the opinion that population growth is a monumental obstacle to development in developing countries.
Firstly, the population-poverty cycle theory is the main argument advanced by economists who hold that too rapid population growth yields negative economic consequences and thus should be a real concern for developing countries. Mohammed Afzal in his paper ‘population growth and economic development in Pakistan” says that many economists argue based on population-poverty cycle theory that the negative economic consequences of rapid population growth is of real concern for the developing countries because population growth retards prospects of a better life for the already born by reducing savings rate at the household and national levels which in turn is likely to aggravate the economic, social and psychological problems associated with the problems of underdevelopment.
This then poses a serious problem to the governments as the limited revenue reserves are going to be drained simply to provide economic, health and social services to the additional increase in the population.
Thus, further reducing the prospects of the country to provide any improvement in the level of living of the existing generation and helps transmit poverty to future generations of low-income families thus slowing down development in many years to come. Secondly, extremists argue that population is the primary cause of global crises. Their version of the population as a problem attributes all the worlds economic and social crises to excessive population growth. Todaro and Smith claims that, the level if unrestrained population is seen as a major crises facing mankind today, as he sees it as the principal cause of poverty, low levels of living, malnutrition, ill-health, environmental degradation and a wide array of other social problems. This is typical of many developing countries who as a result suffer from this in a day to day basis. Afzal (2009), gives an example of Pakistan, attributing the serious environmental problems faced by the country to rapid population growth. He says the attempt to cater for the increasing population has put immense pressure on the country’s natural resource base and have significantly increased levels of pollution. Rapid expansion in industrial production and urbanization has led to increased levels of industrial waste, water pollution, solid waste, and vehicle emissions that have resulted in serious health problems in many areas of the country. Attempted to value environmental costs in Pakistan and has put the estimate of environmental damage at $1 billion to $2.1 billion per year, or 2.6 to 5.0 percent of GDP in 1992 values. These values are very detrimental to the state as these large amounts could have other wise been invested into the development of the nation.
Furthermore, education is a very important factor in the attainment of development. This is because other sectors of an economy rely on the populace as a source if human capital. The rapid population growth over the years implies that, despite investments to increase the quality of education, a large proportion of the population will still be denied access to quality education. It is generally agreed that in most developing countries, larger family sizes and low incomes result in restricted opportunities of parents to properly educate all their children. For example, in some rural and even a few urban parts of Ghana , is it common for parents to educate the sons as compared to daughters in attempt to secure their future in their old age and for the few population of girls that can attend school, are more likely to drop out to be able to take care of their younger siblings. Thus, with an increase in the size of the population is it is more likely to see a reduction in levels of educational attainment at higher levels as it becomes even more expensive for parents to afford to send all their children through school. As a result, at the national level, rapid population growth causes educational expenditures to be spread more thinly, lowering quality for the sake of quantity. This in turn results in the reduction of well-equipped persons to add up to the existing capital stock thus retarding the grow of the economy of the country.
Lastly, it can be argued that an increasing population would make feeding the world’s population a very difficult one. Studies show that, even though enough food exists for all the worlds people, almost one in seven people around the world are chronically hungry, lacking enough food to lead healthy and active lives. Sub-Saharan Africa hold the highest population growth rate in the world as well as the largest proportion of people without food security. The Food and Agriculture organization projects that by 2050, population and economic growth will result in the doubling of demand for food globally. If this increase is not matched with an introduction of new methods of food production, it calls for serious problems in the feeding as well as the wellbeing of the population. Unfortunately, in most developing countries and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are great records of lowest agricultural productivity in the world. According to the 2009 World Summit on Food Security, it was noted that low-income households, women, and farmers with small holdings can face unequal access to food supplies and markets. Women and children, particularly pregnant and breastfeeding women and infants, are often the most severely affected by a lack of food. In an attempt to provide food to feed the extra numbers much strain would be put on limited lands and water supply and in much extreme cases destruction of forest lands with the aim of expansion of land or the overexploitation of already exiting lands.