The demography of Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century

Demography of the world’s regions: Situations and trends
Transformations since 2000, outlook to 2050
By Dominique Tabutin, Bruno Schoumaker, Harriet Coleman, Catriona Dutreuilh, Paul Reeve, James Tovey, Beatrice van Hoorn Alkema

This article provides both an in-depth overview of the major sociodemographic and health changes that have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa (47 countries, 1.1 billion inhabitants) since 2000, as well as a statistical assessment using the most reliable recent data on each country. We examine developments in nuptiality and the family, fertility and its intermediate variables, child and adult mortality, migration and urbanization, and population size and age structures. We conclude by considering the population prospects and challenges to be met by 2050 in education, health, and employment. While Africa will continue to have the highest population growth and the youngest population in the world throughout the 21st century, various transformations are under way, albeit at different paces across regions, countries, places of residence, and social groups, leading to an increasing diversification of sub-Saharan demographic regimes and to significant social and spatial inequalities. Most countries have just experienced their first decline in fertility, contraceptive use has increased, but the demand for children remains high. Age at first union is rising everywhere, polygamy is declining, but age disparities between partners and the proportion of adolescent marriages are still substantial. Mortality (especially child mortality), however, has seen a remarkable decline on the regional level, and life expectancy has considerably increased; AIDS is on the decline but far from having disappeared, maternal mortality remains high, and noncommunicable diseases are on the rise, resulting in an epidemiological double burden. Sub-Saharan Africa is urbanizing though at various paces and more slowly than was imagined 20 years ago. The number of large cities and megacities is also increasing. International migration has been rising sharply since 2000, though still mostly within the continent, with a greater diversity of destinations and a decline in traditional models of migration outside Africa. Finally, according to the UN’s medium-variant scenario, i.e. the most reasonable projection whereby the population will double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, sub-Saharan Africa faces considerable challenges in education, health, employment, security, and sustainable development.

  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • nuptiality
  • family
  • fertility
  • mortality
  • migration
  • growth
  • age structure
  • demographic dividend
  • social and spatial inequalities
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