“The rich have money, the poor have children”: understanding fast population growth in Africa


In Africa, the rapid decrease in child mortality combined with a persistent high fertility cause a fast population growth. By 2100, the African population is predicted to quadruple, contributing to 80% of the expected four billion increase in worldwide population. This raises politico-economic challenges in the continent and beyond. Africa’s demographic trends are unique, unexpected and the underlying causes are not well understood yet. Most current research examines access to public programs promoting family planning and child health. Instead, I propose to study people’s private incentives to have children and to invest in their health. Building upon the common saying that children are poor people’s wealth, my proposal addresses the following questions. What is specific to Africa in the way people make decisions on children? Does the prevalence of polygamy undermine population policies? Will fertility eventually drop in response to decreasing mortality? If yes, how to sustain progress in child survival? If no, what drives people’s preferences for large families? Conceptually, I explain why existing microeconomic models of household behavior are inadequate in the African context. I build upon my fieldwork experiences and my knowledge of the anthropological literature to develop new conceptual frameworks. The key contribution is that parents’ control over children’s futures is limited by other family members and the perceived importance of luck. Empirically, I have access to exceptionally rich datasets from several African countries at different stages of the demographic transition. I combine experimental and observational methods to provide new quantitative evidence on the drivers of fertility and mortality. My research will help explain and predict population growth. My close collaboration with African policy-makers and foreign aid donors ensures direct feedback into policy design and implementation.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. P.C.R. Rossi

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit Economie en Bedrijfskunde, Amsterdam School of Economics

Team members

Dr. P.C.R. Rossi


01/10/2017 to 31/08/2020