The exact population size of Africa, like that of the world, at any particular time is difficult to determine. This is essentially due to the fact that many countries in Africa do not have complete knowledge of their population, as census taking is irregular in most of these countries. The knowledge of the population of Africa, therefore, is within a considerable margin of error. However, available population data for Africa from 1650 to 2005 indicate that the population size of Africa has continued to grow from 100 million in 1650 to 906 million people in 2005.

The world population grew gradually from

100 million in 1650 to 106 million in 1750. The relatively low population growth rate between 1750 and 1850.

Various scholars have suggested that the fall in the population of Africa between 1750 and 1850, reflects the period of the slave trade, when about 10 million Africans were taken from their homelands in Africa to destinations in Europe and the Americas.

After 1900, Africa started to experience a steady and later rapid population growth. The main factor responsible for the rapid population growth at the beginning of the 20th century is essentially due to the sustained decline in mortality, particularly, the decline in infant mortality after the Second World War.

Factors responsible for the mortality decline include:

  1. Knowledge of and improved personal hygiene and medical care.
  2. Rising standard of living in Africa which was influenced by enhanced agricultural production and the emergence of other sources of income.
  3. Increasing peace and political stability in many Africa countries.

In addition, the noticeable decline in mortality in Africa in the last few decades, high fertility which has remained consistent in most African countries, contributed significantly to the rapid population growth experienced in Africa between 1950 and 2005.


Determinants or Factors of Population Growth

Three major factors which influence the population size and growth of a country, include birth or fertility rate, death or mortality rate and net migration as earlier highlighted in the calculation of population growth.


Fertility and Birth Rate

Fertility is the number of live births in a population. It is measured by the Crude Birth Rate (CBR), which is a ratio of a year’s registered births to the total mid-year population. The CBR is calculated by dividing the number of live births in a given year by the mid-year population, multiplied by a constant, usually 100 or 1000.

The merits of Crude Birth Rate are:

  1. it shows the level of fertility in an entire population
  2. its meaning can be easily understood and communicated to the public
  3. it can easily be calculated and require minimum data for calculation.


The demerits of Crude Birth Rate, based on two main criticisms are:

  1. It does not take into account those who actually give birth in the population.
  2. It fails to take into account sex and age structure of those who actually give birth to children, that is, proportion of women. The more suitable measure of fertility rate, therefore, is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR).

Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is also referred to as General Fertility Rate (GFR): This is a ratio of total registered births to population of women of child bearing age (either, 15-45, 15- 49). The TFR is a more realistic measure of the fertility of a population because it excludes men and a large group of women who are not exposed to children bearing by reason of age.


Age Specific Birth Rate (ASBR): This is the ratio of births by age of mothers in each age interval. Sometimes, ASBR are calculated separately for married women. The ASBR is calculated thus:


Reasons for fertility or high birth rate in Africa are:

  1. Social importance of children: Children are regarded as a blessing and not usually seen as a burden. Children are seen as a source of pride, prestige and joy hence the quest for large sized families.
  2. Desire for male children: Most cultures in Africa prefer male children to female ones. Couples whodo not have male children continue to produce children until their need for male children is satisfied.
  3. Old age security: People see children as a way of saving for old age, as children are expected to take care of their parents at old age.
  4. Education: The level of education generally in Africa is low; hence many people fail to appreciate the need to have a small sized family.
  5. Children as cheap labour: In many parts of Africa, children form part of the household labour for agricultural production and household purposes. Children in most households in Africa are seen as cheap labour, which should be used to contribute to household income. This has led to child – abuse and the denial of children’s basic rights such as education.
  6. Lack of family planning facilities: Family planning facilities are either not available or inadequate among many communities in Africa. Many people, therefore, do not have access to contraceptive facilities.
  7. Religion: The doctrine of the dominant religious faiths in Africa, that is Christianity and Islam generally do not encourage the use of contraceptives and abortion. Islam, for example, tends to encourage polygamy.


Mortality or Death Rate

Mortality may be defined as the occurrence of death. The simplest measure of mortality or death rate is the Crude Death Rate (CDR), which is the ratio of deaths in a particular population, given over a particular period. The CDR is calculated by dividing the number of deaths in a given year by the mid-year population, multiplied by a constant, usually 100 or 1000.

The pattern of mortality varies with the level of socio-economic development. Many factors influence the death rate. Death rates are usually higher in developing regions such as Africa when compared with the developed world. The CDR of Africa in 2006 is 15 deaths per 1000 (PRB, 2006).

The main factors that influence mortality rate in Africa and the world at large are:

  1. Social class: Studies have indicated that the higher the socio-economic group, the lower the death rate and vice versa. These socio-economic groups are defined on the basis of education, literacy and occupation.
  2. Race and ethnicity: In regions where minority groups are dominated and exploited, this has the tendency to affect their life expectancy. Furthermore, studies indicate mortality differences between ethnic and racial groups.
  3. Sex differences: Studies have shown that the mortality rate of males is higher than females. The mortality gap between sexes in Africa tends to be widening, as more males die as a result of exposure to socio-economic high hazards and risks of death in the process of trying to find ‘food’ for the family.
  4. Marital Status: Mortality differential studies have shown that married people tend to live longer than unmarried ones. A possible explanation for this pattern is the fact that marriage is selective: most people prefer to marry a healthy and physically fit person than one who is disabled or is suffering from a known disease. Unmarried people are therefore exposed to a higher risk of death than their married counterparts.
  5. Age: Generally mortality rate is highest among infants less than one year and the rate falls gradually until the age of about 60 when CDR is lowest. After 60 years of age the level of mortality gradually rises.