Why small families are bad for Kenya’s economy

sad child

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Analytical Report on Population Dynamics – released last year but based on 2019 data – shows that over the past 50 years, as the proportion of Kenya’s working population grew by nine per cent, that of children to the total population shrunk at the same rate.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Ms Truphosa Wainaina, who works for a major listed company in Nairobi, has been married for four years now and her son turned three just days ago.

She and her husband had agreed to start the search for a second-born as soon as the boy turned three, but about a month later, the conversation has not happened. Her husband is a civil servant. Truphosa, 27, told Saturday Nation she is not yet ready to have another child, and should her spouse bring up the subject, she would request an additional year to consider the proposition.

“I don’t feel like I can afford another child at this moment. I’m still working to build my career, get a sustainable job as well as grow earnings to a level where I’d not struggle to bring up my children,” she said.

Going by their 2019 plans, by now she would have removed the implants and abandoned other birth control methods she had embraced. She now says the idea will have to rest for about a year. In her lifetime, she wants to have only three children.

“I would want to give my children the best life, free of the struggles I faced. I also need enough time to interact with them, to practise conscious parenting which gives me enough time to know each child as an individual.

To be present and emotionally available and given that I am working, that would be difficult to achieve if I had many children,” Truphosa says, observing that she already has other financial, career and personal commitments that have a bearing on the number of children they can have.

Welcome to Kenya’s evolving family unit, which data has shown is growing smaller with time. Like Truphosa and her husband, many working Kenyans are no longer interested in having many children, as they put a premium on affording them a life better than they lived, and with this a tighter balance between financial stability and family life comes into play.

Gone are the days when most families had more than six children.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Analytical Report on Population Dynamics – released last year but based on 2019 data – shows that over the past 50 years, as the proportion of Kenya’s working population grew by nine per cent, that of children to the total population shrunk at the same rate.

“The proportion of the working-age population out of the total population has been increasing over time (48.1 per cent in 1969 to 57.1 per cent in 2019), so is the absolute size. The absolute number of children aged 0–14 has increased over the years, whereas the proportion of children out of the total population has been declining (from 48.3 per cent to 39 per cent in 2019),” the report states.

But the report goes ahead to observe that while the share of Kenya’s working population – people aged 15- 64 years – to the total population has been growing, the rate of its growth has been affected by low birth rates.

“The growth rate of the working population has declined from 3.4 per cent per annum between 1969 and 1979 to 2.7 per cent between 2009 and 2019 because of the decline in birth rates,” the report further states.

Growth rate

Children’s growth rate in Kenya has witnessed the biggest decline over the 50 years to 2019, from 3.4 per cent annually between 1969 and 1979, to 1.1 per cent between 2009 and 2019. This means the rate of growth has shrunk more than three times. “The proportions for all selected age groups have increased over time apart from children aged 0–14 years,” the report observes.

The Kenya Demographic and Household Survey 2022 shows that about 63 per cent of married women in the country are using contraceptives, while 70 per cent of sexually active unmarried women aged 15–49 use various birth-control methods.

The Analytical Report on Population Dynamics also states that, today, there has been a slight increase in cases of men marrying in their younger years, but the rate of girls stepping into marriage by 19 years has come down. The age at which a woman enters into marriage has a huge bearing on the number of children she is likely to have, the report notes.

“The proportion of ever-married females in the age group 15–19 has generally been higher. However, it declined from 18.8 per cent in 1999 to 1.2 per cent in 2019, an indication that females are increasingly postponing entry into marriage,” it states.

Bleak future

Mr Ken Gichinga is the chief economist at Mentoria Economics. He argues that the declining growth rate of the workforce should be a great cause for concern for a country keen to grow its economy, as labour plays a big role in economic production. 

“Labour is one of the four factors of production; therefore, when the growth rate of the labour force slows down, it can have an effect on production levels. Similarly, declining population size negatively affects aggregate demand for goods and services, which can lead to slower economic growth,” he says.

As the growth rates of the working population and children decline, growth rates for the elderly have shot up from 1.8 per cent annually 1969–79, to 3.5 per cent between 2009 and 2019. This poses an economic risk should the trends continue, as it would worsen the dependency ratio for the working population.

“The increase in growth rate could possibly be as a result of improvement in quality of life, which is also reflected in the increased life expectancy.”

The Analytical Report on Household and Family Dynamics, another KNBS release, also showed that the proportion of one-person households increased from 16 per cent to 20 per cent between 2009 and 2019, as that of large households – with over nine members – shrunk.

“One-person households are dominant (about 20.2 per cent) at the national level. About five per cent of households have nine or more members. Nationally, households in Kenya host about four persons on average. 

“One-person households are twice as much in urban areas in comparison to rural areas, whereas households with nine or more people are common in rural areas than in urban areas,” the report states.

“The total fertility rate has declined markedly in Kenya over time. Between 1989 and 2022, it declined by 3.3 children (from 6.7 to 3.4). Over the same period, the total fertility rate among women in rural areas declined from 7.1 children to 3.9 children. Among urban women, it declined from 4.5 children to 2.8 children,” KNBS states.