In the 1950’s the average woman had five children, since then the number has halved globally – but not in a number of African countries that have the highest fertility rates in the world. Niger republic leads globally with an average of 7.29 children per woman, followed by Somalia (6.37), DR Congo (6.20), Mali (6.14) and Chad (6.05). This is sharp contrast to the world average which was 2.49 while the average for Africa stood at 4.58.

Fertility rate and birth rate are both used to determine replacement rate of a country and are both factors in determining the development of countries. Fertility rate on one hand is the average number of children born women of the childbearing age (15-44 years) while birth rate is the number of lives births per 1,000 of the population each year.

Most of the countries in the world with the highest fertility rates are in Africa while the North African country of Tunisia has the lowest fertility rate on the continent at 2.147 children per woman – a figure that puts it roughly in the middle of the two hundred countries listed by the United Nations Population Division. Nigeria which has the continent’s largest population has a fertility rate of 5.59.

Defining poverty has been tricky among experts since what determines the world’s poorest countries isn’t as clear-cut as dollars and cents.

“Data are often hard to come by in some of the most vulnerable countries. What’s more, relying on the gross domestic product (GDP) as a ranking factor doesn’t account for all of a country’s wealth. Even if we find a unifying metric, how do we account for exchange rates?,” Concern Worldwide US stated.

The International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Central Intelligence Agency all rank countries by their per-capita GDPs (Gross Domestic Products) which is the production of a country versus its income. 

A more appropriate approach is to focus on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Reports which rank countries not only by their Gross National Income (GNI), but also by the life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, and their own human development index (HDI) value. 

On the list, all of the ranked countries with the highest fertility rates were in the lowest 13 with Niger, which is the most fertile country in the world, also emerging as the world’s poorest country.

Poverty and fertility

When the global fertility rate was high, it was a period when the very high mortality at a young age kept population growth low. However, as health improves and the mortality in the population decreases, there was accelerated population growth.

This rapid population growth then comes to an end as the fertility rate declines and approaches 2 children per woman.

The three major reasons for lowering fertility rates are the empowerment of women (increasing access to education and increasing labour market participation), declining child mortality, and a rising cost of bringing up children (to which the decline of child labor contributed).

These are issues that these African countries have been unable to deal with in spite of the advances in other parts of the world and within the African continent. But experts argued that this trend will change when more women are empowered, child mortality reduces and it becomes more expensive to raise children in the African countries.

As a consequence of the declining global fertility rate the global population growth rate has declined, from a peak of 2.1% per year in 1968 to less than 1.1% today.

The world is therefore in the transition to a new balance where rapid population change will come to an end. 

“The big global demographic transition that the world entered more than two centuries ago is then coming to an end: This new equilibrium is different from the one in the past when it was the very high mortality that kept population growth in check. In the new balance it will be low fertility keeps population changes small,” a group of experts stated.

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