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Conley: Sub-Saharan Africa's Population Explosion

Interviewee: Dalton Conley
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
July 17, 2007

A new report from the UN Population Fund says that sub-Saharan Africa is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate. Dalton Conley, chair of sociology at New York University, discusses the implications of this trend for sub-Saharan Africa’s future population growth and economic development. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest fertility rates in the world, and there is little evidence to suggest those rates are decreasing. However, people are quickly moving from rural to urban areas, and the UN report argues that Africa’s rapid urbanization will help reduce fertility rates by giving women increased access to family planning and reproductive clinics. Conley says women have greater economic opportunities in urban areas, a more likely reason for fertility rate reductions than access to contraceptives. He also notes that urban fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa are still higher than rural fertility rates in much of the rest of the world.

The consequences of not getting fertility rates under control are “enormous,” he says. “Western donors and the local governments could gild the roads in gold there but it's not going to make a difference at these rates of population growth.” He foresees more famine, as well as more conflict, as a result of population pressures. Due to the political sensitivity of reducing fertility rates, Conley argues that policymakers should focus on reducing child mortality. Though this proposal is “counterintuitive,” he says it is the “single best birth control there is.”


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