In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Population and Demography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Socioeconomic Context
  • Mortality
  • Causes of Death
  • The Millennium Development Goals
  • Migration
  • International Migration
  • Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons
  • People Smuggling, Human Trafficking, and the Rights of All Migrants

African Studies Population and Demography
Odile Frank
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0071


The population of Africa comprises the subpopulation of North African countries above the Sahara and the subpopulation of countries below the Sahara. The belt of countries across Africa at the southern fringe of the Sahara, in the Sahel region of grasslands and savannah that includes the countries of the easternmost Horn of Africa, shows variation in population origins and lifestyles, but this region is considered sub-Saharan. The demography of the population of African countries can be first characterized with traditional descriptors, namely fertility (measures of births), mortality (measures of deaths), and migration (measures of movement into and out of countries), along with the resulting population growth (the difference between population increase due to births and immigration and decrease due to deaths and emigration). As vital registration and statistics are poor, demographic measures are based on indirect estimation from censuses and surveys. To provide a complete overview of the demography of Africa also requires a characterization of contributing phenomena more typical of Africa than elsewhere. This is particularly the case in explaining African patterns of fertility. These factors include family structure, child fostering, breast-feeding, abstinence, and infertility. Furthermore, slavery had consequences for the populations of Africa as well as for those of the Americas. African populations south of the Sahara have been the last to enter the demographic transition that universally accompanies development, characterized by a shift from high death and birth rates to low death and birth rates. Typically, death rates decline before birth rates decline, and that era of growth establishes momentum for further population growth. Africa has enjoyed a decline in death rates since the mid-20th century, despite marked setbacks due to deaths from AIDS and persistent child mortality. Births are declining in a number of countries, but only after substantial population growth has ensured significant lasting growth. Also, births have not declined everywhere, and declines are often slowly paced. Current country names are used in all references.

General Overviews

The authoritative source of information on population levels and trends and estimates of fertility and mortality for all countries of Africa is the biannual publication of the United Nations, World Population Prospects. The best introductions to population and demography in Africa are found in classical works of the 1960s: The Demography of Tropical Africa (Brass, et al. 1968) and The Population of Tropical Africa (Caldwell and Okonjo 1968). No general study of demography and population in Africa has been published since then. An excellent source of information by country based on surveys, the Demographic and Health Surveys (see MEASURE DHS), makes time trend analysis possible for many countries. The African Census Analysis Project of the University of Pennsylvania compiled African census data from the 1970, 1980, and 1990 rounds of censuses. At present, and in general, individual, academic, and research studies of Africa most often shed light on individual countries or groups of countries, with some exceptions. Broad overviews, regional analyses, and comparative studies are more frequently available from the international organizations, programs, and agencies of the United Nations and the UN system. An important source for information relevant to the causes and consequences of Africa’s population and demography can be found at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa website, through Population Information Africa (POPIA), and at the African Union website (by topic).

  • African Census Analysis Project.

    The African Census Analysis Project ACAP assembled African censuses of the 1970, 1980, and 1990 rounds in collaboration with African research institutions and governments and the Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Its Pan-African Census Explorer (PACE) database contains over fifty-five censuses from twenty-six countries. Although active from its inception in 1997 to 2006, and having begun a series titled A General Demography of Africa, the project now appears inactive.

  • African Union.

    Established in 1999 by the African governments of the Organisation of African Unity, the African Union promotes solidarity between states, coordinates cooperation for development, safeguards territorial integrity, and cooperates with the United Nations and its programs and agencies. Selected population issues are addressed within the Social Affairs program and the Women, Gender and Development program.

  • Brass, William, Ansley J. Coale, Paul Demeny, et al. The Demography of Tropical Africa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.

    This classic remains a basic tool. Part I addresses sources of data and methods of analysis to measure fertility and mortality (and nuptiality) in Africa. Part II comprises case studies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and parts of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Mali and Senegal; Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau; and Sudan.

  • Caldwell, John C., and Chukuka Okonjo. The Population of Tropical Africa. Proceedings of the First African Population Conference, sponsored by the University of Ibadan in cooperation with the Population Council and held at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 3–7 January 1966. London: Longmans, 1968.

    This significant volume records the first African Population Conference held at the University of Ibadan in 1966. Thirty-three papers address African censuses, vital statistics, correction of sex-age distribution, estimation of fertility, mortality and natural increase, and the movement of population, density, and urbanization. Several contributors also contributed to Brass et al., 1968.

  • MEASURE DHS: Demographic and Health Surveys.

    From 1985 to 2012, The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program has collected population data in forty-five African countries using various nationally representative surveys with sample sizes up to 5,000–30,000 households to measure fertility and mortality. Related health topics include HIV, maternal mortality, and nutrition. Forty countries have been resurveyed, and seven countries were surveyed between seven and eleven times, enabling trend analysis.

  • Population Information Africa.

    Population Information Africa (POPIA) was an initiative of the Sustainable Development Division of ECA, designed to provide online space to disseminate population- and development-related information to African policymakers and researchers. Launched in 1999, it was revised and developed in 2001. It disseminated Africa’s Population and Development Bulletin in 2002, but it appears that it has been inactive since then.

  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

    Established by the UN as a Regional Commission in 1958, ECA is mandated to promote economic and social development in its member states. Since 2012, the African Centre for Statistics within ECA promotes civil registration and the development of vital statistics under the Africa Programme on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, sponsored by the African Union and the African Development Bank.

  • United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision.

    The Population Division of the United Nations revises its global demographic estimates and projections every two years. The 22nd, dated 2010, was issued in May 2011. The next revision was scheduled for early 2013. As of the current 2010 revision, the United Nations will issue the results of World Population Prospects only in electronic formats that can be downloaded from the UN’s website.

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