• Study

Social protection across the life course

How social protection systems facilitate demographic change

Thomas Nice, Lilian Beck, Lorena Führ, Catherina Hinz

More than 1.1 billion people live in Sub-Saharan Africa today, and this number is expected to double by 2050. Yet many governments in the region already struggle with providing sufficient schools, hospitals, food and clean water for their populations. Many countries are trapped in a vicious cycle of population growth and poverty. Social protection systems offer hope to break out of this cycle. They can lift the most vulnerable groups out of poverty, accelerate progress in education, health and nutrition, and indirectly reduce fertility rates.

For the first time, the Berlin Institute has investigated how social security measures affect population development in three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi. What potential impact do social transfers, health insurance and pensions have? Various studies show that girls whose families receive cash transfers attend school longer and become pregnant later. Free school meals cause children to attend classes more regularly and learn better. And people who receive a pension are more likely to have smaller families because they are less dependent on their children for support in old age. Data on how social protection systems potentially influence fertility rates remains sparse and, to date, has been given little consideration in German development cooperation policy. Our recommendations for action aim to begin to close this gap.

This study was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Focus Areas: International population policies, Population and development in Africa
published: 29th July 2022
Global population growth is increasingly concentrated in less-developed nations and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where women have about twice as many children as in the rest of the world. As a result, the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to almost double over the next three decades.
Social protection systems in Sub-Saharan Africa are the least developed in the world. As a result, many countries are poorly equipped to adequately support their own populations in crises like the Covid-19 pandemic, in old age, when they fall ill, or lose their jobs. Although the range of social benefits has more than quadrupled over the past two decades, many people cannot access them. A high number of informal workers, limited administrative capacity and insufficient financing are among the biggest challenges in countries south of the Sahara.
Social protection can have a direct and indirect effect on fertility rates. For instance basic social assistance can help the most vulnerable climb out of poverty, and simultaneously accelerate progress in areas like food security, health and education – all of which are relevant to demographic change. At the same time, a greater range of social insurance measures that protect people from life risks, in combination with other measures, can foster long-term behavioural changes. When child mortality drops thanks to better nutrition enabled by cash transfers, or receipt of a basic pension means children are no longer required to bolster household income, parents as a rule tend to opt for smaller families. Social protection thereby has an indirect influence on the factors that are relevant in the demographic transition.


Catherina Hinz

Executive Director

Telefon: +49 30 - 22 32 48 45

Contact via

Catherina Hinz geschäftsführende Direktorin

© Berlin-Institut

Lilian Beck

Researcher, Public Relations

Telefon: +49 30 - 31 01 73 24

Contact via

© Berlin-Institut


All publications
To Top