'Educate girls to stop population soaring'

The longer girls stay at school, the fewer children they have, professor says

The explosive growth in the global population could be curbed significantly if teenage girls in the developing world were given the opportunity of completing a secondary school education, says a leading expert in human numbers.

Putting girls in developing countries through secondary school is one of the single most important factors that causes them to have fewer babies in later life, said Joel Cohen, professor of populations at the Rockefeller University in New York. That could cut the expected growth in the human population by as much as three billion by 2050. The present global population is 6.7 billion but would rise to as much as 11.9 billion by then if current trends continue. "Secondary education increases people's capacity and motivation to reduce their own fertility, improve the survival of their children and care for their own and the families' health," Professor Cohen said.

"Education promotes a shift from the quantity of children in favour of the quality of children. This transition reduces the future number of people using environmental resources and enhances the capacity of individuals and societies to cope with environmental change."

The growth in human population will exacerbate environmental degradation as more people compete – sometimes fiercely – for limited food, water and land. Attempts at limiting growth have concentrated on providing birth control to women, but secondary female education is seen as increasingly important.

The United Nations estimates that the world population will hit 9.1 billion by 2050 and that most of this increase will be in developing countries in Africa and south-east Asia. But this "medium" estimate is based on fertility rates, that is the number of babies each woman has, declining from today's 2.55 children per woman to slightly over two children per woman by 2050.

If each woman has, on average, half a child more than the UN estimates, then by 2050 the world population could be as high as 10.8 billion. If each woman has half a child less, it could be as low as 7.8 billion, Professor Cohen said.

"Thus a difference in fertility of a single child per woman between now and 2050 alters the 2050 estimate by three billion, a difference equal to the entire world population in 1960," he added, writing in the journal Nature.

"Secondary education has the potential to influence that outcome dramatically. Although there are other factors at work, in many developing countries, women who complete secondary school average at least one child fewer per lifetime than women who complete primary school only."

In Niger, for example, women who completed secondary education had on average 4.6 children, a third less than women who completed primary education only.

The same is true of Yemen where women who completed primary education had 4.6 children on average, compared to the average of 3.1 children born to mothers who completed secondary school.

"One of the mechanisms by which education leads to lower fertility is likely to be reductions in child mortality. Parents who are more confident of the survival of their children have reduced incentives to have many children," Professor Cohen said. Unfortunately, in many developing countries, boys are significantly more likely than girls to go to secondary schools. In Benin, 38 per cent of boys go to secondary school compared to 17 per cent of girls, while in India, 58 per cent of boys are put through secondary education, and only 47 per cent of girls.

Professor Cohen said that it would pay for the international community to help to fund the education of girls in the developing world as a means of curbing global population. "For the next several decades, virtually all rises in numbers of people will occur in the cities of the less-developed regions. This vast shift presents an opportunity: it will be easier to reach the added children, and to attract and retain their teachers.

"Universal, high-quality primary and secondary education is achievable within 25 years. Educating all children well is a worthwhile, affordable and achievable strategy to develop people who can cope with problems foreseen and unforeseen."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Development Manager

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Recruitment Genius: Qualified Nursery Practitioner - Sevenoaks

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Room Leader - Nursery

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas