Friday, November 28, 2014

Youth : The demographic challenge

The rhetoric on the capacity of countries to reap the so-called demographic dividend cannot mask the more complex reality of a not-so-young world in 2014, and non-uniform patterns of growth. About a quarter of the world’s population — 1.8 billion — is in the age-group of 10-24 years, according to the latest United Nations Population Fund report. In 1950, the proportion was higher, at almost a third of the global total, at 721 million. The 10-24 age segment has thus declined overall, while it has more than doubled in absolute terms during the period. This means that in theory, people in this age bracket, their number larger than China’s population, can hope to live longer, be better fed and educated, do decent jobs and earn adequate incomes. In concrete terms, this segment would swell the share of the working-age population — those between 15 and 64 years — over the next few decades. But here is the catch. Nine out of ten people, or 89 per cent, in the 10-24 age-group live in less developed countries, says the UNFPA report. Most people who are alive today are below 30 years of age. In 17 states, 15 of them from sub-Saharan Africa, one half of the population is under 18 years. One in three girls in the developing world is married before reaching 18, raising the risk of early and perhaps unintended motherhood among children and hampering the realisation of their full potential. One in seven HIV infections occur during adolescence.

According to the World Bank, last year there were 100 dependents (those below 15 years and above 64 years) for every 100 people in the working age in Angola. The ratio was even higher, at 103, for Chad; for other states in the conflict zones of sub-Saharan Africa, the figures were in the 80s and more. Whereas India’s age-dependency ratio has ranged in the 50s per 100 working population between 2010 and 2013, China has stayed in the mid-30s during the corresponding period. India’s higher ratio underscores the extent to which social protection measures would have to be strengthened for both the components to ease their mutual interdependence and enhance the quality of life. Alongside measures to boost growth and attract multinational corporations in the manufacturing and services sectors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must take up massive public-funded programmes in basic education, health care and vocational training, with a thrust on building a clean economy. Only then could the current younger age profile of the population prove advantageous. The demographic dividend refers to the potential among countries to increase economic growth by taking advantage of the changing age structure in the population. Clearly, a great deal remains to be done to realise this potential.


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