How Social Protection Systems Facilitate Demographic Change in Sub-Saharan Africa

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More than 1.1 billion people live in sub-Saharan Africa today, and that number is expected to double by 2050. Yet many governments in the region are struggling to provide enough schools, hospitals, food and drinking water to their populations. Many countries are trapped in a vicious cycle of population growth and poverty. Social protection systems offer hope: they can lift the most vulnerable out of poverty, accelerate progress in education, health and nutrition, and thus have an indirect impact on the average number of children per child. woman.

This is why many governments in sub-Saharan African countries have accelerated the development of basic social protection systems over the past two decades. Currently, only 13.7% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa benefits from at least one social protection measure. Most people in the region remain excluded from, for example, pension and health insurance schemes because they work in the informal sector and do not pay taxes. Nevertheless, there is evidence that basic social protection measures such as cash transfers allow girls to stay in school longer and become pregnant later. Free school meals allow children to attend classes more regularly and learn better. And people who receive a pension are more likely to have smaller families because they are less dependent on their children to support them in old age.

“These factors all contribute to declining fertility rates and demographic change,” says Catherina Hinz, executive director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. “Countries can exploit these opportunities by adapting their social protection systems to their current phase of demographic transition.” The Berlin Institute has analyzed how social protection measures affect population development in selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa and presents its findings in the new study “Social protection throughout life”.

Basic social protection measures as a first step

In Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi, where the population continues to grow and the fertility rate is falling only slowly, social protection generally means basic security for the poorest households. In Tanzania, for example, 1.1 million households receive cash transfers, or about one in ten Tanzanian households. Although more than half of households receiving cash transfers continue to live below the poverty line, the measure is having a positive impact. It ensures that the children of parents who receive a transfer are healthier and attend school more often and longer. “Better education increases opportunities for young women to make self-determined decisions about the type of life they want to lead,” says study co-author Lorena Fuehr. “Typically, they then have kids later and fewer kids overall.”

Although social protection measures in many low-income countries so far reach only a small part of the population, they are improving living conditions and access to education in many places. In Malawi, informal savings groups stabilize household incomes and reduce the risk of falling into poverty. In Zanzibar, a universal basic pension ensures that older people are no longer dependent on large numbers of children and grandchildren to support themselves. “To achieve a socio-demographic impact, governments must improve the quality of education and better coordinate and integrate the various basic social protection measures,” says Lilian Beck, co-author of the study.

More advanced social protection measures for a more advanced demographic transition

As countries enter a more advanced phase of demographic transition, they experience a change in the age structure of the population and, consequently, a change in the needs for social protection measures. Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda have already further developed their social protection systems, allowing initial projections of their impact on fertility rates. For example, with the introduction of community health insurance, Rwanda was able to insure more than 95% of its population in ten years. During the same period, maternal and infant mortality decreased by 30%. Where children have a greater chance of survival through improved health care, parents one to two generations later choose to have smaller families. Ghana, in turn, has linked cash transfers for the most vulnerable to free healthcare services. “Instead of spending their transfer money on doctor visits and medicine, parents can invest it in food and education for their children,” says Führ. “This amplifies the impact cash transfers can have on fertility rates.”

Compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, fertility rates have fallen more significantly in southern Africa. There, women now give birth to an average of only 2.5 children. At the same time, the number of people over 60 is increasing. Countries like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are already investing heavily in expanding their pension systems. In South Africa, virtually everyone over the age of 60 receives either a basic state pension benefit or a work-based pension scheme. Also in Namibia, anyone over the age of 60 receives a basic pension, regardless of income. According to an analysis, Namibian women between the ages of 30 and 45 have chosen to have fewer children since the introduction of the basic pension system.

Impact on fertility rates

Data on the potential influence of social protection systems on fertility rates remain limited. “Nevertheless, this analysis shows the potential of social protection systems to accelerate demographic change,” says Hinz. Therefore, social security, pension and health insurance schemes should be taken more into account in population policy. Measures that show significant potential to influence population dynamics, such as cash transfers for families whose children attend secondary school, should be further developed. “African governments should focus on social protection measures for the growing generation of young people entering the labor market,” suggests Hinz. “Most young people work in the informal sector without any form of social protection. Whether they can protect themselves from the consequences of illness or unemployment, or be secure in old age, will not only affect their chances in life, but also their family planning.”

The COVID-19 crisis is increasing the pressure on social protection systems around the world

More information:
Study: … ross-the-life-course

Provided by Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

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Joel C. Hicks