Defusing a Population Explosion? Jobs and Fertility in sub-Saharan Africa

Céline Zipfel (London School of Economics)

February 1, 2021, 15:30–17:00


Room zoom

Job Market Seminar


Over three-quarters of global population growth between now and 2100 is expected to occur in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper leverages micro data from 153 reproductive health surveys to shed light on a macro puzzle: fertility rates are exceptionally high in sub-Saharan African countries, conditional on GDP per capita. I establish an important empirical fact: the relationship between income and desired fertility is, on average, steeper in sub-Saharan Africa relative to other countries. I hypothesize that a key factor behind this steeper gradient is that poorer households face especially limited salaried employment opportunities in this region. A quantity-quality trade-off model of fertility choice featuring a fixed human capital requirement for entry into salaried employment predicts that a feedback loop can arise, where poorer families get stuck in a high fertility - informal occupation equilibrium in which they also under-invest in their children’s education. Rich micro data assembled from reproductive health surveys, censuses and household expenditure surveys provide empirical support for the model’s key assumptions and predictions. The findings suggest that differences in occupational choice sets across the income distribution represent an important driver of subSaharan Africa’s exceptional fertility trend.