Q and A: What are the social implications of rapid population growth in less developed countries?

This is a complex issue. Rapid population growth in less developed countries is linked to many problems—including poverty, hunger, high infant mortality, and inadequacies in social services, health services, and infrastructure (transportation, communication, etc.). It would be a gross oversimplification to say that population growth causes these problems. Population growth could just as easily have been the effect of economic insecurity and poor health care. However, rapid population growth may defeat efforts to combat poverty and hunger and to improve services, as increasing numbers of people put serious pressures on the economy and society of poor nations.

Poverty, for example, existed long before the recent period of rapid population growth. An assessment of poverty must consider the amount and type of natural resources, including minerals and geographic features that a country possesses or lacks. It must also include an examination of the country's political and social structure. In areas where power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few, it is difficult for the poor to break out of the cycle of poverty that is often passed from generation to generation. Rapid population growth makes this effort even more difficult.

Hunger has always been a companion to poverty. Most experts agree that the world could feed today's population, and a considerably larger number, if income were redistributed, if modern farming methods were used everywhere, if land reform policies were put into effect, if meat consumption were reduced, if non-nutritious crops were replaced by nutritious crops, and if waste and corruption were controlled. However, rapid population growth may intensify the hunger problem; in the most rapidly growing countries, population growth can reduce or eliminate food production gains resulting from modernization of farming. Population pressures may also encourage practices such as overirrigation and overuse of croplands, which undermine the capacity to feed larger numbers.

In some cases, population growth is quite directly related to a social problem because it increases the absolute numbers whose needs must be met. For example, some less developed countries have made enormous progress in increasing the percentage of children enrolled in school. However, because of population growth during the same period, the number of children who are not enrolled in school also increased because there were insufficient resources to meet the growing need. Similar observations could be made about jobs, housing, sanitation, and other human needs. These problems are compounded when large numbers migrate from rural to urban areas and increase the burden placed on already inadequate supplies and services.

Terms

Less developed countries: Less developed countries include all countries in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and the Caribbean, and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

More developed countries: More developed countries include all countries in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Urban: Countries differ in the way they classify population as "urban" or "rural." Typically, a community or settlement with a population of 2,000 or more is considered urban. A listing of country definitions is published annually in the United Nations Demographic Yearbook.