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Population: How Many People Will Live in Africa in 2100?

Africa’s population may only rise to some 2.6 billion as opposed to UN’s projection of more than 4 billion by 2100

Credit: Anton_Ivanov


  • It is not certain that Africa will even reach a population of 3 billion by the end of this century.
  • The number of children per woman and the chance of their survival will decide Africa’s population growth.
  • Once countries urbanize and citizens become wealthier, fertility declines, everywhere.
  • India’s fertility rate declined from 4.7 children per woman in early 1980s to 3.1 by early 2000s.

Africa is rising fast, at least demographically. Today, the continent is home to more than a billion people, of which some 950 million of them living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN, for its part, predicts that the continent’s population will double by 2050 — and then double again by the end of this century, to make it a continent of more than 4 billion.

This staggering number – equal to the entire world population as recently as 1980 — may concern many doomsayers, but in reality it contains a lot of good news.

One main reason for the increase is that better living conditions reduce child mortality and create opportunities for longer and healthier lives.

This crucial shift results in a rapidly rising number of adults who are driving the continent’s demographic future.

That development is similar to what occurred in Asia over the last 30 years, which in turn had previously occurred in the Western world.

UN’s optimistic projections

However, as Wolfgang Fengler and I highlighted recently, in contrast to the UN Population Division’s projections, it is far from certain that Africa will even reach a population totaling 3 billion, and the world 10 billion, by the end of this century.

According to our projections at the Wittgenstein Center, projecting population by age, sex, and educational attainment for almost all countries of the World, Africa’s population may only rise to some 2.6 billion by 2100. That number is only 60% of the 4.4 billion predicted by the UN.

The differences are stark across the biggest African countries. In some countries’ cases, the UN’s forecast is much higher – in fact, even more than double (e.g. Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Niger, Angola and Mozambique, See table).

Enlarge Sources: UN Population Division and The Wittgenstein Center

How is it possible to have such sharp differences in population projections, which are generally known for their accuracy?

The rate of Africa’s future population growth will mostly depend on two factors. First, the number of children per woman and, second, the chance of those children to survive (which is now much higher, thanks to improving living conditions).

Decline in fertility rate

In any projection far into the future, even a small difference in the number of children per woman makes a big difference in total population numbers when its effect is viewed cumulatively over several generations.

At the core of the two vastly different forecasts is this: The UN assumes that fertility will only decline slowly to 3 children per woman by 2050 — and then 2.6 children by 2070.

These projections are based on the observation that, while fertility has stagnated in parts of Africa in the last decade, it will decline more slowly than it had been declining in other parts of the world.

In contrast, the Wittgenstein Center assumes that the patterns that we will come to observe in Africa are not going to be much different from the case in the other regions of the world, as they went through their demographic transitions.

Once countries urbanize and citizens become wealthier, fertility declines, everywhere.

The most important factor is women’s education. Already today, an Ethiopian woman with secondary education has on average only 1.6 children, compared to a woman with no education who has 6 children.

This relationship is true across Africa (see figure).

Enlarge Source: Demographic and Health Surveys

Similar trend in Asia

We know that access to education is expanding across Africa. There is even talk of an education dividend.

Once all girls go to school and stay there longer, they will have fewer children, especially as they will also be exposed to a more modern lifestyle, be it through TV, the cell phone and the fact that Africa is urbanizing rapidly.

This has also been the experience in Asia. It took about 20 years in Asia for its fertility to decline from more than 5 children per woman during early 1970s to less than 3 children per woman in early 1990s.

Similarly, India took about 20 years for its fertility to decline from 4.7 children per woman in early 1980s to 3.1 by early 2000s.

With new development and the plans for the better future in the making, it won’t be a surprise if the average African family would have only three children as soon as 2035.

If that assumption bears out, then Africa cannot reach 4 billion — and the world would peak this century at below 10 billion.

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About Samir KC

Samir KC is Project Leader of "Modelling Human Capital Formation" at the Vienna based Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Responses to “Population: How Many People Will Live in Africa in 2100?”

Archived Comments.

  1. On October 14, 2015 at 11:33 am Daniel Oliver Jost responded with... #

    How about offering all African refugees (as well as from all other nations for that matter) a safe haven in developed countries – under condition that they undergo sterilisation through vasectomies for the men and tubal ligations for the women? This could be a perfect win-win situation, if these people are taught that they can live more fulfilling and wealthier lives without children.

    For humans are the only animals with no natural selection and no natural enemies, and therefore there will always be enough and even too much procreation for a healthy economy, regardless of our efforts. And very rarely does one see people who realise the economy is but a subsystem of the environment, upon which it depends for its very existence…

  2. On October 25, 2015 at 1:50 am John Bass responded with... #

    I was hoping this would be a bit more intelligently written. The only reason that Africa will not reach that projected number is because of climate change. We are going to see literally 100’s of millions of Africans completely up rooted, and their lands made unlivable and infertile because of rapidly rising temperatures, as well as by rising sea levels. Unfortunately, these desperate African climate refugees will be joining several other hundreds and hundreds of millions of other climate change refugees from around the world who have been forced to relocate to countries with cooler, more productive land areas. This will have an effect equal to doubling the world’s populations in a very very short time, (50-60 years?) and relying on greatly diminished agriculture and resource realities to feed and shelter these rapidly growing, huge numbers of new climate change refugees.