Week 4: Lottery of birth in the twenty-first century
The challenges of inequality, alongside those of demographic changes and climate change, are, arguably, the biggest issues of our time and of our children’s futures.
This week you will again look at how the big picture is played out in real, individual human lives. You’ll consider whether the inequalities at birth, that have been present for hundreds of years, are likely to be reduced in the next century.
The week begins with the population changes that continue to be the backdrop to the lottery of birth in this century and it goes on to hear from some key thinkers of our time as they consider the possible ways forward.
Demographics, the study of the structure and dynamics of human populations, is an essential element of any examination of inequalities. Here are some key facts about the world’s population from the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF). You will notice some familiar topics from this course.
There are more young people in the world than ever before, creating unprecedented potential for economic and social progress.
There are about 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 – the largest youth population ever. Many of them are concentrated in developing countries. In fact, in the world’s 48 least developed countries, children or adolescents make up a majority of the population.
Too many of these young people see their potential hindered by extreme poverty, discrimination or lack of information. But with proper investment in their education and opportunities, these young people’s ideas, ideals and innovations could transform the future.
Women in sub-Saharan Africa are as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as women in nineteenth-century England, when Charles Dickens described these horrors in Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol.
Put another way, for every 100,000 babies born in sub-Saharan Africa, 510 women die from maternal causes. Globally, some 800 women die every day from causes related to pregnancy.
Yet there has still been enormous progress: since 1990, there has been a 45 per cent decline globally in maternal mortality rates. And the actions needed to save more women are well known, including expanding access to maternal health care and voluntary family planning. Even so…
A staggering 225 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraceptives. And tens of millions of women do not receive the basic pregnancy and delivery care they need.
If all women who wished to avoid pregnancy were able to use modern contraceptives, and if all pregnant women and newborns received appropriate care, maternal deaths would drop by an estimated 67 per cent, according to the most recent data. Unintended pregnancies would fall by about 70 per cent, and newborn deaths would drop by about 77 per cent.
Despite prohibitions, child marriage remains widespread around the world. About 37,000 child marriages take place each day.
Although child marriage is banned around the world, it persists because of poverty and gender inequality. To end this harmful practice, gender equality must be promoted and extreme poverty must be eradicated.
Empowering girls can also play a powerful role in ending this practice. When girls know about their human rights, and when they are equipped with basic life-skills and education, they are far less vulnerable to child marriage.
Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading killer of adolescent girls in developing countries.
Every day in developing countries, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth, and many become pregnant before they are physically mature. Tens of thousands of adolescents die annually of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
There has been a significant decline in adolescent births since 1990, but progress has been uneven, and much more work remains to be done. As is the case with eliminating child marriage, improving girls’ status and access to information is essential to reducing pregnancy, and pregnancy-related deaths, among adolescent girls.
By the end of the century, the world’s population might be as high as 17 billion or as low as 7 billion, according to the most recent UN estimates.
Much of the difference will depend on how fast fertility rates fall. Fertility rates have been declining for many years, the result of a growing desire for smaller families and improved access to voluntary family planning. In the early 1970s, women had on average 4.5 children each; by 2014, women had around 2.5 children each.
Taking these declines into account, the UN has developed three population projections: the highest suggests the world could see 17 billion people by 2100, and the lowest estimates around 7 billion people – roughly the size of today’s global population. The middle projection suggests that this century will end with about 11 billion people.
HIV-related deaths are down 35 per cent from 2005 – but estimates suggest that deaths among adolescents are actually rising.
Globally, HIV deaths are falling, and new HIV infections are falling as well. But alarmingly, young people remain particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Much more must be done to provide adolescents with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, services to help them prevent HIV transmission, and treatment for those who are infected.
If current trends continue, an estimated 15 million girls between ages 15 and 19 will be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) between now and 2030.
Globally, an estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. The practice can cause chronic pain, infections, birth complications, and other adverse effects.
But community dialogues about the health and human rights consequences of FGM have led many to abandon this harmful practice. In 15 key countries where UNFPA and UNICEF are jointly working to help end the practice, an estimated 12,357 communities have committed to abandon FGM.
There are more people migrating than ever before. In 2013, some 232 million people were international migrants, up from 175 million in 2000.
Half of all international migrants live in just 10 countries, with the top five destinations being the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to data from the UN’s Population Division.
But while many people assume migrants just move from developing countries to developed ones – called ‘South-North migration’ – movement between developing countries, called ‘South-South migration’, is slightly more common.
Migrants can be vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and discrimination. But they make important contributions, both to the countries they move to and to the countries they move from.
More than half of the global population is urban – and history’s largest-ever urbanization wave will continue for many years to come.
Urbanization brings enormous changes to landscapes and lifestyles. It offers many opportunities, including increased access to jobs, education and essential services, but it can also see inequalities concentrated in slums and informal settlements.
To ensure all residents are able to benefit from urbanization, forward-looking policies are needed, especially those promoting sustainable development and human rights.
In the next section you’ll think about the effectiveness of population policies.