Population control: Lessons for Nigeria to learn from China
For thirty years, China told its citizens that one child was enough. Then over the past five years, it said couples can have two children. But now, it wants parents to have up to three. Despite raising the child quota, very few parents have moved on to have more than one child.
China’s one-child policy was relaxed in 2016 after the Chinese economy recorded quantum growth over a period of three decades, with per capita income rising from $282 to more than $11,000.
Per capita income measures the average income earned per person in a given area.
In 1986 when China implemented the one-child policy, China’s per capita income was $282. Population just hit 1 billion. By the end of 2016 when the one-child policy ended, per capita income had risen to about $11,000 and the Chinese population only increased by about 300 million.
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As of 2020, Nigeria’s per capita income was $2,250, about N1.1 million. By the same time, Nigeria’s fertility rate was 5.281 births per woman. Although the fertility rate has been declining by at least one percent since 2019, an average of 5 children per woman is still high for a country with a GDP growth rate of less than 2% over the past five years.
Again, in 1986 when China implemented the one-child policy with just a population of 1 billion, Nigeria had roughly 86 million people. Per capita income was $639. This means that as of 1986, an average Nigerian was better off than an average Chinese. However, 30 years later, Nigeria’s population has ballooned to 208 million and at a per capita of $2,250 for a Nigerian and about $11,000 for a Chinese, an average Chinese is five times richer than an average Nigerian. In fact, more than 100 million Nigerians are estimated to live below $2 a day.
If you take into account the effects of exchange rate fluctuations and inflation, it means that hundreds of millions of Nigerians became poorer over time.
China did two things differently. First, they reduced family size. Second, they invested more in education. By taking the initiative to reduce the family size through the one-child policy, they made a practical decision to not bite more than they could chew.
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And by investing in education, they were able to retool their citizens and get them skilled to meet the target of becoming a respectable manufacturing giant.
It is important to note that China adopted several strategies that saw it make the kind of economic progress it made, but at the heart of it was population control. Beyond the one-child policy, China made sure to not admit more people into its space, except for the purpose of trade. For instance, you could not become Chinese even by marriage. There were other measures aimed to keep the population at bay but through these approaches, China was able to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty within a quarter of a century.
But how has Nigeria played its ballooning population which is estimated to hit 400 million by the end of 2050? Well, despite the Nigerian economy barely outpacing population growth at a speed limit of 2% over the past five years, Nigeria had played it surprisingly dumb. They have refused to prioritize investment in education and have made no practical efforts at reducing family sizes or adopting any population control measures.
Due to cultural concerns, discussion around small family sizes is still not openly tolerated. A man without any meaningful employment can have as many as seven children with the belief that “God will provide”. So, policymakers remained cautious and the authorities have made practical efforts to encourage smaller family sizes through massive awareness.
In 1986 when most Nigerians were better off than most Chinese, the education sector was one of the best in the world, with several Nigerian universities churning out top talents and even attracting foreign patronage. But in the past 35 years, things have gone from bad to worse in the sector.
Frustrating university teachers’ strikes have become commonplace and the quality of talent output has been watered down to the worst level. Most Nigerians today would prefer their wards attend any higher education institution other than any in Nigeria even though it could cost an arm and a leg.
Even at the basic education level, the public education system has collapsed. Now, it faces the worst crisis due to insecurity.
Even if all that ails Nigeria is removed out of the way, how much progress can it really make without any attempt at population control and increased investment in education?