We are living in an era of unprecedented population growth. Since the middle of the twentieth century, the world’s population has more than tripled in size, reaching almost 8 billion people in 2022.


Background introduction

Nigeria’s Ex-President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, literally got me rattled through a screaming headline of an online publication, News Express, carried on Friday, April 14, 2023. The news caption reads:

Nigeria’s population not up to 200 million as claimed.

In the main report, Jonathan is credited with the view that he does not believe that Nigeria’s population is 200 million; his quoted words run thus:

I don’t believe Nigeria is 200 million. Far from it. We should be about 150 million.

My immediate reaction was expectedly that of surprise followed by a feeling of profound worry-both sentiments shooting out from the realization that here is a former President questioning such a basic statistic as the nation’s population. Then my mind raced back to the book authored by an American economist, Wolfgang Stolper, after his sabbatical stint with the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER) at Ibadan in the very early 1960s-entitled: Planning Without Facts-a poetic reference to the poor status of the quality of data and hence planning in Nigeria. The confounding quoted observation by Jonathan inevitably underscores the importance of the overdue population census of Nigeria slated for any time from now and hence the urge to do this piece.

Meaning and importance of our theme

In self-response to its own question, ‘What is Demographic Economics?’, the Journal of Demographic Economics(JODE) recalls: From Wikipedia: “Demographic economics or population economics is the application of economic analysis to demography, the study of human populations, including size, growth, density, distribution, and vital statistics.” An immediate takeaway from this is the synonymous status of demographic economics and population economics. In essence, our theme is exploring the economic determinants and consequences of changes in population structure and dynamics.

As R.J. Graham rightly observed in the article published in the 1984 edition of the Journal of Australian Population Association entitled: “Population issues in economic planning: uses of demography in business”: economists use demography in planning and forecasting business needs. The author goes on to explain how, at the broad level of economic planning, population indicators are applied to macroeconomic issues. In particular, assessments of labour force trends, housing needs, and demand for funds from the public and private sectors within the financial services industry will affect financial policy of business and monetary and fiscal policy of governments. In this vein, the most commonly used indicators are: population size/characteristics; location; population growth; labour force; labour force mobility, including geographic mobility; migration – at both short-term and long-term horizons.

Recognizing that population changes affect supply and demand and should be studied, a group of economists have found a society to address such population problems--the European Society for Population Economics. Indeed, there is The Journal of Population Economics which is an international quarterly that publishes original theoretical and applied research and survey articles on topics dealing with broadly defined relationships between economic and demographic problems. As well known, birth rates affect age distribution and each age distribution has a typical distribution of demand. As illustration, a young society would demand schooling and child care, while an old society would need elderly care and health facilities.

Importance of Population and Census

In order to get the picture of the structure of a country’s population-called demographics census is periodically carried out. Census includes the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing, evaluating, publishing and disseminating statistical data regarding the population and housing and their geographical location. Thus, it is a comprehensive source of data- being essentially a data collection exercise as it gathers knowledge about the demographic profile of the nation which is vital for many purposes. Various surveys like health survey, education survey, agriculture survey, etc. are based on this comprehensive data

Wisdom Enang, writing on his blog-ProGuide.ng, has a list of 14 indices on the importance of population and hence population census, among them the following:

i) Population census helps the government of a country to know the specific number of people living in the country and how the structure of the population presents itself;

ii) It aids in the determination of adults that are taxable in order to know the amount of revenue that is expected from that broad age bracket;

iii) It helps the country to look into her future economic needs, e.g. housing and food;

iv) It provides the government with statistics to determine the level of unemployment in the country; it also assists in the determination of the standard of living of the people in a county through per capita income. Thus it serves as input into public economic policy formulation;

v) It helps the government in the optimal distribution of the resources of the country in order to ensure that the States that have a high population like Lagos and Kano will get more resources than areas which has a low population. This works out by giving the government an idea of the different population in different parts of the country which will in turn aid the government in the provision of social amenities like housing, water, electricity, roads, schools, and hospital which are beneficial to the citizens of the country;

vi) It helps to reveal the total number of people who are of workable age and gainfully employed or unemployed- in essence, the level of available manpower in a country; and

vii) It guides the allocation of parliamentary seats: Thus, in Countries like Nigeria, the number of citizens in a particular area or State greatly determines the number of seats in the senate or parliament allocated to that State. The State with the highest number of citizens often has the highest number of seats.

Origin of Population Census

By definition, population census is an enumeration of people, houses, firms, or other important items in a country or region at a particular time. It is a complete snapshot of a nation's people as it provides information on the size, location, and characteristics of a population. As an activity, it represents the overall process of collecting, processing, tabulating, analyzing and publishing the demographic, economic and social data of the population and housing units in a specific country or part of it without dropping or repetition and assessing, classifying, analyzing and publishing the data at a specific period of time called the Census Reference Point.

Going far back into history, every five years, the Romans enumerated citizens and their property to determine their liabilities. This practice was extended to include the entire Roman Empire in 5 BC. After the collapse of Rome the practice was discontinued in the West until the modern period. Thereafter, the first census in 1790 was managed under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State. Marshals took the census in the original 13 States plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee).

Most educated persons have heard the name, Malthus, in relation to population discourse. As the reader may recall, Reverend Robert Thomas Malthus became famous for advancing the idea that human populations tend to grow faster than the rate of food supply, in the allegorical arithmetic versus geometric relationship-with resultant resolution by whatever means-natural or artificial.. A good summary of the Malthusian thesis is provided by Dennis Ahlburg and Robert Casse in their article, “Population and Development”-published on the website of the London School of Economics & Political Science through its LSE Research Online platform in July 2012. In their words:

The link between population growth and economic development is among the older issues in social science, particularly because of its association with the name of Robert Malthus. His famous Essay on Population of 1798 argued that population growth inevitably led to poverty – fundamentally, he claimed, because it would always outstrip the means of subsistence. Populations would always increase so that the supply of labour pressed on wages, to the point where they reached subsistence level. Beyond that point population would only be held back by war, starvation or disease, but people would remain poor. While in later editions Malthus modified his views considerably, his name is mainly associated with the thesis of his original Essay.

As is well known, technology has since developed to scuttle the essential logic of Malthus’ original thesis as productivity and value chain in the food industry has been literally transformed beyond recognition. But, let’s face it, the Malthusian thesis still rings a bell in relevance especially in technologically weak economies of the Global South.

Issues under the subject: Theory and Policy

Steven W. Sinding, in an October 2009 piece titled, “Population, poverty and economic development”, updated the population debate by drawing attention to the fact that, from the time of Malthus onwards, economists, demographers and other social scientists have been debating whether and how high fertility and rapid population growth affect economic outcomes and vice versa. There are at least four basic forms of the debate.

i. Does a large number of children diminish a family's present well-being and future prospects?

ii. Does rapid population growth adversely affect the overall performance of the economy and its ability to achieve and sustain general well-being?

iii. Does low income, or poverty, contribute to high fertility?

iv. Is rapid population growth a symptom, rather than a cause, of low national output and poor economic performance?

In other words, the debates occur at both the macro- and the micro-levels, touching on the direction of causality- that is, whether it is economic status and development that determines population characteristics or vice versa. In a June 14, 2014 mimeograph, Yuan Tian, writing on “Population Economics and Malthusian Theory” opened with the following clarification: “Population economics is a field where economists study the relationship between population and economic situation. This relationship can be two-way: economic development or fluctuation can have an impact on population, and population growth and quality can have economic consequences”.

According to optimists like John Maynard Keynes, development in a country without population growth will cause problems. His point is that the growth of population will cause a strong demand for goods that will make it possible to establish a goods market as well as increase the demand for capital. The logic is that when the population increases, savings and investments are also expected to increase. As extended in interpretation by an economist with demographic interest, when, on the other hand, the population decreases, then production, capital accumulation, employment, incomes and savings will also decrease and may negatively affect development. The contested relationship between population and the economic performance has assumed age-long debate as acknowledged a team of Nigerian researchers on the assertion that: In the theoretical and empirical literature, the discussion of how population size affects economic growth has been an issue debated for long.

A survey of diverse literature on the subject, however, points to the validity of Ronald Lee’s assertion that, “all in all, there is good reason to believe that family planning and related programmes lead to lower fertility and have beneficial economic effects not only for women and couples, but also for the health and educational attainment of their children”. This must have been inputted into H.R. Anulawathie Menike’s “A Literature Review on Population Growth and Economic Development”, published in International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education (IJHSSE) Volume 5, Issue 5, May 2018, PP 67-74-with the conclusion that: “There exists a close and reciprocal relationship between population growth and economic development in a country. The population in one way constitutes a source of labor that could be utilized to boost the country’s production. On the other hand, it could also be seen as a consumer group that uses and exhausts a large quantity of the country’s resources”.

In this vein, it becomes pertinent to recall that several notable economists-including Nobel laureates, have suggested many possible positive effects of population growth, including economies of scale, acceleration of technological progress, flexible market responses to emerging shortages, induced institutional change, cheaper communication and transportation, and easier collective social investments-as revealed by Ronald Lee, Departments of Demography and Economics University of California at Berkeley USA in the Paper, “New Perspectives on Population Growth and Economic Development”, prepared for the UNFPA plenary session on After Cairo: Issues and Challenges, IUSSP Marrakech 2009. Here, the submission of the United Nations Department of Economic and |Social Affairs (UNDESA) in its February 2022 Policy Brief No 130 registers direct relevance as it notes:

We are living in an era of unprecedented population growth. Since the middle of the twentieth century, the world’s population has more than tripled in size, reaching almost 8 billion people in 2022. Projections by the United Nations suggest that the size of the global population could grow to almost 11 billion by around 2100. However, the pace of global growth has slowed considerably since around 1970, and the world’s population is expected to stabilize by the end of the century.

On its part, the International Monetary Fund-with focus on the age structure of population, especially among the economically advanced economies of the Global North- in its Staff Discussion Note issued in October 2015 (ref: The Fiscal Consequences of Shrinking Population), expressed some worry concerning, how:

In many countries, population aging will pose a formidable fiscal challenge. Today, the more developed economies spend 9½ percent of GDP on public pensions and 6.8 percent of GDP on public health care, compared with 2½ and 3 percent of GDP, respectively, in the less developed countries. Going forward, potentially large increases in age-related expenditures, associated with the projected population aging, could place extreme pressure on public finances in both country groups.

In its 2019 publication, “Quick Guide on Measuring Economic Characteristics in the Population Census”, the International Labour Organization (ILO), passed the instructive message that: “The type of work people do is a basic characteristic of any population. Questions to measure work in a population and housing census provide essential data for analysis and planning. These data are an integral part of national monitoring systems to achieve a wide range of goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Decent Work (Goal 8), Gender Equality and Women’s empowerment (Goal 5) and others.” Although, and understandably so, the ILO views population census principally through the prism of its mandate, labour, it nonetheless highlights the critical dimensions and relevance of population census to its work along with other tools, as it notes:

While playing a critical role, the population census is one of several sources of data on the economic characteristics of the population that include household surveys, in particular labour force surveys, establishment surveys and administrative records. Labour force surveys are the primary source in many countries to monitor people’s participation in the labour market; establishment surveys provide information on the economy from the demand side; administrative records such as tax, pension and other registers, can provide additional information on the population covered by those systems. The different sources are complementary and necessary to have a complete picture of the economy, the labour market, and decent work.

Pointedly, the global body asserts that: Collecting data on the economic characteristics of the population in the census is important to meet a number of needs that cannot be easily addressed through other data sources, thus underscoring the primacy of population census.

Population Census in Nigeria

Coming to Nigeria and according to the National Population Commission (NPC) as shown on its website-long before their server was allegedly hacked in April 2023, the first census was conducted in 1866 and this was followed by Censuses of 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901. However, all these earlier censuses were restricted to Lagos Colony and its environs. The 1871 census marked the beginning of decennial census taking in Nigeria in line with the British decennial tradition-but its observance in the former has not been consistent with a 2006 exercise followed a whole seven years later in 2023. Like in other climes, population census in Nigeria has several functions especially helping the government in the in the area of optimal distribution of the resources of the country in order to ensure that the States that have a high population like Lagos and Kano will get more resources than areas which have relatively low populations.

The first post-independence census was carried out in 1962-covering the entire country and simultaneously executed but marred by controversy with claims of politicization here and there and was subsequently set aside to be followed by another effort the following year; that too was not acceptable to the generality of the regions and the dispute over it went as far as the Supreme where it was nullified. Then there was another in 1973 that was “not published on the ground of deliberate falsification of the figures for political and or ethnic advantages”, leading a foremost politician to describe the effort as “a barren exercise”. Two other exercises took place in 1991 and 2006-with increasing deployment of technology and broadening of the scope to cover housing enumeration.

A study carried out in 2021 by trio of Nigerian researchers- O.Y. Alimi, A.C. Fapohunda and M. Abubakar, published in online Future Business Journal- provocatively partially titled, “Is population an asset or a liability to Nigeria’s economic growth?” came to the conclusion that:

Our findings, therefore, support the league of many studies that population growth is an asset to the long-run economic growth of Nigeria. In contrast, it has a poor impact on economic performance in the short-run. Thus, there is a need for proper and adequate utilization of the country’s rising population in appropriate areas of the economy where their efforts would be fully utilized towards improving the overall growth of Nigeria.

There’s hardly anything to dispute here except that just like most researches and writings on population, there is no deliberate focus on the distribution of income among the population. I come in peace, please.





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