Mr. Malthus goes to Nigeria

In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country the size of Arizona and New Mexico.

…“Population is key,” said Peter Ogunjuyigbe, a demographer at Obafemi Awolowo University in the small central city of Ile-Ife. “If you don’t take care of population, schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope, there’s not enough housing — there’s nothing you can do to have economic development.”

That is Elisabeth Rosenthal reporting on the front page of Sunday’s NY Times.

Ever year or so the Times likes to run a Chicken Little story, warning us of the impending demographic and youth time bomb. I’m willing to bet the tradition goes back several decades. The bomb, oddly enough, is still ticking.

What about Asia and Latin America, where previous demographic crises have been predicted?

Elsewhere in the developing world, in Asia and Latin America, fertility rates have fallen sharply in recent generations and now resemble those in the United States — just above two children per woman. That transformation was driven in each country by a mix of educational and employment opportunities for women, access to contraception, urbanization and an evolving middle class. Whether similar forces will defuse the population bomb in sub-Sarahan Africa is unclear.

Is the lesson we should draw that Africa is different?

For the historical and economic view, why development tends to precede population change (and not the other way around), and a sense of what population policies worked (or, better still, which ones we should really stop recommending) I can do not better than point you to Bill Easterly’s Elusive Question for Growth (Chapter 5), or Banerjee and Duflo’s Poor Economics (also Chapter 5). I wish I had ungated essays to give you. But if you have any interest in development, books are essential reads and will save you from falling for the mistakes of the past.

Meanwhile, Charles Kenny has a Foreign Policy piece, and short paper, on why we should learn to love the population bomb (thanks to @RovingBandit). And @WhyNationsFail point me to an entertaining analysis of the Malthusian view.

Other reader responses to the sky is falling?