By: Ahmed Adamu[1] &  Abdullahi Abdurrahman[2]

[1]Lecturer (PhD); Department of Economics, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina, Katsina state, Nigeria.  ahmadadamu@yahoo.com
[2]Supporting staff; Department of Economics, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina, Katsina state, Nigeria. abdulabdul04@yahoo.com 


It is certain that socio-economic development of any nation hinges upon its human and material endowment. This to some extent reveals the role of population in accelerating the pace of development economically and other wise. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria as Population is more or less a curse than a blessing. This paper critically assessed the effects of higher population on socio-economic development of Nigeria. The study utilised secondary data elicited from National Bureau of statistics (NBS) and other relevant agencies. The analysis of the data was based on the descriptive method of statistics where tables and simple percentages were used. The study established that, higher population has a serious negative effect on the development of the country in general. For, rapid population growth in Nigeria exacerbates poverty, income inequality, unemployment, insecurity of lives and properties, and political conundrum among others. It is on this note that the study recommended and calls for strong government intervention, tied with community participation especially on initiation of poverty reduction / alleviation programme (where there is none), empowering the youths as they remain the apparatus with which development is doable, shunning away from corruption and ‘alfarma’ (favouritism) syndrome, incentivising the citizens to dwell on self help businesses, and above all controlling the ever rising population among others.



Over the years, it has become established that the existence of an efficient and effective human capital is the key to economic growth and development in any nation. This stems from the fact that every other facility and resource required for economic development is driven by the availability of human capital. More so, in the absence of effective human capital development, an increasing population can have adverse negative effect on the economic growth of a nation. This is because a lot more resources are taken out to manage and cater for the teeming population that the same can generate. It is therefore correct to state that the economic growth of a nation is significantly dependent on the growth of its population. This effect or impact can be either negative or positive depending on the existence of certain factors and conditions, when studied and understood can be managed or controlled to ensure continuous and sustainable economic growth and development (Kelley, 2001).

Nigeria is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. With an estimated population of 168 million and an annual population growth rate of 2.9% (NBS 2010 est.), being the most populous nation in Sub Saharan Africa, it is also the eighth most populous country in the world (UN Report, 2011).


It was established in the literature that unemployment, poverty, poor health, low standard of living, coupled with insecurity of life and property, to mention but a few, is acknowledged to be a serious obstacle bedevilling  the development of any socio-economic set up. Nigeria is no exception. Unfortunately however, those indices are what characterised today’s Nigeria, courtesy of higher population and yet unproductive ones. It is a popular fact that Nigeria has been suffering from those bedevilled predicaments attributable exclusively to its ever rising population. This consequently affects the country’s development indicators and left no legacy other than extreme poverty, income inequality, unemployment, poor health, insecurity, and economic backwardness among others. Nigeria is known to have been blessed with the potentials of development and is acknowledged to have harnessed those potentials to its best exertion. But, planning and controlling the rising population for adequate sustainability becomes yet a challenging episode in the history of the nation. This research will therefore explore the possible ways to attacking the increasing level of poverty and other economic predicaments as caused by increasing population. Some of the questions that this research will answer include: does Nigeria have adequate statistical data that will help in conquering the menace? Do the people know the implication of higher population to National economy and its security? Is Nigeria ready to accept the challenge? What measures should Nigeria take to address the unnecessary increasing population? What is the correlation between population and poverty in Nigeria?


There are two major contrasting views about the relationship between population growth and poverty:

  • Some believe that high fertility causes poverty and that lower fertility is the key to reducing poverty. At the end of the 18th century, Thomas Malthus and his followers argued that high fertility and poverty went hand in hand. Malthus himself, focusing on the impoverishing effects of scarce land and rising food prices, urged couples not to marry and have children unless they could afford to support them.(Malthus T.R. 1976). One and one-half centuries later, when population growth rates in developing countries were accelerating as a result of high fertility and declining mortality, Malthus’s successors (dubbed “neo-Malthusians”) took another tack. They argued that because high birthrates create large numbers of children relative to the number of working adults, savings that might otherwise be invested in the country’s infrastructure and development instead must be diverted to meeting the immediate food, health care, housing and education needs of growing numbers of children and adolescents. This prevents countries and families from making the longer-term investments needed to help lift them out of poverty. Using this argument, neo-Malthusians played a key role during the 1960s and 1970s in efforts to mobilize the world’s wealthy developed countries to provide financial aid to support government-administered family planning programs in developing countries. Through such international assistance policies, governments and nongovernmental organizations in developing countries with rapid rates of population growth received support that enabled them to develop or expand access to family planning services (Kelley A.C. 2001).
  • Others, however, believe that economic policies determine poverty reduction and that contraception is a “private good.” Not everyone agreed that expanded family planning programs would be effective in reducing poverty. Economists were quick to point out that even if high fertility and high proportions of the population living in poverty were correlated, this correlation would not imply causality. In fact, the relationship could run in the opposite direction: Poverty could be the cause of high fertility. Poor people often want more children because children represent wealth, provide household labour and are the only form of social security available to parents in their old age. (Simon J. 1981)


It is certain that in Nigeria today growing number of population has equally posed greater challenge to the nation at large. Famous is the episode of unemployment attributable to the lack of opportunities and diversified economy. The consequences of unemployment in Nigeria, like most other developing countries is very severe and threatening to the citizenry and the economy as a whole. The unemployment episode has continued to pose so many challenges to the survival of the Nigerian nation. While some of these consequences bother directly on the unemployed, others like epidemics are limitless in effects.

Firstly, Unemployment in Nigeria has a very serious negative effect on the personal well-being of the unemployed. Until recently when a very small number of the affected people benefited from the poverty reduction program of the government, the effect was quite severe on those involved. In cross sectional regressions, there is clear evidence that unemployment is associated with lower levels of psychological well-being (Machin and Manning, 1998). Unemployment dehumanizes the unemployed and causes partial or total loss of esteem among peers. The unemployed feels inferior before this peer group and sees life as totally demeaning. This is the situation of many Nigerian job seekers.

Secondly, one of the core causes of poverty in Nigeria today is the inability of many job seekers to secure gainful employment owing to too much population and undiversified economy. This has further worsened the income inequality crisis that characterizes most third world economies. Largely, the increasing level of unemployment can explain the increasing level of poverty in Nigeria for which available information currently puts at 70 percent (Clerk, 1996). This ugly trend of unemployment rate in the face of rising cost of living, has conditioned many people to a very low and undignified standard of living in Nigeria and the Sub Saharan African region as a whole. (Clerk, 1996)

Thirdly, Unemployment accounts for most of the social crimes perpetrated by youths in the Nigerian society today. The accelerating level of prostitution, armed robbery, rape and all facets of violence can be largely attributed to the incidence of unemployment. An examination of most of the apprehended criminals shows that a large number of youths that engage in criminal activities are those without gainful employment. Some of these criminals are people who have the potentials for gainful employment but have been denied such opportunity. Unemployment then can be seen as one of the core causes of the rising level of social disorder and insecurity permeating the entire country of Nigeria.



The country is remarkably diverse in social and economic development, but a poor healthcare system evidenced by high levels of morbidity and mortality continues to constrain the sustenance of a healthy population.  It is popular fact that the growing number of country’s population greatly hinders the accessibility of many to health care services especially when reference is made to the proportion of health manpower to population: precisely ratio of doctor to population, nurse to patients as well as the ratio of midwives to patients (women in labour). The coverage of the national health system is limited while health education and enlightenment are weak due to high levels of illiteracy. In addition, childhood and maternal mortality are relatively high and average life expectancy at birth is very low.

An assessment of the health of the Nigerian population indicates that the state of healthcare in Nigeria remains poor although considerable efforts have been made to improve this over the years. Nigeria still lags behind many African countries on major health indicators.  The average life expectancy declined rapidly over the years. In 2006 the life expectancy was 57.9 years for men and 56.4 years for women while in 2007 it dropped to 47.2 for men and 48.2 for women. This represents a percentage fall of 18.48 % for men and 14.54 % for women (NBS, 2010). Therefore, it is imperative for the country to control its rapid population growth so that adequate and sufficient health care service or health for all can be accomplished.


Education is an important factor in economic growth and development. But the nation’s educational system has been facing many challenges, which prevent the country from achieving its economic objectives. The major challenge facing this sector is the increased demand for education among the people, attributable mainly to the growing number of population as well as inadequate funding and planning coupled with poor management, inadequate infrastructure, and inadequate commitment on the part of students and teachers, among others. All these have combined to hinder the production of a high quality work force to propel the economy (UN, 2010). The state of a nation’s educational sector, among other things, determines the economic health of the nation. Nigeria thus must embark on population control program so that the pressure posed to the education would be addressed as adequately as possible. Because presently the ratio of students to a teacher in public secondary schools, as well as the increasing deterioration of student’s performances in SSCE alone to reveal the fact that education sector is in state of serious quandary.




YEAR Poverty Incidence (%) Estimated Population (million) Population in Poverty (million)
1980 27.2 65 17.1
1985 46.3 75 34.7
1992 42.7 91.5 39.2
1996 65.6 102.3 67.1
2004 54.4 126.3 68.7
2010 69.0 163 112.47

Source: National Bureau of Statistics, 2010.

Table 1, above present the relative poverty headcount in Nigeria from 1980-2010 in which case, the incidence of poverty, estimated population and the population in poverty shows a positive correlation. The incidence of poverty in 1980 stood at 27.2% and the number of population in poverty were 17.1 million. As the number of population increase, so does the incidence of poverty along side with the population in poverty. For example, increase in the country’s population from 75 million in 1985 to 91.5 million in 1992 increases the number of population in poverty to 34.7 million and 39.2 million between 1985 and 1992 respectively. In 2010 the incidence of poverty had increased to 69.0% as against 54.4% in 2004 when the country’s population reached 163 million as against 126.3 in 2004.


North Central 38.6 59.5 67.5 59.7
North East 51.5 69.0 76.3 69.1
North West 51.8 70.0 77.7 70.4
South East 41.0 58.7 67.0 59.2
South-South 35.5 55.9 63.8 56.1
South West 25.4 49.8 59.1 50.1

Source: National Bureau of Statistics, 2010.

Zonal incidence of poverty by different poverty measures as at 2010 puts the North West region in Nigeria the worst in terms of poverty. The region recorded the highest percentage of 51.8% in food poverty, 70.0% in absolute poverty, 77.7% in relative poverty, and 70.4% dollar per day.  South western region has the lowest percentage of food poverty (25.4%), absolute poverty (49.8), relative poverty (59.1), dollar per day (50.1) compared to other zones in the country. Generally, northern part of the country has the highest incidence of poverty than the southern part as can be seen from the table above, which is partly attributable to its ever rising populace compared to the other region.

Table 3: Poverty Numbers with 2011 Estimates

PARTICULARS 2004 (%) 2010 (%) 2011
Estimated population (million) 126.3 163 168
Relative Poverty 54.4 69 71.5
Absolute Poverty 54.7 60.9 61.9
Dollar Per Day 62.8 61.2 62.8

Source: (NBS, 2011).

Generally, analysis by the NBS puts the country’s population to 168 million, relative poverty of 71.5, absolute poverty of 61.9, and dollar per day stood at 62.8 as against the 2004 and 2010 estimates courtesy of the country’s rapid population growth with no future plan for the oncoming populace. Income per head must definitely be affected which will deepen poverty level.

Table 4: Population of Nigeria 1952-2011 (Millions)

Year 1952 1962 1963 1973 1991 2006 2010 2011
Pop. 30.3 45.2 55.7 79.8 88.9 140.0 163 168

Source: Nigeria Hand Book, 14th Edition.

Table 4 above shows that the population of the country is always appreciating beyond reasonable doubt and without adequate knowledge of its resulting consequence(s) to the standard of living of the citizens and more importantly the economy. For example, between 1952 to 1991 Nigeria’s populations increased from 30.3 million to 88.9 million (an increase of almost 60 million people within a span of just 4 decades). Unfortunately however, the population hits 140.0 million in 2006 and 163 million in 2010. The NBS statistics of 2011 puts the population figure to 168 which is a serious matter of urgency especially when reference is made to the UN report of 2010 that puts 3.3 births for every death in Africa.  (UN Report, 2010). Surely, the population will continue to increase so long as no attention is accorded to the matter, and will more to the point, continue to ginger socio-economic chaos in the nation at large.

Table 5: National Unemployment Rates in Nigeria (2005-2011)

Year Composite (%) Urban Rural
2005 11.9 10.1 12.6
2006 12.3 10.0 15.1
2007 12.7 10.0 12.6
2008 14.9 10.0 12.6
2009 19.7 19.2 19.7
2010 21.4 22.8 21.1
2011 23.9 17.1 25.6

Source:  National Bureau of Statistics, 2011

Table 5 above shows the level of unemployment in Nigeria. It was 11.9 in 2005, 12.3 in 2006 and 12.7 in 2007. From 2008 to 2011, unemployment rate hits 23.9 as against 14.9 in 2008. In terms of rural-urban divide, available data shows that unemployment is more pronounced in rural areas than urban areas. This is partly attributable to the fact that agriculture which was the main stay of the people is not accorded much priority in today’s Nigeria. Also, opportunities for certain economic activities do not exist in rural satellite than urban areas. That is why rural-urban migration stirred by the demand for social and economic security becomes the order of the day Nigeria.


Achieving a sustainable growth and development in the midst of equilibrium between population and resources is but, a prelude to conquering poverty, unemployment, social chaos, as well as uplifting the standard of living of citizens through equitable distribution of resources and equal access to qualitative education, health care services, and other basic life sustaining amenities. Notwithstanding, the following points will seemingly marked a point of departure to the ailing challenges facing our beloved nation, and brings a new dawn characterized with happiness and contentment among the stakeholders:

    1. Birth Control: There is a need to have family planning programmes which will help to educate the people on the consequences of too much population. This is because many countries (China and India in precise) that have suffered the dilemma of population applied this criteria and fruitful outcome was recorded. Nigeria must embark on the same. Sex outside the institution of marriage has led to the very sharp increase in the country’s birth rate. It is a popular fact that in many part of Nigeria today, pre-marital and extra marital sex are often practice leading to the production of illegitimate children with no one to take their education and moral burden. Thus producing anti-social agents capable of propelling social chaos and other nuisance activities. The study therefore calls for urgent government intervention to address this menace as it is of two fold nature, first social repercussion and second economic implication. For it is an addition to the population.
    2. Revival of Agriculture: Urgent revitalization or resurgence of the agric sector will positively dilute the menace of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria. Since this sector is known to have employed more than 70% of the country’s population, providing them with income and food, it is imperative to recast that renaissance of this corner stone sector will satisfactorily tackle the problems fashioned by higher population in the country at large.
    3. Provision of educational facilities for all and women empowerment: Certainly, if more and better educational facilities are provided, many people will be encouraged to continue their education beyond the normal secondary school leaving age. They may therefore, tend to postpone marriage until they complete their education. The education of women particularly helps to create more opportunities for their employment. If job opportunities are provided for women, they will help to contribute more positively towards production. The gainful employment of women and the difficulty in securing the house maids will help to reduce the number children being born. All these help to reduce high population growth.
    4. Migration policy/control: It is certain that many people are trooping in to this nation without any restriction. The pressure posed by the country’s population is partly attributed to the growing number of immigrants who wish to earn a living devoid of any means and legislation. People from Ghana, Niger republic, Togo, Benin republic, Cameroon, and other Asian countries notably China turn the country in to a “No Man’s Land”. Government can therefore adopt migration policy in this respect in order to curb the population growth via a more stringent immigration laws. Emigration of less skill manpower can also be encouraged by a less restrictive policy towards it. This can help to effectively regulate the population growth for the benefit of the country’s teaming masses.
    5. Tax Incentives/Government Policy: Government can also adopt policies which favours the maintenance of small families. For example, there could be tax relief measures which help the small family unit at the expense of those that are larger. A man with a large family could be made to pay higher tax. Adequate pensions and old age packages or allowances should equally be provided. This will remove the necessity to produce many children who will cater for the parents when they are old. This is because they would be adequately taken care of by the government during their old age.
    6. Finally, the concept of good governance characterised with accountability, transparency, dedication, as well as the spirit of national patriotism and selflessness need to be in the realm, for controlling the epidemics of higher population in the midst of bad governance is but an ‘unending dialogue’.

In conclusion, rapid population growth is a critical national concern. It impedes economic growth, worsens inequality, and exacerbates poverty. A sound population policy must be part of good governance to promote faster economic growth, lower inequality, and hasten poverty reduction. A national population policy, at the core of which are well-funded family planning programs that provide accurate information and access to all methods of contraception, is pro-poor, pro-women, pro-people, and pro-life. The responsibility for formulating, financing and implementing a population policy cannot be left entirely to local or state governments because of spill over effects and incentive incompatibilities. The national government must take the lead. Nelson Mandela says “poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of humans.



Clerk J. (1996); Population and Poverty in sub Saharan Africa: the Nigeria experience. Mc Grew Hill.

CBN (2010); Central Bank of Nigeria Annual Report and Statement of Accounts,  Abuja.

Maching A. and Manning (1998); The relationship Between Population and Unemployment. New York City.

Malthus T.R. (1976); An Essay on the Principle of Population, New York: W. W. Norton 1976. Pp. 132.

NBS (2010); Review of Nigerian Economy: Central Business District Abuja. FCT Abuja.

NBS (2011); Annual Socio-economic Report. Access to ICT CBD Abuja FCT.

Nigeria Hand Book. 14th Edition accessed via www.indexmundi.com on 15/05/12.

Kelley AC (2001); Population Matters: Demographic Change, Economic Growth, and Poverty in the Developing World, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Simon JL (1981); Population: The Ultimate Resource, Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press, 1981.

UN Report (2010); World Population Prospects: Estimates and Projections as Assessed in 1984 (New York).

United Nations (2011); Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World, New York, Human Development Report.

United Nations Report (2010); World Population Prospects Database. New York: United Nations.




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