The Demographic Dividend

This session defines the demographic dividend and explores the processes by which it is realized within a society. We will discuss how the demographic dividend can be harnessed in ways that promote—rather than inhibit—socio-economic advancement. Slowing population growth by increasing access to comprehensive reproductive health care, voluntary family planning, and education—especially for women and girls—is necessary for achieving the demographic dividend.

Session Date: Wednesday, May 4th

The Demographic Dividend – Presented by Hannah Evans

Hannah is interested in working with students, professors, and activists to promote positive social and environmental change. Hannah works with college-level students and professors to integrate population studies back into the mainstream, with a particular focus on human rights and social justice. She develops and gives comprehensive, solution-oriented presentations focused on the connections between global population growth, access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, and environmental sustainability. Through an examination of some of the root causes of population growth, her work seeks to highlight the interconnections between poverty, marginalization, women’s rights, and environmental pressures made worse by climate change.

Before joining Population Connection’s staff, Hannah worked as an adjunct professor of Women’s Studies and taught classes on gender, science, and feminist theory. She has nonprofit experience working as a program developer for sustainable agriculture and public health programs in Honduras and Panama, and has worked as a researcher on food security issues throughout southern California. Hannah holds a BA in environmental policy and political science and a Master’s in political ecology from San Diego State University, where her research focused on sustainability labeling and ethical consumption.


Are there any limits to how many a planet and its functioning ecosystems can sustain?

I think it’s really hard to predict what will happen in the future because many solutions will come from technological innovations that have not been invented yet. In addition, the amount of people that can sustainably live on the planet is contingent upon how resources are used and consumed and the broader economic system in which human activities operate. We must change the way we produce food and energy to avert the worst possible trajectory of climate change. Our reliance on fossil fuels and extractive industry is an existential threat to humanity.

What are your thoughts about the empowerment of young men in parallel with the empowerment of girls and women — at least in the United States?

I think that we can measure the success of our societies in part by the degree to which young people are empowered. Both boys and girls need access to the resources necessary to lead healthy, autonomous, and comfortable lives. They also need culturally appropriate and comprehensive support as it relates especially to health care and education. The fact that the world’s women and girls are disproportionately marginalized and oppressed does not discount the fact that boys and men face daunting challenges and hardships as well. Both must be addressed if we want to create a sustainable global future.

How can we find the “sweet spot” in the Demographic Transition to help civilization have an optimal level of both small family sizes and modest (sustainable) consumption, globally (including the drawdown of affluent lifestyles)?

The best way to facilitate progress in the demographic transition is to ensure widespread and adequate access to social services like health care and education. When people, communities, and societies gain access to these resources, in addition to others like clean water, sanitation, and economic opportunity, poverty decreases and health outcomes improve, resulting in higher life expectancy and lower fertility. As Americans, one of the most effective modalities in which to contribute is via aid and funding—specifically for organizations that provide direct service and work to expand access to health care and education throughout the world’s most at-risk regions. Take a look at a few of our amazing international partners!

Won’t the demographic dividend speed up climate change? 

So long as we continue burning fossil fuels and relying on unsustainable land use and food production practices, the processes of industrialization and demographic transitioning will augment carbon emissions. The majority of the world’s population lives in low to middle-income settings in which poverty and inequality are widespread alongside high population growth rates, high unmet needs for family planning, and high vulnerability to climate change. From a population perspective, it is vital to work to expand access to social and economic resources that will result in better health outcomes, reduced poverty, increased climate resilience, and slower population growth. More broadly, our global economic structures and political institutions must work to eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources and shift our production practices away from environmental exploitation and towards integrated, sustainable production and consumption. Slowing population growth is one important piece of a much larger puzzle when it comes to climate change and virtually any other global issue.

Which organizations are succeeding in making birth control available to the most people in the world, who otherwise would not have it?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the biggest player in this field. They do a lot of great work in the space of reproductive health and rights and have worked with many different countries to form and implement short and long-term plans for increasing uptake and shifting social norms in favor of informed choice. The U.S. is consistently the biggest contributor of aid for international family planning programs, but that funding is highly partisan and thus contingent upon who is in power.

Assuming that the world population will eventually stabilize in the near future, how will we deal with overconsumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions? It seems that people don’t want to give up using fossil fuels to drive cars, fly to vacation areas, produce luxuries for purchase, etc.

We have to stop relying on fossil fuels and nonrenewable resources. So many extractive industries still benefit from government subsidies and other incentives which keep production and consumption costs artificially low. Instead, we should be making renewable energy sources more widespread and accessible. At the individual level, we all have the responsibility to make conscious choices to the best of our ability.

Do governments of countries with high fertility and/or burgeoning populations agree with the thesis that reducing the birth rate delivers this demographic dividend?

Yes, I think there’s a general consensus there. Usually, it’s this realization that prompts conservative societies to work to increase access to voluntary family planning services, including contraceptives. This has happened in Iran, Egypt, Rwanda, and several Latin American countries—all of which maintain a pervasive religious influence that might otherwise discourage the expansion of informed choice. However, there are also countries that are unwilling (corruption) or unable (financially) to provide the services necessary in order to achieve the dividend.

The Philippines are 83% Roman Catholic. How do we deal with overcoming religious barriers?

Religion plays a big role in reproductive health throughout the Philippines. As such, the country has undergone several iterations of reproductive health policy and continues to maintain a strong cultural apprehension towards contraceptives or family planning more broadly. However, the current government has pledged to expand access to reproductive health care and family planning as a necessary means for development, which has resulted in increased access and a step forward in the gradual normalization process. Check out our recently published case study on reproductive health in the Philippines, featuring our partner organization, PATH Foundation Philippines (PFPI) for more info!