January 30, 2018 | By

The Next Generation: Youth Populations and the Demographic Dividend Window

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.
In this blog series, we will dive further into the many facets of opportunity and potential barriers to progress. Next week, we will discuss the power of agricultural development for the millions of young people coming of age in the developing world.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

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Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

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International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet. 

| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.