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For every boom there is a bust, including in Kenya’s population

By Macharia Kamau | November 12th 2019
The average size of a Kenyan household is today likely to stand at 3.9 from the earlier 4.2 people - a signal that population growth has slowed.

The biggest takeaway from the latest census is that Kenyans are not giving birth to many babies. When societies get wealthy and child mortality falls, people tend to start having less children.

Over the last 10 years, Kenya’s population grew by an average of 2.2 per cent per year, the slowest growth rate that the country has experienced.

The rapid population growth sustained until 2000 that was driven by increasing numbers of children has since slowed down. The number of children per family has now fallen sharply, from 8.1 children in 1978 - which was among the highest globally - to 3.9 per household in 2019.

Over the previous two intercensal period, the country’s population grew at an annual rate of 2.9 per cent, having come down from 3.4 per cent per year over the first three decades after independence.

The growth rate is reflected in the size of families, which have shrunk, with the average size of a Kenyan household today standing at 3.9 persons, down from the earlier 4.2 people.

“The population has grown to 47.6 million in 2019 from 37.7 million in 2009. The intercensal growth rate has declined to 2.2 per cent in 2019, from 2.9 per cent in 2009.

Analysts reckon that there is a connection between societies growing wealthier and people desiring smaller families. This raises the debate as to whether a larger population is good or bad for human development and welfare. Countries such as India, China and Nigeria rode on the wave of high growth rates to spur economic development.

“Average household has declined to 3.9 in 2019 from 4.2 in 2009,” said the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) last week. Though the reduction in population numbers doesn’t sound good for politicians, it is a plus for State planners.

Use of digital tools to collect, store and transmit data also enabled the statistics bureau to publish the results fast, less than three months after the exercise was undertaken.

The 2019 census has been used to correct the mistakesdone in the 2009 census that resulted in the nullification of the results, with the Government citing irregularities.

Mandera was among the counties most affected by the irregularities a decade ago, according to KNBS, and this time, its population declined 15 per cent to 867 000 this year, from 1.02 million in 2009. The county was in 2009 affected by claims that the population data then had been inflated by as much as 40 per cent.

Data on riches

A look at the census data also shows a correlation between the number of people in a county and how rich they are. Nairobi, Mombasa and Kiambu counties emerged among the top five richest counties in the country in a report published earlier this year by KNBS.

The same counties are in the list of the five most populous, going by the number of people per square kilometre in the counties.

However, on the flipside, the sparsely populated counties have marginal contribution to the economy. But this could change in the future considering that counties with low population density have on average larger households compared to the populous counties.

Families in Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa counties, for instance, have over 5.8 people compared to the national average of 3.9 people per household.

KNBS last week said it has embarked on crunching the data and would next year issue more reports on the population.

The reviewed data is expected to help the Government in planning. Businesses too are expected to make use of the data to make informed investment decisions.

“The main objective of the 2019 Kenya Population and Household Census (KPHC) was to collect information on the size, composition, distribution and socio-economic characteristics of the population,” explained KNBS.

“This information will be used in planning, budgeting and programming for important services; future policy formulation, resource allocation; creation of administrative and political units; monitoring and evaluation of programmes and projects; research.”

The information, reckons the agency, will also be used for development of a master household sampling frame, development of geo-spatial database, benchmark for agricultural census or surveys as well as business, industry and labour and formulation of housing policy and programmes.

“The first known population census in Kenya was conducted in 1897 and was basically a headcount…. a complete census that enumerated 8.6 million persons was conducted in 1962 and was used to set up political and administrative structures.

“The first post-independence census was undertaken in 1969 and enumerated 10.9 million persons,” KNBS noted when releasing the latest census data.

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