Population growth is the great problem of Bangladesh like every developing country. Here we describe reasons for population growth in Bangladesh, problems which arise for population growth, and the solution to this problem.
Reasons for population growth
Success in reducing population growth should be viewed with some caution. In the mid-1970s. Bangladesh was the world’s eighth-most populous country and remains so today. This is because:
- High fertility rates in the past, coupled with falling death rates, have meant that Bangladesh still has tremendous inbuilt growth potential given the age structure of its population.
- As much as 43% of its total population was below 15 years of age in 1997, and 46% of the female population was of reproductive age (15 to 49 years).
Nevertheless, the success of family planning measures has meant that the potential population explosion has been contained and population growth rates have actually come down, even though the number of people of childbearing age has done up dramatically.
Why is the population now growing more slowly?
There are several reasons behind the decline in the population growth rate. We looked at some of the reasons are. For example:
- First, greater education and health awareness, particularly amongst the female population have increased. This has meant that women are more willing and able to take advantage of the greater availability of family planning methods.
- Secondly, the slow but steady improvement in economic prosperity also has an impact on the calculations of some parents who can now look forward to educating their children for a better life rather than relying on large families for economic security.
Problems caused by population growth
Even with the reductions in population growth that have been already achieved, the size of the population means that even relatively small percentage growth rates translate into large numbers of new individuals every year.
The immediate effect of this is felt in the educational sector where, in 1995, enrolled students in primary education were 17.3 million, with an enrollment rate (enrolled students as a percentage of the total population of the appropriate age) of 92% and a teacher-student ratio of 1:70 (1 teacher for 70 students on average).
According to the Bangladesh Planning Commission, if universal primary education is to be achieved and if the teacher-student ratio is to be improved even to 1:50, the number of resources dedicated to primary education would have to be doubled.
Population growth also has implications for the provision of healthcare. Around the year 2000, the doctor-population ratio was 1:506 (1 doctor for 5,506 people in the population), the hospital bed-population ratio was 1:3231 and the per capita health expenditure (total health expenditure in the country divided by the population) was 135 Taka per annum.
According to the Bangladesh Planning Commission, maintaining existing healthcare facilities at a minimum level will require a doubling of per capita health expenditure.
An increase in the population also has a direct impact on the rural economy by raising the number of landless individuals. In 1997, the population density of Bangladesh was 850 persons per square kilometer. This increased to around 900 persons by 2002. It is projected to rise to 1130 persons per square kilometer by the year 2020.
As small farms get subdivided amongst many children many of them become economically unviable, and the owners have to sell their tiny plots and become landless laborers.
They are forced to go into non-agricultural activities in the rural areas, or work for other farmers, or to migrate to the cities or abroad.
At the same time, while the yields on the existing farms are going up because of improvements in technology and the spread of new seeds and fertilizers, there is inevitable pressure on food availability, as the same amount of agricultural land has to support an ever-increasing population.
The growing population that has to find employment opportunities outside agriculture also creates pressure on the non-agricultural sectors. The working-age population (defined by the Bangladesh Planning Commission as the populating between the ages of 15 and 59 years) was 66.6 million in 1997.
It increased to around 80 million in 2002. It is projected to increase to 98 million in 2010 and 109.1 million in 2020. Much of this increase will have to find jobs outside the agricultural sector in manufacturing, industry, and services.
Possible solutions for population growth in Bangladesh
Given the demographic profile of Bangladesh, it is clear that keeping the growth of populating as low as possible is the best strategy for the country at this time. If population growth was to accelerate again, it is obvious that this would seriously affect the economic and social development of the country.
There is no set of measures that is likely on its own to lower population growth further or maintain the existing reduced rates of population growth. Family planning is only likely to work if the availability of birth control methods in combined with education, employment opportunities for women, and growing economic prosperity that induces parents to plan education and investment in children rather than maximizing family size as an economic survival strategy.
Thus, population control is a multi-pronged strategy that has to depend on economic, social, and educational changes.
Here, there is an important debate about the role of culture and ideology in people’s attitudes to family planning. Many people believe that without a change in attitudes, success in family planning will not be possible. Some observers have argued that religion can be an obstacle to family planning since most important world religions favor large families.
But the experience of Bangladesh shows that attitudes are much more flexible than many analysts think, and can change rapidly and dramatically if economic opportunities and social possibilities change.
Of course, this does not mean that attitudes and beliefs are not important. Rather, it warns us that to focus too much on attitudes and beliefs may be misunderstanding the problem of why poor families in poor countries have large families.
Historical observation across countries (and the experience of different socio-economic groups within countries) shows us that fertility behavior and family size can dramatically change as economic and educational opportunities change.
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