AS GIRLS spend more time at school and women are busy with work, Rwanda has registered a sharp drop in fertility rates and the World Bank (WB) says this is good news for the country’s long-term development prospects.
The total fertility rate among Rwandan women dropped from six children per woman in 2005 to four in 2010 as ladies shunned new babies for school and work. The WB says this trend will improve the quality of the productive labour force and reduce the youth dependency burden, albeit in the long run.
“Increasing levels of female education and of women’s participation in the non-farm labour market are behind the rapid drop in fertility transition, thus kick-starting Rwanda’s demographic transition,” observes the WB in its 5th edition of the Rwanda economic update.
Higher female education levels among young women pushed fertility rates down by 23% while increased household living standards and higher labour force participation accounted for another 15 and 5% respectively between 2005 and 2010.
Children and growth
But understanding how having fewer babies will result into economic development is the key to unlocking Rwanda’s real ‘demographic dividend.’
Normally, demographic dividends occur when a country’s fertility rates drop due to significant reductions in child and infant mortality rates. This fall usually leads to higher life expectancy and more employed people hence increased production.
Rwanda’s progress explained
According to the World Bank (WB), Rwanda’s women are just too busy with school and work to think of babies.
The WB notes that between 2005 and 2010, average educational achievement of women aged between 15 and 49 increased by almost one year, accounting for more than a fifth of the drop in fertility.
Simply put, the longer girls stay in school, the lower their chances of getting pregnant, hence explaining the sharp drop in fertility rates.
Indeed, the fertility drop has been greatest among females aged between 15 and 24 which the WB attributes to evolution in their socio-economic fortunes with average educational attainment for that age group increasing by 36% between 2005 and 2010.
“The proportion of young women that never went to school also fell by half, and almost twice as many young women were still in school in 2010 compared to 2005,” says the report.
In 2005, women aged between 25 and 29 had on average 2.3 children but this had dropped to 1.9 children by 2010, a decrease of more than 20% and a similar pattern is evidenced for women in the 20–24 age group but absent in older ones.
The other factor cited for low fertility rates is a new trend among young women who are increasingly preferring non-farm employment to agricultural roles; a development that WB also associates to the salient shift in fertility preferences.
The future is bright
The WB now advises Rwanda to ‘seize opportunities for growth with a special focus on harnessing the demographic dividend,’ presented by this drop in fertility rates. How?
It reckons that the drop in fertility will have significant consequences (mostly positive) for the age structure of the population and substantial implications for economic development.
For starters, the share of working age adults in the population is projected to increase from 53% in 2010 to between 64 and 67% by 2050 (depending on the pace of the fertility decline), with the youth dependency ratio (the average number of dependent children per working-age adult) anticipated to fall from 0.84 to 0.45 or 0.37 by 2050.
This would boost savings among the working Rwandans.
In other words, with fewer children, working adults would have fewer dependants but more time to be productive at work. In the long run, the dependants would also grow to reinforce the existing labour force.
This thinking is informed by a demographically based forecasting model which tips Rwanda’s real GDP per capita to triple by 2050 in the medium-fertility scenario and more than triple if a more rapid reduction in fertility is achieved.
For Rwanda’s economy to claim its demographic dividends, the government must strap up the policies that keep girls longer in school and also create more employment opportunities for females outside school. This would ensure that women remain too busy to want more babies.
Experts also recommend more investment in health and education sectors to foster a productive future workforce. But most importantly, considering that Rwanda’s working-age adults will account for more than 64% of the population by 2050, it requires fast and aggressive efforts to create more jobs to accommodate a bourgeoning labour force.
Rwanda’s share of working-age adults has remained unchanged at 53% between 1950 and 2010, but today’s fast trend of a dropping fertility rate will give the economy a whole new face in the next two decades with working-age adults increasing to more than 64% and the share of young adults below 15 years dropping to less than 29%.
By analysing the future relationship between the shares of the working-age population, the dependent youth and life expectancy, incomes among Rwandans are projected to multiply as dependants dwindle.
In its 2011 policy note, the WB had estimated that real GDP per capita (for each Rwandan’s) Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) would increase by 90% by 2050 reaching $1,939; but the stunning drop in the fertility rate reportedly adds almost $900 (in PPP) in the long-run estimate of GDP per capita, increasing it from $1,939 to $2,817.
This means Rwandans will be wealthier in the coming years with a stronger purchasing power. But all this will depend on whether the current fertility rates remain low or further drop by keeping women busy at school and work.
It also depends on how fast government can create new jobs to employ the escalating labour force. But much of this growth acceleration will be noticed after 2025, which coincides with the fastest projected increase in the working-age population and the fastest decline in the youth dependency ratio for Rwanda.