October 04, 2017

Africa’s demographic dividend–asset or liability?

Africa’s demographic dividend–asset or liability?

“We will be in a more frightful situation than we already are today unless we stop doing business as usual,” said former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo in a recent interview with Quartz.

The former leader of Africa’s most populous country says demographics are at the heart of the myriad challenges African countries need to address.

Africa’s population is projected to double to 2.5 billion by 2050 even as the continent struggles with poverty, joblessness, and health issues.

Since 1960, when many African countries gained independence, the populations of many of these countries will have increased 10 times by 2050. The one exception is the Niger Republic, with a population of 3.4 million in 1960, which will have grown by 20 times at current rates to 68 million in 2050.

Obasanjo is doubtful that without planning African countries will benefit from faster-growing younger populations, even as European countries get older. He argues that without measures put in place to support food security, education, and health care delivery, Africa’s so-called dividend becomes a liability.

Many African countries have also experienced a rapid urbanization, as growing numbers of young people relocate from rural areas. This expansion has not been correlated with economic growth.

For Obasanjo and his co-authors, this isn’t a discussion about birth control or actions for the future. It’s about preparing African economies for the coming demographic reality.

Meanwhile, in his article Youth bulges and youth unemployment David Lam writes, “The youth population bulge is not as important in explaining youth unemployment as is often suggested. While the youth population has grown rapidly in many countries, the youth share of the working-age population was higher 40 years ago than it is today in most developing countries. This includes North Africa, where the youth bulge has been a focus of attention.”

While policymakers should understand the demography of youth labor markets, they should not expect that declining youth cohorts can take the place of policies such as educations and labor market flexibility that will more directly improve youth labor markets.”

For further articles on related topics, visit our economic inequality key topics page.

For questions about demography, get in touch with David Lam.