Kenya: A Falling Birth Rate, Shifting Demographics, and Allocation of Government Resources

Despite a recent pause in fertility rate decline, the East African nation of Kenya recently resumed its downward trend – decreasing from eight to four women per child over the last four decades. And among Sub-Saharan nations, Kenya is far from alone in that regard.

Still, Kenya has the lowest rate of fertility in East Africa, reports Business Daily Africa, at 3.9 births per female, down from 7.9 in 1960. This compares to bordering countries such as Ethiopia (4.2, from 6.9), Uganda (5.6, from 7.0), Somalia (6.3, from 7.3), and Tanzania (5.0, from 6.8) – all countries where birth rates, while lower than those measured by the World Bank over the same period, nonetheless haven’t dropped as sharply.

The article went on to note that World Bank experts explained the drop in Kenya’s fertility rate to increased use of family planning strategies.

According to the Kenyan government’s 2020 Visioning Program, those strategies include scaling up its voucher system in a handful of urban and rural districts; maintaining more than 70 Youth Empowerment Centers which dispense family planning services; and, improving the supply chain for the distribution of family planning supplies.

More broadly across the East African region, three major factors are anticipated to continue to propel fertility decline, says a report from New Security Beat:

  • A Positive Outlook overall concerning the possibilities for improved economic results. During a 2014 Family Planning Conference in Uganda, the country’s president, Yoweri Musevini, noted that family planning was a plus “for the health of the child and the mother, for the wellbeing of the family, and the whole country.”
  • Money has been flowing from governmental and outside sources toward family planning programs and education. The 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, for instance, established a lofty goal of providing access to modern contraceptive methods to 120 million women and girls worldwide by 2020 (Kenya’s visioning program grew out of this commitment).
  • Growing Demand for family planning services has resulted in a 54 percent satisfaction rate in East and Southern Africa. In addition, about 33 per cent of women not currently using contraceptives in Central and West African nations would prefer to delay or limit childbearing – creating a “pent-up demand” that family planning service providers still need to fulfill.

In terms of Kenya itself, a 2015 study from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) credited lifestyle changes, including late marriages and elevated literacy levels in women, for reduced birth rates. Maxwell Okoth, a healthcare practitioner, told the news site Kenyans that a rising cost of living also has contributed to why couples had recently chosen to have fewer children. “Families now want a number of children they can take care of comfortably,” he said.

However, as is often the case in countries where fertility rates are on the decline, such as Germany and Japan, challenges arise to take the places of those that a falling birth rate ameliorates.

Data from a 2018 World Population Data Sheet from the PRB indicate that by the middle of the 21st Century, Kenya’s 65+ population will more than double percentage-wise, from the current three per cent to a projected seven per cent.

While this percentage might not seem a concern when compared to other countries (Japan’s 65+ population is over 25 per cent, for example), the percentage of children 14 and under in Kenya will decrease from 41 per cent in 2018 to 29 per cent by 2050, resulting in fewer future workers to support an aging population. And Kenya’s population pyramid – a diagram that indicates where the bulk of each country’s population will lie as of 2025 – appears far more bottom-heavy than that of Japan.

Eventually, though, this could work in Kenya’s favor, as the country is expected to increase the number of working-age people from 22 million today to 56 million by 2050. The United Nations projects that Kenya’s population will increase at a rate of roughly a million every year during that same period, which translates into approximately 3,000 people each day.

On the downside, though, youth unemployment remains a challenge across East African nations, Kenya included.

As economist David Lam tells Daily Nation, “Sub-Saharan Africa needs to generate about a million new jobs per month to keep employment rates stable and will need to generate almost two million jobs per month by 2030.”

The country’s shift in age structure is expected to play a strong role in its economic viability, including how the government chooses to divide up resources so that every generation can thrive. The Daily Nation, citing the report, adds that monies needed to pay for healthcare and pensions for an aging population “could increasingly prove a defining issue in Kenya’s economy in the near future”.

While there is much encouraging news for Kenyans to feel good about, any forecasts of positivity must naturally be tempered by an ever-watchful eye on the economic landscape for the best time and situation for starting and raising a family, making the preservation of assets more a wise necessity than a speculative option.