Impact of High Population Growth in Developing Countries

The Impacts of High Population Growth on Economy of Developing Countries

According to World Bank, population is the total number of residents, “regardless of legal status or citizenship except for refugees not permanently settled in the country of asylum, who are generally considered part of the population of origin” (The World Bank 1). Historical population estimate conducted by U.S census from 10,000BC TO 1950 AD indicates a growth from 1 million to 2.3 billion (U.S Census Bureau) It is different from population growth which, “refers to change in the size of population which can be either positive or negative over time, depending on the balance of births and deaths” (Gee 1). Therefore, high population growth is characterized with higher birthrate as compared to death rate. Existing studies on human populations suggest that world population was about 15 million nearly 15 000 years ago. Population growth has a direct impact on the economy of a country through its influence on several factors that are key drivers of the economy. For example, it influences employment rate, per capita income, labor market and natural resources among others.

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For a proper understanding of the impacts of population growth, the history of global population growth is paramount. It helps to understand the trends in the population growth of a country as well as population changes. Recent studies have shown a high rate of population growth in developing countries. In fact, the predicted increase in the population index from current 7.1 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050 is mainly attributed to developing countries. According to historical studies, population growth started to become exponential in 1750 (Gee 2). Research studies indicate that “population grows fastest in poorest countries” (Kinder 4). Low population growth in early years was mainly due to famine, plagues and poor living conditions. Later, population growth increased exponentially to 5 billion during the period of 1950 to 1985 and this was attributed to advances in agriculture (Gee 2). Another fact that has provoked some political debate is that population growth in developing countries is relatively higher as compared to developed nations. Three main reasons are associated with the relatively higher population growth rate in developing countries. The reasons are low mortality rate, high fertility rate, lack of adequate knowledge on family planning methods and better medical facilities.

Theories have been formulated in an attempt to explain population growth. In 1810, Thomas Malthus investigated the problem of rapid population growth by predicting that countries will run out of resources. His theory on population growth states that if population is left uncontrolled, it will grow quicker than the resources needed to sustain it (Gee). However, Marx later refuted Malthus’ theory and argued that population growth depends on the economy of the country. According to Karl Max’s theory, population growth rate is affected by the economic system of a given country. For example, he argues that capitalism leads to relatively higher population growth. Demographic transition theory, however, examines population growth in a series of three stages namely pre-transition, transition and post-transition which is not very relevant for the explanation of population increase in developing economies.

Thesis statement: Evidently, population growth has negatively affected the economy of developing countries due to its impact on the environment, health, climate and economy.

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Justification of the Thesis/Study

There are a number of ways in which population growth has negatively and positively affected the economic development of developing countries as presented by many economists and historians. As noted above, Malthus argues that economy and population growth are inversely related in that higher population growth leads to the decline in economy and vice versa. Malthus’ model indicates that higher population growth leads to reduced food supply. On the contrary, other economists argue that high population growth leads to the development of economy by increasing labor force. Historically, many politicians have advocated for high birth rate in order to improve political and economic power of the nation. For example, political analysts argue that Roman Empire prospered mainly due to its rapid population growth. However, the population variable has been given little attention in geopolitical matters (Datta). It is considered vital for “the future of humanity in so many ways, in relation to the environment, climate change, energy consumption, employment creation and social development” (Datta).

At this point, it is important to give a definition of a developing country in the context of this paper. World Bank defines developing countries as those that are classified as medium-income and low-income on the basis of gross national income. These mainly include countries in Africa, Minor Asia and Latin America. According to the research, developing countries are characterized by rapid population growth. However, insufficient historical data posed a serious challenge for the research on the impact of population growth on economic development.

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High Population Growth has led to Negative impact on Agriculture

Developing countries have been blamed for their continued dependence on agriculture for the growth of the economy. They are blamed because these are the very countries that continually experienced high population growth. As their population increases, the size of agricultural land reduces thereby affecting the economy negatively (Dao 9). Research studies show that developing countries have a relatively low level of industrialization (McConnell 2). Population increase has had a direct impact on the size of arable land in these countries since the latter decreases as more land is reclaimed for settlement. “Soil fertility becomes a dependent variable, responding positively to the intensity of land use, rather than a determinant of the intensity of land use” (Ahlburg et al. 146). Historically, the land in developing countries has been owned communally. Land ownership was acquired mainly through inheritance. Therefore, as community grew larger, the size of the land available for inheritance grew smaller. Families had to scramble for the few parcels of land that were available. Pimentel et al. (5) indicate that high utilization of surface and ground water contributes to insufficient water resources for irrigation, which has seen certain regions of these countries getting involved in deadly conflicts. As population increases, more land is needed for the growth of cities and residential places. Therefore, fertile agricultural lands are reclaimed leading to lack of adequate land for farming and livestock keeping.

Population Growth Increases Demand for Food Supply

As the demand increases, more agricultural lands are needed to sustain the high population. However, land being a fixed factor of production is increasingly becoming reduced in size leading to low production in the developing countries. In addition, “increased agricultural intensity due to population growth may increase land degradation over time” (Schneider et al. 205). Moreover, degraded land is not fit for agriculture as it leads to land infertility. Since land is a factor of production, the size and quality of land has a direct impact on the economy of the country. For this reason, land has been a subject of political interest since the impact on developing countries is also experienced by the developed countries which have to produce more food to export to the affected countries in the form of aid or trade.

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Ali et al. conducted a research on Pakistan to determine the impact of population growth on economic development. According to the research, Pakistan is the sixth most densely populated countries in the world with a population of 172 million and the history of Pakistan shows its poor economic growth (Ali et al. 484). As a developing country, Pakistan is an appropriate subject for the case study. The research found that Pakistan relies on agriculture for its economy irrespective of the fact that the country’s size of agricultural land has decreased tremendously. The decrease is mainly attributed to the population pressure and inheritance patterns (Ali et al. 485). The researcher further projects that Pakistan is likely to face scarcity of arable land with less land per person compared to China (Ali et al. 485). In addition, the research concluded that limited amount of fresh water, which is caused by overpopulation, has become the biggest hindrance to the food production in Pakistan (Ali et al. 485). In developing countries, as a “consequence of climate change and adaptation level, the number of people in risk of hunger increases by about 40 to 400 million” (Ramphal and Sinding 49).

High Population Growth has Negative Impact on the Environment

It is evident that high population growth leads to deforestation, water and air pollution, and soil exhaustion. Hinrichsen and Robey observe that as population increases improvement of living standard without affecting the environment is becoming a challenge. This has been a cause of regional conflicts and border disputes. High rate of population growth leads to high demand for food to sustain the population. This pressure, therefore, causes overexploitation of resources leading to environment deterioration. Ehrlich and Holdren define environment as “physical environment of urban ghettos, the human behavioral environment, and the epidemiological environment” (1212). Public health research indicates that rapid population growth has a negative impact on health; thus, developing countries spend much money to sustain their huge budget on health due to high rate of disease prevalence. Moreover, high population growth leads to faster spread of contagious diseases such as Ebola virus, tuberculosis and other air borne diseases. This negatively affects the economies of both developing and developed countries since the impact is also experienced by the major developed nations that have to provide grants and aids to fund the medical needs of the developing countries.

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Similarly, rapid population growth has been a major cause of water and air pollution which has also been a great concern to the international community. The developing nations have been advised to take measures to reduce their population growth. The concern of the international community is that as industrialization increases in developing countries in an attempt to sustain rapid population growth, their air and water get polluted by the industrial wastes. The impact of the environmental pollution goes beyond the borders of the developing nations. Dao noted that “rapid population growth adds to environmental degradation such as soil erosion, water pollution, falling water tables, loss of fuel wood, and deforestation”(9). Similarly, Pimentel et al. observe that as deforestation becomes rampant, more land becomes prone to soil erosion (2). In this regard, rapid population growth leads to insufficient food production which in turn has a negative impact on the economic growth of developing countries. Ramphal and Sinding further state that developing countries are likely to continue having low crop yields as a result of climate change (48).

Moreover, research studies show that regions affected by rapid population growth are more likely to have slum dwellers (Pimentel et al. 3). This is attributed to lack of adequate resources that are required for better living conditions such as the size of land and better paid jobs. Another research conducted on the relationship between family size and poverty found that most poor families tend to be larger than rich families (Pimentel et al. 3). This has been assumed to be the reason for a high number of slums in developing countries. In this scenario, factors of production are overstretched in these regions having a negative impact on the economic growth.
In addition, developing countries are increasingly allocating huge amounts of money into environmental conservation programs, some of which the developed nations have argued can be prevented. The concern has been that this in turn leads to slowdown in economic growth since environment conservation is a very costly procedure. Since developing countries still have inadequate access to basic services like adequate food, supply of clean water, better roads and health services. Therefore, the fact that their money is spent on environmental conservation programs has a negative impact on the economy. Pimentel et al. conclude that “the quantity and quality of agricultural land, water, energy, and biodiversity balanced against human population numbers determine the current and future status of the environment” (3).

Climate change leads to a number of consequences for both the developed and developing economies. Some of the consequences include; droughts, extreme weather and declining agricultural production (Population Action International). Studies perceive climate change as a global threat thereby forcing all countries to act upon it. In fact, studies show that many developing countries are already experiencing shifting temperature and rainfall patterns. This change has in turn affected the food production negatively and has led to scarce water supply (Population Action International). In addition, a rise of sea levels due to climate change put both developing and developed countries in coastal regions at a risk of floods.

A study conducted by Population Action International (PAI) to determine the link between population and climate change indicated a number of findings. First, areas of high population were found to be highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Population Action International). Empirical evidence from the study indicated that developing countries are more likely to experience climate change related hazards such as floods and droughts. Historical geography shows that natural hazards such as famine, drought and extreme temperature were not as frequent in the past as they are now.

Historical analysis of data shows that climate has drastically changed during the post-agricultural period. This has been attributed to rapid growth of population from 500 million to alarming 7 billion since population growth is one of the major drivers of greenhouses gases, which is the leading cause of gas emission that leads to the depletion of ozone layer (Population Action International). In addition, climate change is increasingly affecting the pattern of precipitation which in turn leads to limited fresh water supply. Water scarcity reduces agricultural production and leads to poor living conditions (Population Action International). PAI further observes that under the population growth projection, approximately 120 million people in developing countries will have been at a risk of hunger by 2080 (Population Action International).

High Population Growth Causes Unemployment

High population growth is the leading cause of unemployment since the need in labor force becomes higher than available job opportunities. In economic terms, labor is one of the factors of production; therefore, the economic growth of a country is directly influenced by the labor factor in both developed and developing nations. From the political perspective, immigration and conflicts experienced by the developing nations have been attributed to frustration in economic growth due to high unemployment rates. Nations like Somalia have never known peace because of fights revolving around the control of resources. “High population provides high number of labor force that might promote economic growth and lead to economic development” (Ali et al. 486). Ali et al. further argue that high population leads to readily available cheap labor that in turn may not be able to sustain their families as it still depends on the government.

However, research made by Ali et al. also found out that in cases where population has not reached a level which puts pressure on a country’s researchers like in China, an increase of population provides high number of labor force thereby promoting country’s economy (Ali et al. 488). The same has been witnessed in India, whose economy has presumably improved due to the high rate of population growth. Research study ranks India as one of the top producers of industrial goods and agricultural products. The country has also been ranked as the leading country among the developing countries in terms of GDP (Ali et al. 487).

A research study indicates that many developing countries are experiencing rapid growth of the population which leads to the increased number of job seekers in the job market exceeding the jobs created. In this case, high rate of population leads to high unemployment rate causing brain washing in developing countries as skilled and energetic young people migrate in search of greener pasture to the developed nations. The same is echoed by the UN Development Program, which notes that many jobs are created in the developing countries; however, this rate is not considered to be equal to the rate of labor growth.

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Thus, the labor market is highly influenced by the rate of population growth. This trend, in turn, has a direct impact on the economy. The high rate of unemployment in developing countries has seen increasing number of people becoming a burden to the country. High unemployment rate also leads to illegal behaviors such as corruption, crime and drug peddling with research on the level of corruption in developing countries identifying high unemployment rate as the main cause of corruption. This is due to the increased competition over the limited opportunities in the job market as historical analysis reports indicate a high rate of criminal activities in developing countries compared to developed countries. This has been attributed to high rate of population growth in developing countries leading to greatly limited resources.


In conclusion, the impact of population growth on the economic growth of developing countries is still an area that requires more research. The research limitation of this paper is lack of empirical data set and adequate historical data on the population growth of many developing countries to analyze the problem deeper. Finally, the problem of population dynamics caused by a series of wars and disease outbreaks in developing countries makes it hard to accurately analyze how population growth affects the economy.

However, from the arguments above, it is clear that population growth has a direct impact on the economic growth of developing countries. First, high population growth negatively affects agricultural production leading to reduced size of arable land and limited water resources for irrigation. Secondly, population growth negatively affects environment through water and air pollution as well as environmental degradation. This in turn leads to more money being spent on environment conservation. In addition, climate change and labor force are directly influenced by population growth. Moreover, though high population growth also leads to increased labor supply thereby increasing productivity, the benefits are offset by high unemployment rate negatively affecting the economy. Finally, high population growth rate leads to the increased emission of greenhouse gases thereby contributing to climate change. Climate change as discussed above negatively affects the economic growth since money meant for the development has to be diverted to combat the effects of climate change.