Africa’s population grew at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2014, much faster than the global average of 1.7 percent as estimated from UN population projection data. During this time, the region experienced a demographic transition, moving from a period of high mortality and fertility rates to one of lower mortality, yet still high fertility rates. Other regions, most notably East Asia, took advantage of their transitions to accelerate growth, and reap a so-called ‘demographic dividend’. Africa is now being presented a similar opportunity.
Maxim Pinkovskiy and Xavier Sala-i-Martin (PSiM herafter) have confidently claimed that “The conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong” and that “African poverty is falling and is falling rapidly.” This sounds like good news. But is it right?
We must first be clear about what we mean when we say “poverty is falling”. What many people mean is falling numbers of poor. However, PSiM refer solely to the poverty rate—the percentage of people who are poor. (There is no mention of this important distinction in their paper.) And it is not falling over their whole period of their analysis, which goes back to 1970. Rather they find that the poverty rate has been falling since the mid-1990s.