Catering to the young

December 07, 2019

The scholar, Robert Malthus, held a pessimistic view of demographic growth, considering it responsible for excessive consumption and the emergence of new demands that were increasingly difficult for...

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The scholar, Robert Malthus, held a pessimistic view of demographic growth, considering it responsible for excessive consumption and the emergence of new demands that were increasingly difficult for any state to meet, due to the limitation of resources.

Jean Bodin was optimistic. He considered demographic growth a fundamental catalyst of development through the creation of a larger workforce and the opportunities for creativity, talent, and capability that followed. It was he who coined the phrase “Il n’est de richesse ni de force que d’hommes” (loosely translated: ‘there is neither wealth nor power – only men’).

Dialogues on “high population growth, including the issue of the youth bulge and the demographic window of opportunity” have become a part of the post-2015 development agenda. The ‘demographic dividend’ concept suggests that large youth populations provide ‘a window of opportunity’ for economic growth and development, while ‘the youth bulge’ predicts that this group is prone to violence and unrest.

These two theories are gendered as well. The demographic dividend theory emphasizes the role of empowered young women, while the youth bulge theory depicts young men as prone to violence. These two theories are often taken as mutually reinforcing arguments. They are like two sides of the same coin. For many analysts, the side of the coin that faces up – bonus or bomb – depends on the role of family planning in effectively lowering fertility rates along other multiple interventions like education, employment and civic engagement for supporting youth achievements. A demographic dividend can convert into a violent mob and similarly a youth bulge can become a window of opportunity for economic progress and development.

Present demographic trends highlight population growth in some parts of the world while a decline in other parts. Since the 1960s, there has been a significant fall in world population growth rates and fertility rates. Despite the fact that family size is becoming smaller with an estimated total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.53 children per women, many countries in the sub-Saharan region have a TFR of over four. Fertility rates have fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman in East Asian and Europe and thus the population is declining.

At present, about 75 countries with a population below replacement fertility constitute 48 percent of the world’s population. Changing patterns in fertility rates have resulted in an ageing population in the northern parts of the world and youth populations in sub-Saharan and some Asian nations. The ageing population is mostly concentrated in the Global North in countries like Japan, Russia, Italy and the Scandinavian nations where the number of older people exceeds the number of those less than 15 years of age.

According to the World Population Prospects UN 2019 report, for the first time in history, persons aged 65 years or over worldwide outnumbered children under the age of five. Projections indicate that by 2050 there will be more than twice as many persons above 65 as children under five. By 2050, the number of persons aged 65 years or over globally will also surpass the number of adolescents and youth aged 15 to 24 years.

The shrinking numbers of the youth in the Global North have raised concerns about how to keep ageing nations’ economies robust, given the fall in the numbers of working age adults, and also to address the needs of healthcare of an ageing population. The issue is further coupled by native anxiety about the changing demographics of diaspora communities in several European nations. Young people migrate every year to northern Europe for better employment opportunities; young migrants have the potential to contribute to the economy of ageing populations.

It is high time that nations where fertility rates are high prepare to meet the needs of the growing number of children and young people. As a developing nation, Pakistan has been facing a relatively high population growth rate which has remained at an average of 2.40 percent between 1998 and 2017.

Pakistan today stands as the sixth most populous nation of the world just behind Indonesia and slightly ahead of Brazil. Currently 64 percent of its total population is younger than 30, and 29 percent of Pakistanis are between 15 and 29 (an age group which we define as the youth). Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had, and this is forecast to continue to increase until at least 2050. This young population has the potential to transform the future of the nation as engines of socioeconomic development. At the same time, a young population can become a source of instability due to lack of opportunities of education and better employment opportunities.

Pakistan has experienced as one of the worst forms of violence and terrorism in the last decade; and mostly deprived youth were utilized by terror networks. The youth have an important role in fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Education and employment is key for the development of the largest generation of youth that the world has seen. The present government also has a sizeable number of youth representatives who should work hard to improve the lives of young people by giving them rights and a conducive environment to elevate their social and economic wellbeing.

The writer works for the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


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