The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to launch a new blog series, “The Next Generation,” to explore the challenges and opportunities of agricultural systems in a world with unprecedented numbers of young people. We will publish one post each week addressing these issues, and our series will culminate with the release of a new Council report at the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium. Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 21 and 22.
By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
More Young People Than Ever Before
There are now more young people on planet earth than ever before, and their ability to find opportunity and a secure livelihood will determine the future for us all. Across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), youth populations are reaching unprecedented proportions. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 70 percent
of the region’s population is under the age of 30. This new population balance—sometimes referred to as the “youth bulge”—is increasing across the globe, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East
, and South Asia
As these young people grow into maturity, they can either contribute to unprecedented economic development for their countries and the world via their energies and ingenuity, or, starved of opportunity, they can become a destabilizing force that impacts security across the globe.
Surging youth populations have occurred before in history, when child mortality decreases but fertility remains high. The result is that the largest proportion of society becomes children and young adults. By the beginning of 2012, 89.7 percent of people under 30
lived in LMICs and their numbers continue to grow.
Economic Benefits Are Not Guaranteed
In the last century, the economies of East Asia experienced their own smaller youth bulges. While the United States saw a growth rate of 1.4 percent per year from 1950-1973, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand saw growth rates exceeding 3 percent
during the same time period. This increase in young, healthy workers was critical to the economic success
that has made East Asia a model of development. This baby boom generation is estimated to have added 4.32 percent a year
to the GDPs of East and Southeast Asia’s counties from 1970-2000.
A youth bulge alone does not guarantee economic booms, however. Before a country can experience a demographic dividend—a period of accelerated economic growth triggered by a change in the age structure of its population—several key components must align.
First, there must be investments in education, both in improved educational quality and years of study. In particular, girls must receive equal education. As girls and women achieve higher education, their birth rates tend to drop—a necessary component of the demographic dividend. In Ethiopia for example, women’s fertility rate fell from an average of 5.8 children per woman to an average of 1.6 children
when women received a secondary or higher education. A decline in total fertility rates makes the difference between endless growth and a youth bulge structure, in which a society has fewer dependents (children and the elderly) compared to working-age people.
Secondly, governments must implement policies that support opportunities for young people to contribute significantly through decent work. If the young adults of tomorrow cannot access opportunities and markets for their talents, instability can follow
. To allow them to succeed, young people need governments to invest
in health resources, public safety, and facilitate private investment.
What Can Be Done
Young people today are more highly educated and connected than ever before. With the right investments and policies, societies will reap immense benefit from their entrepreneurship, dynamism, and drive. There is a limited window of opportunity, however. Policy makers and investors must pursue initiatives now to ensure support for the health and educational of this generation so that young people are prepared and able to supply the labor that future economies will demand.