The population of the region is 1,820,806, representing 9.6 per cent of the country’s population. This translates into a growth rate of 2.8 per cent over the 1984 population of 1,162,645. This rate of growth is much lower than that of 3.4 per cent recorded between 1970 and 1984.
The World Fertility Survey estimated the total fertility rate (TFR) of the region at 7.9 in 1979/1980. The Demographic and Health Surveys of 1993 and 1998 also estimated the regional TFR at 7.4 (1990) and 7.0 in (1995), suggesting a relatively little decreasing fertility over the period. 4.9, which is significantly lower than the picture presented by the DHS figures; this may be a reflection of fertility reducing programmes in the past decade.
In sharp contrast to the relatively high level of fertility, child mortality has reduced substantially. In particular, the under-five mortality rate has dropped from 237 deaths per 1000 live births in 1993 to 171 deaths per 1000 live births in 1998 (GDHS, 1993; 1998)3. The observed reduction in the rate of growth is the combined effect of the decreasing fertility level, decreasing but still high mortality and increased migration to the south of the country. More than half of the population (50.8%) is in the dependent age group, compared to about 47.0 per cent for the nation as a whole.
Population Size And Distribution
The Northern Region is the largest of the 10 regions of the country in terms of landmass, occupying 70,384 square kilometres and accounting for 29.5 per cent of the total land area of Ghana. It has almost the same land area as the Western, Greater Accra, Volta and Eastern Regions put together (28.1%) or the Brong Ahafo, Ashanti and Greater Accra Regions combined (28.2%). Yet, apart from the two Upper Regions, the Northern Region’s population is almost the same as that of Brong Ahafo and slightly larger than that of the Volta and Central Regions, which are much smaller in land area.
The region currently has a population of 1.820,806, representing 9.6 per cent of the total population of the country. This population size is the result of an increase from 531,573 in 1960, through 727,618 in 1970 and 1,164,583 in 1984. These translate into an increase of 36.9 per cent for 1960-1970, 60.1 per cent for 1970-84 and 56.3 per cent for the 1984-2000 periods.
The most spectacular relative increase, 60.1 per cent, occurred during the 1970-1984 period, which also translates into the highest growth rate of 3.4 per cent per annum, during the 1970 -1984 period. This trend also reflects a negligible increase of 1.7 percentage points in the region’s share of the national population over a 40 year-period, 1960-2000.
The region continues to be sparsely populated. Despite having the largest land area of the country, it has the lowest population density at each of the censuses since 1960. Although the density increased from 8 in 1960 to 26 persons per square kilometre in 2000, the rate of increase has been relatively low.
This contrasts with the Upper East Region, just to the northeast, and one of the smallest regions, which increased its density from 53 in 1960 to 104 in 2000, making it the fifth densely populated region in the country in 2000. In fact, the Upper East Region is about one eighth of the land area of the Northern Region but with four times the population density, and almost half the population.
The region’s population is dispersed with no significant concentration in specific districts. As in the case of the other two Northern Regions, with relatively prominent population concentration around their regional capital, district, Wa (38.9%) and Bolgatanga, (24.9%), the Tamale municipality also has 16.1 per cent share of the regional population, distantly followed by two other districts, East Mamprusi (9.6%) and East Gonja (9.6%).
On the other hand, two districts, Zabzugu-Tatale (4.3%) and Savelugu-Nanton (4.9%) are rather at the other extreme of the population distribution. The remaining eight districts are within a narrow range of 5.2 to 7.9 per cent of the regional population share. This pattern applies closely to the distribution of both the male and female populations.
The relative slow increase in density of the region’s population is reflected in the stable but slightly declining intercensal growth rate, 3.2 in 1970, 3.4 in 1984 and 2.8 in 2000, which is slightly higher than the national growth rate of 2.7 per cent per annum. The region’s growth rate of 2.8 per cent per annum is however much higher than the growth rate of the sister regions of Upper East (1.1%) and Upper West (1.7%).
The low population density of the region may be the result of the interplay between a harsh climate and ecology, migration and poverty. It may suggest a relatively low population pressure on the land, but in reality, it constitutes a significant and important constraint on the siting of feasible and sustainable community facilities such as schools, health infrastructure, potable water supply, etc.
Age Distribution, Structure And Composition By Sex
Age -Sex Distribution
The sex composition of the regional population reflects differential mortality between males and females. At birth, the sex ratio is roughly about 105 boys to 100 girls. A variety of cultural and traditional practices such as preference for boys or girls, may lead to selective female infanticide, or relative neglect of female children, with substantial effect on the sex ratio. There is, however, no evidence of such practices in Ghana. Over the life span, the relatively higher mortality among males leads to a reversal of this ratio at older ages.
The age pattern for both males and females follows closely that of the region as a whole, with slight variations for the age group 0-4 years. Apart from Bole, the percentage of females in this age group is higher than that of males in all other districts. The pattern changes to higher proportions of males at each age group, up to age group 15-19 years. From age 20 years, the proportion of females becomes increasingly higher than that of males, in each district, and at each successive age group, up to age group 35-39 years.
The pattern changes again from age group 40-44 years, to increasingly higher proportions of males, at each successive age group, in all districts, till age 75 years and older, with a higher proportion of males 40 years and older (19.7%) than females (17.7%). This pattern of increasing proportion of males, at older age groups, is contrary to the normal age pattern but is similar to what is observed for the Upper East, Upper West Region, and to some extent, for the Ashanti Region.
It is however important to be very cautious in attributing the observed age sex pattern to a higher survival of males at older ages. It rather probably reflects, among others, the patriarchal nature of a population in which older males may tend to exaggerate their age.
The region’s population has gradually changed from a slightly masculine population in 1960, with a sex ratio of 104.0, through 102.1 in 1970 to an almost balanced sex ratio (99.3) in 2000. Apart from the East Gonja District (105.0), which remains at the 1960 level, and three other districts, Gushegu Karaga (94.6), Zabzugu-Tatale (95.5) and the East Mamprusi (96.3), the sex ratio in the remaining nine districts is almost balanced around 99.0 and 101.0.
Age Structure And Composition
In the absence of any history of catastrophic events, such as wars, epidemics, etc, the age structure of a population typically reflects past fertility and age-specific mortality trends. In a high fertility and high mortality population, the age structure, as captured by a population pyramid, is triangular in shape, with a wide base, indicating high fertility and therefore, high relative proportion of children under 15 years.
It tapers off, with increasing age, at the apex, indicating a high death rate, resulting in a relatively small number of adults older than 64 years. Such a population age structure is described as young. By this criterion, the population of the region can be described as young, with 46.2 per cent under 15 years of age.
Although the population aged 0-4 years is high, at least 17.7 per cent in the districts except the Tamale municipality (14.9%), it is however lower than the age group 5-9 years in the districts, except the East Mamprusi District. This strongly suggests elements of fertility decline, however small this decline may be. The same phenomenon is observed for the other two northern regions, the Upper East and the Upper West, although the proportions are higher for the Northern Region.
Apart from the Tamale municipality (29.4%), at least 35.0 per cent of the population are young children, under 10 years of age, in each of the other 12 districts. The proportion in the child dependency age group, 0-14 years, except the Tamale municipality (40.8%), is equally high, in the range of 45.6 per cent in the Yendi, and 49.6 per cent in the East Mamprusi, Districts. The implications are that, more than two out of every five people in the region are children, dependent on others, for their basic needs and care.
The population 15-19 years, which is the higher teenage group, constitutes between 8.0 and 10.6 per cent of the population. This is the age group sometimes treated as part of the working population, but in reality, are teenagers with all the problems and needs of the teenage and younger populations. Together with the population under 15 years, they constitute at least 54.0 per cent of the population in each district, and over 56.0 per cent, in eight districts with the exception of the Tamale municipality (51.4%).
The youthful nature of the region’s population becomes clearer when one observes that the share of the elderly population, 65 years and older, is low, 4.5 per cent, not exceeding 5.6 per cent in any district. The combination of this with a high under 20 year-old population, translates into a median age of 16.8 years, the lowest in the country, and almost the same as that of Upper East (16.8 year) and the Upper West (16.8 years), regions. The implications of such a young population age structure for the provision of social and community facilities, in addition to basic needs for younger people, are many, particularly in view of the poor resources of the region. They also raise issues of youth mobilisation and employment creation to retain the younger population in the region.
The labour force age population, 15-64 years, is at least 47.0 per cent in 11 districts and over half the population (55.2%) in the Tamale municipality and 45.9 per cent in the East Mamprusi District, the lowest for the region. This variation in the labour force population at the district level is also reflected in the variation in the dependency ratio at the district level.
Improvements in health status of the population result in mortality decline, leading to an increase in the proportion of the elderly population, 65 years and older. For the region as a whole, 4.5 per cent of the population are 65 years and older. The range of values for the districts is from 3.8 in the Saboba-Chereponi to 5.6 per cent in the Tolon-Kumbungu, District. The proportion of the elderly population is higher than 5.0 per cent in four districts, Gushiegu-Karaga, Savelugu-Nanton, Tolon-Kumbungu and West Mamprusi.
The ratio of the elderly population to the population of children (0-14 years) is a measure of the relative degree of ageing of the population. The ratio is directly related to the average age of the population; that is, the higher the age the higher the ratio. A ratio of 1.0 indicates equal proportions of elderly to children population. For the region as a whole, this ratio is 9.8 per cent, representing 1 elderly person for every 10 children. The figure varies from 7.7 per cent in the Saboba-Chereponi, to 12.2 per cent in the Tolon-Kumbungu, Districts.
The overall dependency ratio for the region is 103.0 per cent, that is, slightly more than one dependent per worker. For the districts, the figures range from a ratio of 81.0 per cent in the Tamale municipality to 118.0 in the East Mamprusi District. In general, all the districts in the region show markedly high dependency, except for the Tamale municipality (81.0), the Yendi (99.0), and the Bole (101.1), Districts. This is of particular concern, given the very low level of economic opportunities that exist in the region.
Urban And Rural Population Distribution
The rural/urban definition of localities is based on population size. In general, urban localities offer greater economic opportunities and, therefore, attract rural migrants. Unable to afford the higher cost of living in cities, migrants create squatter settlements on the outskirts. These settlements rapidly grow and subsequently encroach on their parent cities, often overwhelming the available services such as water, health care, sanitation, waste disposal, and electricity supply.
Of the 364 urban localities only 27 or 7.4 per cent are in the region.
The Tamale municipality, the regional capital, has remained the third largest urban settlement in the country since 1970. The population of the Tamale municipality has increased by almost 2½ times since 1970, from 83,653 to 202,317 in 2000. It has, however, gradually lost its share of the regional urban population from 42.4 per cent in 1970, when there were only eight urban settlements through 42.0 per cent in 1984 to 40.7 per cent in 2000 when the number of urban settlements in the region increased to 27.
Damongo, Bole and Gambaga are three other important urban settlements that have been losing their regional urban population share since 1970 compared with Karaga and Zabzugu, which have been gradually increasing their share of regional urban population. With the creation of new Districts, a number of settlements were raised to the status of District Capital, to serve as administrative centres while other smaller towns grew as a result of trade and administration. Buipe in particular grew as a result of the Buipe Bridge and the associated trading activities.
Birthplace And Migratory Pattern
The proportion currently residing in their district of birth varies from 77.0 per cent in the Bole and the East Gonja Districts to 92.0 per cent in the Saboba-Chereponi and the West and East Mamprusi Districts. The proportion born in other districts of the region varies from 4.0 per cent in East Mamprusi, to 18.0 per cent in the Savelugu-Nanton District.
The proportion of those born outside the region varies from 2.0 per cent in Gushiegu-Karaga, to 16.0 per cent in the Bole, Districts. Thus the Bole, and the East Gonja Districts together with the Tamale municipality, have the highest proportion of migrants from outside the region.
The mean number of children ever born, to women aged 45-49, also called the completed fertility rate, is a measure of the average number of children a given cohort of women, who have completed childbearing, actually gave birth to during their childbearing years. A comparison between the TFR and the mean number of children ever born is an indication of the extent and direction of fertility change.
The total fertility Rate (TFR) for the region is 4.9 births per woman. This means that a woman, in the region, would have on the average, 4.9 children in her lifetime, if the current schedule of age specific fertility rates were to prevail into the future. The mean number of children ever born is 6.3 for the region.
The TFR at the district level shows a wide variation. The TFR for the Tamale municipality, 3.3, is the lowest for the region, compared with the highest, 5.9, for the Savelugu-Nanton District. In all the districts, the current fertility is lower than the completed fertility rate, suggesting that, if the TFR could be maintained, it would imply a general decline over the years. Fertility is very high in all the districts of the region; for example, the Tamale municipality, with a TFR of 3.3, has a mean number of children ever born (MCEB) of 5.9.
Greater efforts should therefore be made to intensify fertility reducing programme activities, in addition to identifying and addressing fertility sustaining factors in the region.
Over the last two decades, the level of child mortality in Ghana has declined substantially, from about 200 deaths per 1000 live births, in the early 1970s, to around 100 per 1000 live births in 2000. These summary figures tend to conceal a great degree of variability among the districts of the region and the various regions. For instance, the 1998 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS) estimated the level of under-five mortality for the Greater Accra Region, at around 62 deaths per 1000 live births (GDHS, 1998), while that for the Northern Region is close to three times this figure, 171 deaths per 1000 live births). These differentials are even wider among districts within the same region.
The indirect estimates of under-five mortality, by district, for the region, for the period centred around 1993. While ideally direct estimates are more reliable than the indirect estimates, the available data do not allow the use of direct estimation. In general, the level of mortality prevalent during the early 1990s, is relatively high throughout the Northern Region, compared with the national estimate. The under-five mortality rate for the East Mamprusi District (165 deaths per 1000 live births), is the lowest while that of the Savelugu- Nanton District (240 deaths per 1000 live births), is the highest mortality level in the region.