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Population Growth and Age and Sex Structure

The second national census, held in 1974, yielded a total population of 1.5 million. That figure reflected an upward adjustment of 11 percent by the Liberian government after a postenumeration survey had indicated an undercount. The United States Bureau of the Census, on the basis of its analysis, suggested a further upward adjustment that raised the population total to 1,556,000. That figure and its age and sex components have provided the basis for the bureau's projections for later years. The estimate for the last year projected, mid-1981?was 1,960,000. In that year and in the preceding two years, the annual rate of growth was estimated to be 3.2 percent (it had been 3.1 percent in the late 1970s and 3.0 percent in the early 1970s). Assuming that rate to have persisted, the estimated population in mid?1984 would have been 2.15 million. In late 1983 a Liberian gov~rnment document referred to an upcoming 1984 census, but there had been no public reference to it as of September 1984.

The annual growth rate of the Liberian population increased in each five?year period between 1950 and 1980, and the population more than doubled in that interval. The mounting rate of natural increase was a function of continuing high fertility and a declining mortality rate owing to some success in dealing with endemic diseases (see Health, this ch.) The estimated infant mortality rate 153 per 1,000 live births in 1984?remained high, however, and exceeded the average for 16 West African countries and the rates of nine of them. Should Liberia succeed in diminishing the infant mortality rate significantly, it appeared likely that the rate of natural increase would go even higher before the birth rate declined. As the United States Bureau of the Census' demographic profile notes, "considerable momentum for further population growth is built into Liberia's age-sex structure. Women of childbearing age are projected to increase from an estimated 353,000 in 1974 to a projected 577,000 in 1990. Such a large increase in the childbearing segment of the population will contribute to rapid population growth even if a substantial reduction in fertility were to occur."

Through the early 1980s Liberia's population increased slightly owing to net immigration. According to the 1974 census, about 4 percent of the population (59,458 persons) had been born outside Liberia, mainly in the bordering states (Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast) but also in Ghana. Most came in search of work, but some of the very large number of Guineans (26, 337 persons) in Liberia may have gone there because of their opposition to Guinea's late ruler, Ahmed Sekou Tour& His death in 1984, followed by a change of regime, may induce many Guineans to return to their native land.

The high rate of natural increase coupled with a relatively low life expectancy (in the early 50s at best) generated an age structure in the late 1970s and early 1980s that was marked by a large proportion of persons under 15 years of age (44 percent of the total) and a small one of those aged 65 and older (about 3 percent). About 53 percent therefore fell into the 15?to?64 age bracket usually reckoned to comprise the economically active people. About 46 percent of the total was between 15 and 49 years of age (see fig. 4).

The official Liberian figures indicated differences between the age and sex structures of the rural and urban segments of the 1974 population, but adjusted figures for the two segments were not available. By and large, the urban population was younger than the rural population and consisted of more males than females. In 1974, of the total reported population (1,503,100), 40.9 percent was under 15 years of age, 55.4 percent fell between ages 15 and 64, and 3.7 percent was age 65 or older. Those in the presumably most productive bracket (between ages 15 and 49) constituted 48 percent of the population. Of the urban population (then 29.1 percent of the total), the proportion of the population under age 15 was 41.1 percent; the proportion in the rural population was 40.9 percent, the same as that in the population as a whole. It was probable, however, that the undercount that led the United States Bureau of the Census to adjust the 1974 census upward occurred chiefly among rural children. Older people,i.e., those over age 65, made up only 1.6 percent of the urban population as against 4.6 percent of rural inhabitants, an expectable variation in countries like Liberia. By contrast, persons between ages 15 and 64 constituted a greater proportion of the urban population (57.3 percent) than of the rural population (54.5 percent). The contrast was more marked for those falling between ages 15 and 49; this category constituted 53 percent of the urban population but only 46 percent of the rural. It may be noted that the initial movements of younger people either to the towns or to larger localities not quite of urban status were made in order to acquire an education. Such mobility was necessary in the 1960s and 1970s and continued to be so in the early 1980s, when educational facilities beyond the basic level were still not widespread in the rural areas (see Education, this ch.).

In 1974 there were 88 females for every 100 males in the urban population as against 98 females for every 100 males in the total population and 102 females for every 100 males in the rural areas. Urban-rural differences were not nearly as great as they had been in 1962, however, and estimates for the late 1970s and early 1980s suggested that there was very nearly a balance of the sexes in the urban areas. By the late 1960s and early 1970s the most mobile element of the Liberian population seemed to be young women, most of them workers and not merely the spouses of male immigrants. Women were also somewhat more likely than men to migrate to urban areas near their rural places of origin. Estimates offered by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs indicated that there were between 97 and 98 females for every 100 males in the urban areas in 1980 and nearly 99 females for every 100 males in 1981. The latter proportion exceeded that for the population as a whole.

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